Ethics in Focus: Philosophy of Racism

What is racism? How can philosophy help us to understand racism, given that this discipline has been “white” since its inception? Is it worthwhile to study the concept of racism within this discipline in the first place? Although seemingly a difficult task, we investigate the concept of race with the help of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), himself allegedly a racist. In this course, we consider two positions that address the problem of racism in Kant and seek the way out of the problem by drawing on what Alexander Baumgarten (1714-62), Kant’s direct predecessor, has to say about racism.


This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom. Enrolling students need to ensure they have an email, a reliable internet connection, microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


SUGGESTED READING

  • Baumgarten, A. G.: Ethica philosophica [Philosophical Ethics], 3rd ed. (Halle, 1763) [As there is no translation of this work into a modern language, I will provide my own].
  • Kant, I.: Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  • Kant, I.: Towards Perpetual Peace, in Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Kant, I.: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
  • Kant, I.: Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  • Kant, I.: ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime’, in Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: ‘Of the Different Races of Human Beings’, in Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: ‘Determination of the Concept of a Human Race’, in Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: ‘On the Use of Teleological Principles in Philosophy’, in Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim’, in Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: Critique of Practical Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2015).


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Share your own views on racism: What is racism? How can philosophy help us to understand racism, given that this discipline has been “white” since its inception? Is it worthwhile to study the concept of racism within this discipline in the first place? Do you believe in the view that a person can be free from racism if she is sufficiently educated, or even philosophically trained? Or do you think that everyone cannot but be a racist because we inevitably distinguish among people or among groups of people for practical purposes? How “radical” is racism, that is, how is it embedded in human nature?
  • Kant’s remarks on race: It is true that philosophers of the eighteenth century cannot but be racists under the conditions of their time, and Kant is no exception. In this context, before judging whether Kant is the right thinker upon whose theory to consider the problem of racism, we see what he actually has to say about racism in his own words. Unfortunately, Kant’s views on race are mostly poignant.
  • The first position on racism in Kant: There are mainly two positions among scholars who address the problem of racism in Kant. The first position states that Kant’s racist remarks are marginal and do not affect the central tenets of his critical philosophy that endorse equality and dignity of human beings. Is this position defensible? Suppose, for example, that you said something regrettable in the past. Do you think your past remark represents who you are now? Or do you believe in “change of heart” and thus think that you can overcome your past, morally immature, self?
  • The second position on racism in Kant: The second position, on the other hand, holds that Kant’s racist remarks represent his core beliefs and thus undermine his entire critical philosophy. Is this position defensible? As said, Kant is a racist in the sense that he is conditioned by his time. Suppose, for example, you live in Southern US where Christian ultra-conservatism is the norm. How can you be not a racist in that environment? What are objectively good values and how can you be in a position to discern and act on them?
  • The possible third position on racism in Kant?: From the rigorous Kantian perspective, we can possibly claim a third position that demonstrates that Kant developed a non-discriminative race theory, even if we take into account Kant’s oeuvre as a whole. How can we construct this position and how can it be possible to defend it? What does this third position imply for thinking about contemporary problems of racism?
  • Reflect on your views on racism: Have you changed your views on racism since the beginning of the course? Why or why not?


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand some of the major theories and debates in philosophical accounts of racism.
  2. Understand and analyse arguments in the relevant literatures.
  3. Evaluate these theories and arguments critically.
  4. Develop their own views and arguments through consideration and analysis of the views and arguments presented in the course.
  5. Engage constructively and respectfully with the views and arguments of others, even if they disagree with them.
$192 Limited / $173

<p>What is racism? How can philosophy help us to understand racism, given that this discipline has been “white” since its inception? Is it worthwhile to study the concept of racism within this

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27 Oct

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