Kant’s Race Theory, Forster’s Counter, and the Metaphysics of Color

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2012-12-06 00:23Z by Steven

Kant’s Race Theory, Forster’s Counter, and the Metaphysics of Color

The Eighteenth Century
Volume 53, Number 4, Winter 2012
pages 393-412
DOI: 10.1353/ecy.2012.0032

Sally Hatch Gray, Assistant Professor of German
Mississippi State University

This article argues for an understanding of Kant’s race theory as an integral part of his idea of nature and of humans in nature as presented in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790). It places an examination of Kant and Forster’s debate over race, which was ignited in 1785 upon the publication of Kant’s second essay on race, “Definition of a Concept of a Human Race” (“Bestimmung des Begriffs einer Menschenrace”), in the context of an illumination of the connections between aesthetics and anthropology in Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen, 1764) and Forster’s Voyage round the World (Reise um die Welt 1777). Forster responded to Kant’s new “race” classifications, which were based essentially on skin color, with “Still More about the Human Races” (“Noch etwas über Menschenraßen,” 1786). This article shows that Kant then developed his scientific theory and his idea of a teleological nature as presented in his Critique of the Power of Judgment, at least in part, in order to provide a unifying theoretical basis for his race theory so that it could withstand the scrutiny of an empirical scientific method based on deductive logic, such as that advanced by Forster. While Forster’s strict empiricism, perspectivism, and rejection of “race” as a scientific classification reflect an underlying, distinctly modern, concept of the natural world, Kant’s nature, as presented in his third Critique, reveals a metaphysically-based structure supporting a universal cosmopolitanism, but veils a particular European perspective that allows a damaging global authority on difference.

At a key moment in his 1777 travelogue A Voyage Round the World (Reise um die Welt) describing his adventures aboard Captain Cook’s second exploratory journey into the Antarctic, the narrative of the young German naturalist Georg Forster (1754-94), takes on a decidedly more excited tone. In August 1773, he and his traveling companions were enjoying the charms of the Society Islands, when, during a banquet featuring traditional dancing, the atmosphere became sexually charged. The sailors bribed the women with bits of meat to continue making seemingly indiscreet dance movements, while the hosts treated the British officers and Prussian naturalists to a peek into the dancers’ dressing room. Forster writes:

To complete our entertainment this day, the chief gave orders for performing another heeva, and we were admitted (behind the scenes} to see the ladies dressing for that purpose.  They obtained some string of beads on this occasion, with which we took it into our heads to improve upon their ornaments, much to their own satisfaction. Among the spectators we observed several of the prettiest women of this country, and one of them was remarkable for the whitest complexion we had ever seen in all these islands. Her colour resembled that of white wax a little sullied, without having the least appearance of sickness, which that hue commonly conveys; and her fine black eyes and hair contrasted so well with it, that she was admired by us all.

Forster’s excitement helps to relay the intense experience of a special event which “perfects the joys of the day” as he writes in German, “Um die Freuden dieses Tages volkommen zu machen.” In this moment, they have not only been released from the physical hardship of months at sea aboard an eighteenth-century sailing vessel, but they are taken with “einstimmige Bewunderung” a kind of “unanimous wonderment.” beyond their immediate reality in their response…

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The Idea Of Race

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Brazil, History, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2009-12-04 00:08Z by Steven

The Idea Of Race

Hackett Publishing Company
256 pages
Cloth ISBN: 0-87220-459-6, ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-459-1
Paper ISBN: 0-87220-458-8, ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-458-4

Edited by

Robert Bernasconi, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy
Pennsylvania State University

Tommy L. Lott, Professor of Philosophy
San José State University

A survey of the historical development of the idea of race, this anthology offers pre-twentieth century theories about the concept of race, classic twentieth century sources reiterating and contesting ideas of race as scientific, and several philosophically relevant essays that discuss the issues presented. A general Introduction gives an overview of the readings. Headnotes introduce each selection. Includes suggested further readings.

Table of Contents

The Classification of Races

  1. Francois Bernier, “A new division of earth, according to the different species or races of men who inhabit it”
  2. Francois-Marie Voltaire, “Of the Different Races of Men,” from The Philosophy of History
  3. Immanuel Kant, “Of the Different Human Races”
  4. Johann Gottfried von Herder, Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Humankind
  5. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Variety of Mankind
  6. G. W. F. Hegel, “Anthropology,” from The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Science

Science and Eugenics

  1. Arthur de Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races
  2. Charles Darwin, “On the Races of Man,” from The Descent of Man
  3. Francis Galton, “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope and Aims”

Heredity and Culture

  1. Franz Boas, “Instability of Human Types”
  2. Alain Locke, “The Concept of Race as applied to Social Culture”
  3. Ashley Montagu, “The Concept of Race in the Human Species in the Light of Genetics”

Race and Political Ideology

  1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Conservation of Races
  2. Anthony Appiah, “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race”
  3. Leopold Senghor, “What is Negritude?”

Racial Identity

  1. Linda Alcoff, “Mestizo Identity”
  2. Michael Hanchard, “Black Cinderella? Race and the Public Sphere in Brazil”
  3. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States.
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Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the 18th Century

Posted in Arts, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science on 2009-11-13 19:14Z by Steven

Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the 18th Century

Cornell University Press
264 pages
6 x 9, 12 color illustrations, 65 halftones
ISBN: 978-0-8014-4085-4

David Bindman, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art
University College London

Ape to Apollo is the first book to follow the development in the eighteenth century of the idea of race as it shaped and was shaped by the idea of aesthetics. Twelve full-color illustrations and sixty-five black-and-white illustrations from publications and artists of the day allow the reader to see eighteenth-century concepts of race translated into images. Human “varieties” are marked in such illustrations by exaggerated differences, with emphases on variations from the European ideal and on the characteristics that allegedly divided the races.

In surveying the idea of human variety before “race” was introduced by Linneaus as a scientific category, David Bindman considers the work of many German and British thinkers, including J. F. Blumenbach, Georg and Johann Reinhold Forster, and Immanuel Kant, as well as Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon and Pieter Camper.

Bindman believes that such representations, and the theories that supported them, helped give rise to the racism of the modern era. He writes, “It may be objected that some features of modern racism predate the Enlightenment, and already existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; certainly there was deep prejudice, but that, I would argue, is not the same as racism, which must have as a foundation a theory of race to justify the exercise of prejudice.”

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