Philosophy: April 2010 Archives

Note: Some of these thought experiments are my own, and a number of them appear throughout the philosophical literature on race. Charles Mills was a source for some of them, I think. Sveral of them have come from Jonathan Glasgow, and a few are unique to him, so I should at least give some credit here for that. I've never seen this one in particular anywhere else. Given that I'm giving him credit in this post, I'll just quote his own description of the case:

Everyone above the age of ten months is being killed by a virus that itself will expire as soon as it kills the last person who is more than ten months old. In a furious effort as they await their doom, the remaining scientists devote themselves to finding a way to finding a device that can keep the infants alive until they are old enough to survive on their own. [Jonathan Glasgow, A Theory of Race, p.121]
Do races cease to exist upon such a disaster?

Suppose we finally reach a point where we don't treat races differently in any sense that matters. There's no more even unconscious discrimination. The structural barriers that in most contexts favor whites more than other races and some non-whites over other non-whites are gone, even those instances when no one intends to do harm. There are no more people who have negative attitudes toward people because of race. (So far this is all the same as #9.) Suppose further we have abandoned the use of racial terms, not just terms like 'race' but even terms like 'black', 'white', 'Asian', and so on.

If you don't think races exist now, you'll obviously not think they exist in such a circumstance. But if you think races exist now, will they still exist under such circumstances?

Suppose we finally reach a point where we don't treat races differently in any sense that matters. There's no more even unconscious discrimination. The structural barriers that favor whites more than other races and some non-whites over other non-whites, even when no one intends to do harm, are gone. There are no more people who have negative attitudes toward people because of race. Yet people continue to use racial terms the same way we continue to use ethnic terms (e.g. Italian) even when there's no prejudice or societal structures making things difficult for those ethnic groups.

If you don't think races exist now, you'll obviously not think they exist in such a circumstance. But if you think races exist now, will they still exist under such circumstances?

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