The Philosophical Roots of Racial Essentialism and Its Legacy

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Naomi Zack


 Racial essentialism or the idea of unchanging racial substances that support human social hierarchy, was introduced into philosophy by David Hume and expanded upon by Immanuel Kant. These strong influences continued into W. E. B. Du Bois’ moral and spiritual idea of a black race, as a destiny to be fulfilled past a world of racism and inequality. In the twenty-first century, »the race debates« between »eliminativists« and »retentionists« swirl around the lack of independent biological scientific foundation for physical human races and the ongoing importance of race as a social ordering principle and source of identity. Analyses of the idea of race are of philosophical concern for historical and conceptual reasons, as well as ongoing issues of contemporary identity and social injustice.

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Zack, N. (2016). The Philosophical Roots of Racial Essentialism and Its Legacy. Confluence: Journal of World Philosophies, 1. Retrieved from