Philosophical Studies

, Volume 159, Issue 2, pp 181–204 | Cite as

What ‘biological racial realism’ should mean



A curious ambiguity has arisen in the race debate in recent years. That ambiguity is what is actually meant by ‘biological racial realism’. Some philosophers mean that ‘race is a natural kind in biology’, while others mean that ‘race is a real biological kind’. However, there is no agreement about what a natural kind or a real biological kind should be in the race debate. In this article, I will argue that the best interpretation of ‘biological racial realism’ is one that interprets ‘biological racial realism’ as ‘race is a genuine kind in biology’, where a genuine kind is a valid kind in a well-ordered scientific research program. I begin by reviewing previous interpretations of ‘biological racial realism’ in the race debate. Second, I introduce the idea of a genuine kind and compare it to various notions of natural and real biological kinds used in the race debate. Third, I present and defend an argument for my view. Fourth, I provide a few interesting consequences of my view for the race debate. Last, I provide a summary of the article.


Race Natural kind Genuine kind Biological racial realism The race debate Cladistic race 



I would like to thank several people for helpful comments, criticisms, and discussions that led to the final version of this article. In alphabetical order I would like to thank Tom Dougherty, Michael Friedman, Jorge Garcia, Sally Haslanger, Chike Jeffers, Rae Langton, Micah Lewin, Helen Longino, Tommie Shelby, Elliott Sober, and Ward Watt. I would also like to thank the vibrant participants of the Work-In-Progress group in the Linguistics and Philosophy Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for helpful comments and criticisms that led to a revision of this article. Finally, this research would not have been possible without a generous Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor Fellowship from MIT as well as supplemental funding and a leave of absence from the University of San Francisco.


  1. Anderson, E. (2005). Knowledge, human interests, and objectivity in feminist epistemology. Philosophical Topics, 23(2), 27–58.Google Scholar
  2. Andreasen, R. (1998). A new perspective on the race debate. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49(2), 199–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andreasen, R. (2000). Race: Biological reality or social construct? Philosophy of Science, 67(S1), S653–S666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Appiah, K. (1996). Race, culture, identity: Misunderstood connections. In K. Appiah & A. Gutmann (Eds.), Color conscious (pp. 30–105). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Barrett, J. (2007). Dynamic partitioning and the conventionality of kinds. Philosophy of Science, 74(4), 527–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blum, L. (2002). “I’m not a racist, but…”: The moral quandary of race. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Boyd, R. (1999). Homeostasis, species, and higher taxa. In R. Wilson (Ed.), Species, new interdisciplinary essays (pp. 141–185). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Buchwald, J., & Smith, G. (2001). Incommensurability and the discontinuity of evidence. Perspectives on Science, 9(4), 463–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Friedman, M. (2001). Dynamics of reason. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  10. Glasgow, J. (2009). A theory of race. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Goodman, N. (1955). Fact, fiction, and forecast. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of worldmaking. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
  13. Griffiths, P. (2004). Emotions as natural and normative kinds. Philosophy of Science, 71(5), 901–911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hacking, I. (2007). Natural kinds: Rosy dawn, scholastic twilight. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 82(61), 203–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Häggqvist, S. (2005). Kinds, projectibility and explanation. Croatian Journal of Philosophy, 5(13), 71–87.Google Scholar
  16. Haslanger, S. (2008). A social constructionist analysis of race. In B. Koenig, S. Lee, & S. Richardson (Eds.), Revisiting race in a genomic age (pp. 56–69). Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kitcher, P. (1999). Race, ethnicity, biology, culture. In L. Harris (Ed.), Racism: Key concepts in critical theory (pp. 87–117). Amherst, MA: Humanity Books.Google Scholar
  18. Kitcher, P. (2007). Does ‘race’ have a future? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 35(4), 293–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. La Porte, J. (2004). Natural kinds and conceptual change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Longino, H. (1990). Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Machery, E. (2005). Concepts are not a natural kind. Philosophy of Science, 72(3), 444–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Machery, E., & Faucher, L. (2005). Social construction and the concept of race. Philosophy of Science, 72(5), 1208–1219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mayr, E. (2002). The biology of race and the concept of equality. Daedalus, 131(1), 89–94.Google Scholar
  24. Newton, I. (1999). The Principia: Mathematical principles of natural philosophy, I. Cohen & A. Whitman (trans.). Berkeley: University of California Press. Google Scholar
  25. Psillos, S. (2002). Scientific realism: How science tracks truth. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Risch, N., Burchard, E., Ziv, E., & Tang, H. (2002). Categorization of humans in biomedical research: Genes, race, and disease. Genome Biology, 3(7), comment2007.1-2007.12.Google Scholar
  27. Root, M. (2000). How we divide the world. Philosophy of Science, 67(3), S628–S639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Smith, G. E. (2002). The methodology of the principia. In I. Bernard Cohen & G. E. Smith (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Newton (pp. 138–173). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sober, E. (1993). Philosophy of biology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sundstrom, R. (2002). Race as a human kind. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 28(1), 91–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Taylor, P. (2004). Race: A philosophical introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wilkerson, T. E. (1995). Natural kinds. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  33. Zack, N. (2002). Philosophy of science and race. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations