26 June 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Race as a social concept + IMPORTANT news about the meetings

IMPORTANT NEWS: about the summer meetings

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Race as a social concept.

Race is more likely to be an issue where there are mixed cultures and
ethnic groups. In practically mono cultures race is not a real issue and
any "ethnic intruders" would quickly be excluded from the community. In
my essay I come to the conclusion that any discussion to establish
racial backgrounds would be a discussion to create mischief.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay and Ceit has sent
us some background articles on the topic:

Hello Lawrence,
Here's the link to what I wrote on Sunday's topic:
See you on Sunday.
All the best,

And from Ceit:
Some links about what gave me the idea:





IMPORTANT NEWS: about the summer meetings
During the month of July we will be meeting on Saturdays and NOT Sunday
because the Centro Segoviano will be closed on Sundays. This will be our
last meeting this month on Sunday. Thanks

Race as a social concept

Today we know that there are no biological differences between the
different races. And any external characteristics are natural as a
consequence of the environment or genetic history. Having dark skin is
not different from having blue eyes. Thus any differences we try to
establish amongst races are artificial, political and social.

A detailed discussion by Michael James on Race from a philosophical
perspective can be found at The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy*.
Although I won't be discussing this entry I am grateful for some ideas
in the text.

A key philosophical debate about race centres on whether there are
natural/biological differences in humans that establish different races.
The argument for different races rests on arbitrary differences
between people. As I said in the introduction, the argument that some
people have different for example skin colour, physiological make up
especially head shape and so on suggests that there are different races.
If skin colour was a determining factor then surly anaemic people should
be classified as a different race. And blued eyed people should also be
classified as a different race. Common sense today tells us that these
are arbitrary divisions and do not establish different races.

But why would philosophers and scientists argue that there are different
races? The neutral answer would be that past and historical philosophers
and scientists did not have the level of knowledge about biological
sciences as we have today. Hence, they had no option but to look at what
was accessible to them, and their science was based on face value
characteristics. They just did not realise that they were looking at the
wrong set of characteristics.

Another version of this argument is that this is the consequence of
applying the empirical method to establish scientific knowledge. Given
the limited knowledge available to these thinkers in the past they had
no option but to start studying and categorising humans by arbitrary
criteria; but the scientific method is more robust today compared to the
past. The very nature of the scientific method implies that the early
applications of the method might result in erroneous conclusions. A
lesson worth learning by those who advocate self learning AI machines.

An extreme answer to my question would be that those who try to
establish the existence of different races, especially today, are simply
trying to create mischief especially for political reasons. And,
therefore, hiding behind science to spread their political message.

I am not convinced that trying to establish the existence of race or
races is even valid let alone an interesting philosophical or scientific
argument. It just does not make sense to speak of nature having or
creating a race or races. Let alone a race based on arbitrary criteria.
Nature also adapts to local conditions but adaptation is not the same as
exclusion or independent. Hence to speak of race is to betray our bias
to classify things into categories. It was very nice of Aristotle to
identify our ability to categorise things, however just because we can
categorise things it does not mean that they naturally belong with each

But there is another argument why establishing race on arbitrary
physiological criteria is not acceptable. By looking at arbitrary
criteria we cannot universalise any knowledge about the race let alone
humans as a whole. The reason is very simple; by focusing on just on
specific characteristics we might miss something out from the whole
picture. Especially, the relationship of one specific arbitrary
different characteristic with the rest of the body; blue eyes or black
skin are not just events that exclusively happen in the skin or the
eyes. . Except that what might look like an anomaly for an unskilled
person for a skilled person it would be part of the norm. And we have
the Black swan argument to support this position. Moreover, the black
swan argument prevents us from establishing universal principles; at
least when our thinking is erroneous.

We therefore have to stop talking about race or races and start talking
about something more universal that is more useful for science, politics
and society and most especially for ethical and moral systems. Thus the
starting point for philosophy and science is not race, but human beings.
As a concept the term human being makes us consider similarities rather
than arbitrary differences. When we study human beings we first need to
find human beings and compare similarities. It would, therefore, be more
useful to study the skin as an organ rather than just the pigmentation
of the skin which is but a characteristic of a particular aspect of the

However, race has been used as a social and political tool to establish
power and economic advantage. Indeed James says that the Spanish
inquisition in Spain was the first to try and establish purity of
lineage of Christians living in Spain to distinguish "real" Christians
from Jewish or Muslim converts. Slavery was also a trade in indigenous
African people who by circumstances of their environment had dark skin.
Hitler and the Nazis turned race discrimination into an industry. And
today many governments in the European Union use the phony argument of
illegal immigration to exclude people from medical health care,
xenophobic political discourse to gain votes, or simply to exploit
people for economic profit. For example, illegal immigrants from so
called different races are more like to accept work under very bad
conditions and wages since they are less likely to complain about it.
And many cases have been taken court in Britain of Chinese criminal
gangs exploiting other Chinese people for illegal business activates;
e.g. collecting cockles during dangerous tide conditions. Racial
discrimination is not the exclusive domain of other races.

The study of race or races has been more an activity, as I said, to
create hardship and exploitation rather than further our knowledge of
human beings. So whilst race is an attempt to identify a priori
differences in nature, ethnicity is clearly differences in culture and

If we cannot establish universal truths from the misguided notion of
race, we certainly cannot establish anything about human beings from
ethnicity. Ethnicity is something originating from culture, beliefs,
religion and geographical and environmental circumstance. Whilst
everyone qualifies as a human being, and racial categorisation is
useless, ethnicity is just a system of localised beliefs and behaviours.

I suspect that many of today's race relations issues are really ethnic
issues. The expelling of the Muslims and Jews from Spain and the
wholesale murder of the Jews (and other groups) in Germany was none
other than a political move to establish the supremacy of the Catholic
Church in Spain and greedy thugs in Germany. However, the outlawing of
female genital mutilation (FGM), or issues with culturally imposed dress
code on women or child marriages is a clash of ethnic beliefs.

I would argue that these beliefs can be challenged on the
universalisable principle: can we universalise that every female child
should undergo FGM? Of course, not, there is no evidence that this is of
any benefit to the child, unlike say vaccination for certain diseases,
and the logic of this practice is based on the subjugation and
oppression of women. Or another example, can we universalise the
principle that only people with health insurance or enough money should
be given medical treatment. Of course, not this is a warped logic based
on greed and not the universal principle that it is a characteristic of
human beings to need medical care and that they become sick. Thus the
universal principles we can establish from the very nature of human
beings means that health care has to be made available to all who need
it and free at the point of need. Health care is not a luxury but a
universal necessity.

Thus, my conclusion is that it is the concept of human beings that can
lead us to universalisable principles, arguments from race are usually
argument to create mischief, and ethnic differences can be challenged by
the doctrine of universalisable principles.

Best Lawrence
*James, Michael, "Race", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall
2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =

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PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
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Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
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Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Race as a social
concept + IMPORTANT news about the meetings

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