Race in Early Modern Philosophy

Race in Early Modern Philosophy

Justin Smith, Nature, Human Nature, & Human Difference:

Race in Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015),

Hardcover ISBN 9780691153643, eBook ISBN 9781400866311, 312 pp.

Dwight K. LEWIS Jr.

The ethos of Justin Smith’s Nature, Human Nature, & Human Difference is expressed in the narrative of Anton Wilhelm Amo (~1703-53), an African born slave who earned his doctoral degree in Philosophy at a European university and went on to teach at the Universities of Jena and Halle. Smith identifies Amo as a time-marker for diverging interpretations of race: race as inherently tethered to physical difference and race as inherited essential difference. Further, these interpretations of race are fastened to the discourse of science and human diversity within modern Europe. Smith’s thesis maintains that the rise of the concept of race in philosophy begins with a divorcing of the soul from human nature and a movement to a naturalistic classification of human beings through taxonomies (e.g. botany, mineralogy and zoology), which dissolved into this dichotomy: an essential difference between people of reason and people of nature.

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