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Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy


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Andrew Valls teaches political philosophy at Oregon State University.


Cornell has published two complementary collections on a pressing topic. The contributors to Valls's (political philosophy, Oregon State Univ.) essay collection examine the views of major modern philosophers on race. Charles Mills maintains that when Immanual Kant wrote about the moral duty to treat every human being as an end, he meant to include only white males as full persons. In like fashion, Robert Bernasconi and Anika Maaza Mann find John Locke's approval of slavery of basic importance in grasping the scope and limits of his political theory. John Stuart Mill, generally viewed as an enlightened progressive, here appears as a committed believer in European superiority; David Hume's racism was not central to his empiricist philosophy; Gottfried Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza emerge with a clean bill of health; and though Friedrich Nietzsche made several dubious remarks, he is also credited for criticizing standard racist views. Should philosophers today support a race-blind moral theory? Stubblefield (philosophy, Rutgers Univ.) does not think so. In Ethics Along the Color Line, she rejects race as a biological category but holds that, as a social construction, it is an evident fact. Contrary to the influential position of philosopher and novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah, Stubblefield argues that members of a race should regard one another as members of the same family. As such, people have special obligations to those in their own racial groups. This view, she believes, will aid the black liberation cause. She shows herself to be well aware of the most apparent objection to her contention: does her theory imply that members of an oppressing group must give more weight to their fellow oppressors than to their victims? Quite the contrary, Stubblefield avers. Oppressors have a special duty not to distance themselves from their past misdeeds. Both of these books combine philosophy and ethnic studies to arrive at conclusions sure to generate interest and controversy; both are recommended for philosophy and contemporary social issues collections.-David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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