Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy
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People have always been xenophobic, but an explicit philosophical and scientific view of human racial difference only began to emerge during the modern period. Why and how did this happen? Surveying a range of philosophical and natural-scientific texts, dating from the Spanish Renaissance to the German Enlightenment, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference charts the evolution of the modern concept of race and shows that natural philosophy, particularly efforts to taxonomize and to order nature, played a crucial role.
Smith demonstrates how the denial of moral equality between Europeans and non-Europeans resulted from converging philosophical and scientific developments, including a declining belief in human nature's universality and the rise of biological classification. The racial typing of human beings grew from the need to understand humanity within an all-encompassing system of nature, alongside plants, minerals, primates, and other animals. While racial difference as seen through science did not arise in order to justify the enslavement of people, it became a rationalization and buttress for the practices of trans-Atlantic slavery. From the work of François Bernier to G. W. Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, and others, Smith delves into philosophy's part in the legacy and damages of modern racism.
With a broad narrative stretching over two centuries, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference takes a critical historical look at how the racial categories that we divide ourselves into came into being.
problem of local nuances had come to impact the early modern approach to the study of the physical world. Here Leibniz proposes that a system of observation of “latitude or height of the pole, and then of the declination of the magnet,” be set in place, which would bring it about that one “would only have to look for the line on the magnetic globe where the magnet has the relevant declination, and to follow the line to the place where it comes underneath the present elevation of the pole, in
things are also, once one is over the initial trickery of the eye, so little apelike, that indeed Kalmucks and Negroes remain fully human in the conformation of the face as well, and the Moluccans exhibits abilities, that many other nations do not have. In truth ape and man were never of one and the same family, and I would like for every last trace of the story to be corrected, according to which somewhere in the world they live together in common, fruit-bearing community. Every species
landscape, and that linger as a result of a natural propensity of the human mind to organize the world by means of them. While it is certainly dificult to establish unambiguously the existence of such a thing, we may nonetheless cautiously hypothesize that race is just such a natural construction, to the extent that it enables us to understand why racial thought has had such a long history, in spite of the continual variation in the way racial classifications are made, and in spite of the fact
basic racial classificatory schema. He is concerned with “national physiognomy,” not the typology of races. According to many scholars, the first such typology would be presented only in the decade following Hale’s Primitive Origination, by the seventeenth-century French libertine philosopher and voyager François Bernier, who will be discussed at length in chapter 6. Yet another fairly typical diffusionist work of the mid-seventeenth century, also providing a very rich overview of the state of
be the same too? and if all depended on the Organ, not only our Pygmie, but other Brutes likewise, would be too near akin to us…. In truth Man is part a Brute, part an Angel; and is that Link in the Creation, that joyns them both together.46 Tyson maintains that in its physical resemblance to humans, and not just in its learned behavior, the “the Orang-Outang imitates a Man.”47 Now Tyson is not explicitly interested in the subvarieties of human being, other than to insist emphatically that his