Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 1013–1037 | Cite as

A racial classification for medical genetics

  • Quayshawn Nigel Julian SpencerEmail author


In the early 2000s, Esteban Burchard and his colleagues defended a controversial route to the view that there’s a racial classification of people that’s (epistemically) useful in medicine. The route, which I call ‘Burchard’s route,’ is arguing that there’s a racial classification of people that’s useful in medicine because, roughly, there’s a racial classification with medically relevant genetic differentiation (Risch et al. in Genome Biol 1–12, 2002; Burchard et al. in N Engl J Med 348(12):1170–1175, 2003). While almost all scholars engaged in this debate agree that there’s a racial classification of people that’s useful in medicine in some way, there’s tremendous controversy over whether any racial scheme is useful in medicine because there are medically relevant genetic differences among those races (Yudell et al. in Science 351(6273): 564–565, 2016). The goal of this paper will be to show that Burchard’s route is basically correct. However, I will use a slightly different argument than Burchard et al.’s in order to provide a firmer foundation for the thesis, both metaphysically and genetically. I begin by reviewing Burchard’s route and its critics. Second, I present an original argument for establishing Burchard et al.’s conclusion using a Burchard-like route. I call it ‘Spencer’s route’. I reply to major objections along the way, and I end with a summary.


Genetic Medical Medicine Race Racial 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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