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IFCO 2160 - The Concept of Race: Historical and Philosophical perspectives

Type d'enseignement : Lecture alone

Semester : Spring 2016-2017

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English

Voir les plans de cours et bibliographies



Course Description

There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as race. That is, there is no scientifically interesting way in which humanity may be divided up into a handful of real sub-kinds; to speak of ‘Caucasians', ‘Blacks', etc., is to fail, as pragmatist philosophers like to say, to carve nature at its joints. Yet in spite of their scientific bankruptcy, universally recognized by all mainstream anthropologists and biologists since the mid-20th century, these categories continue to seem very pertinent in the way we talk about our social reality. Why is this? The full answer has much to do with economics, sociology, etc., but also something to do with the history of science and philosophy since roughly the Scientific Revolution at the beginning of the 17th century. In this course we will seek to understand how it is that the modern concept of race, and the accompanying ideology of racism, came into existence as a result, in part, of the theoretical reflections of some of modern Europe's greatest thinkers upon that central philosophical question, Quid sit homo? (What is a human being?) We will also look at the present state of the debate, reading arguments from political philosophers, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and other theorists for and against the enduring legitimacy of the concept in today's world. With readings from François Bernier, Carolus Linnaeus, J. G. Herder, Immanuel Kant, W. E. B. Du Bois, K. Anthony Appiah, and others.


  • SMITH, Justin (Professeur des universités)
  • TAILLANDIER, Apolline (Doctorante)

Course validation

• 1 midterm exam consisting in short-answer and expository essay questions (40%). • 1 final argumentative research paper. This paper will be 6-8 pages long, and will involve both original research as well as the development and defense of a novel thesis (60%).

Required reading

1. Justin E. H. Smith, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: The Concept of Race in Early Modern Philosophy

Plans de cours et bibliographies