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Is race something we can fully explain in terms of the natural world around us?  Races thought of as biological kinds invoke some type of racial 'naturalism'. While the term ‘Naturalism’ is used in many different ways, we can think of Naturalism as the view that properties within a particular domain of investigation are physical properties.  For instance, there are lots of domains of inquiry where we may believe in non-physical properties.  You might believe in numbers, which are a kind of abstract object as they aren’t located in time or space.  Or you might think that moral properties like the wrongness of pushing someone in front of a car, is a non-physical property:  that is, if we look at all the physical stuff involved in pushing someone in front of a car: e.g. the car, the person, the act of pushing, you might think that the wrongness is not among those physical parts.  If one were to be a naturalist about moral properties, they might claim that the moral properties are among the physical parts.  But leaving that difficult debate on moral naturalism aside, we can say that to be a naturalist about race is to say that racial properties just are physical properties.

If you are wondering what, aside from physical properties, racial properties could be, one possible alternative is that racial properties are social properties.  Social properties are those that are dependent on human acts and decisions while physical properties are thought to be independent of human acts and decisions.  Take an example of an object like the Great Sphinx of Giza.  The property of being made of limestone is a natural property of the statue.  Limestone isn’t something that is the result of human actions or decision making.  However, the fact that this object is a statue isn’t a natural property.  Someone decided to shape the limestone into a couchant sphinx.

 So what’s the upshot of thinking of races as being composed of natural properties?  Well, that means that races exist independently of any human actions or decision making processes.  Races are something in the world that natural scientists can investigate and discover.  The opposing view would be that races are created by people, and this treats races as social constructions.

 So now we have an idea both of what it means to think of races in terms of natural properties as well as what that view can be contrasted with.  This leads us to the question which natural properties?

For the naturalist there are lots of different accounts of what a race could be.  Before the 20th century when race seemed to be studied primarily by natural historians the following features were associated with racial naturalism

1.  Races have either natural essences or some set of observable natural properties that are shared by all or most members of that race.

2. These natural properties are inheritable

3. These natural properties place races into a hierarchical systems where they can be differentiated in terms of physical, behavioral, intellectual, and moral characteristics.

 I’m not going to spend any time on these older views as they aren’t currently held for any scientific reasons in the scientific communities. While these views were central to earlier scientific theories of race, nowadays, they only pop up infrequently among those who have a limited and/or motivated understanding of biological properties.

 This leads us to what some philosophers like, Josh Glasgow, have called “The New biology of race”.  Unlike the old biology of race the new biology holds that races have natural properties that are common to most members of that race. These natural properties give us no reason to think that any intellectual, moral, or behavioral characteristics can be attributed to races in virtue of shared natural properties.

 While there are many possible accounts of which natural properties could be used to define race, one approach, that has gained a following, is to think of races as partially defined by, or caused by, reproductively isolated breeding populations.  

 A population is a group of the same species that live in the same place.  What makes a population a breeding population is that members of this group can and do sexually reproduce.  However, there are a few things that could make a breeding population reproductively isolated.  One way is that the breeding population is geographically cut off from other breeding populations of their own species.  (For instance, you could imagine a group of people cut off from others because they live on an island, or are separated by mountains or desserts).  In this case geographic properties of our world would shape our natural properties.  Another way a breeding population could be reproductively isolated is that even though a population is located together and could interbreed, portions of that population don’t interbreed with other portions.  For instance, if there were cultural taboos about subgroups of wealthy or short individuals breeding with subgroups of poor or tall individuals, those subgroups could be reproductively isolated even if they live in the same location.  In this case, social elements of our world would shape our natural properties.

 So that’s what reproductively isolated breeding populations are.  But how might they be used to define race?

 One way is that we can often define race in terms of ancestral relations.  For instance, if someone is of a particular race, let’s call it race X, we can explain conditions for that individual being of that race:  if one’s parents are both of race X, then one is also of race X.

 You might see a couple problems here.  First, what happens when one parent is of race X but another parent is of race Y?  In this case we might have to say that the offspring are either a new race (Z?) or don’t have a race as they are the product of non-isolated breeding populations.

 Second, even if one’s parents are both members of race X what makes them members of that race?  The answer is that their parents were also of race X.  But now we are off on an infinite regress:  the explanation of what makes someone a member of a race is not answered but just pushed back a generation each time that question gets asked.  We need an explanation that stops the infinite regress.

 One of two answers is normally given here.  One option is to say that one’s ancestor is a member of race X in virtue of sharing similar phenotypic, or observable, properties specific to other members of one’ s reproductively isolated breeding population.  A second option is to say that one’s ancestor is a member of race X in virtue of sharing similar genotypic, or genetic, properties specific to other members of one’s reproductively isolated breeding population.  Given that much of our genetic makeup plays no direct role in our observable traits, the genotypic similarities would not necessarily mean that races have phenotypic similarities.

 So the accounts I just sketched which make use of ancestral relations among reproductively isolated breeding populations and either genotypic or phenotypic properties is one way to develop a naturalistic account of race.

 I should note that in an attempt to be quite inclusive of a variety of naturalist theories, I have not specified the different ways this account can be developed in order to respond to various concerns. (For detailed examples of this sort of approach see key works below).

 -David Miguel Gray

Key works

Here are three naturalist accounts of race.

Philip Kitcher. “Race, Ethnicity, Biology, Culture” in Racism, L. Harris (ed.), New York: Humanity Books. 87-117.

Robin Andreasen 2005. “The Meaning of ‘Race’: Folk Conception and the New Biology of Race*” The Journal of Philosophy, 94-106.

Quayshawn Spencer 2014. “A Radical Solution to the Race Problem” Philosophy of Science, 1025-1038.

 And for an attack on naturalist accounts see:

Joshua Glasgow, 2005. “On the New Biology of Race, The Journal of Philosophy, 456-74.

Introductions

Ned Block’s “How Heritability misleads about Race” 

https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html

Alan Templeton “Biological Races in Humans”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737365/

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  1. K. B. Aikman (1933). Race Mixture. The Eugenics Review 25 (3):161.
  2. Stephen G. Alter (2008). “Curiously Parallel”: Analogies of Language and Race in Darwin's Descent of Man. A Reply to Gregory Radick. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 39 (3):355-358.
    In the second chapter of The descent of man , Charles Darwin interrupted his discussion of the evolutionary origins of language to describe ten ways in which the formation of languages and of biological species were ‘curiously’ similar. I argue that these comparisons served mainly as analogies in which linguistic processes stood for aspects of biological evolution. Darwin used these analogies to recapitulate themes from On the origin of species , including common descent, genealogical classification, the struggle for existence, and (...)
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  3. Stephen G. Alter (2007). Separated at Birth: The Interlinked Origins of Darwin's Unconscious Selection Concept and the Application of Sexual Selection to Race. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Biology 40 (2):231 - 258.
    This essay traces the interlinked origins of two concepts found in Charles Darwin's writings: "unconscious selection," and sexual selection as applied to humanity's anatomical race distinctions. Unconscious selection constituted a significant elaboration of Darwin's artificial selection analogy. As originally conceived in his theoretical notebooks, that analogy had focused exclusively on what Darwin later would call "methodical selection," the calculated production of desired changes in domestic breeds. By contrast, unconscious selection produced its results unintentionally and at a much slower pace. Inspiration (...)
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  4. M. Andreae (2004). Prenatal Sex and Race Determination is a Slippery Slope. Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (4):376-376.
    I am deeply worried about your guest editorial,1 please allow me a few bullet points: Trying to dispel some of the counterarguments to sex selection, your argument of prospective parents’ autonomy is void. If anyone has a right to determine his or her sex, it would be the person concerned, in this case the unborn child. ….
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  5. Robin O. Andreasen (2007). Biological Conceptions of Race. In Mohan Matthen & Christopher Stephens (eds.), Philosophy of Biology. Elsevier 455--481.
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  6. Robin O. Andreasen (2005). The Meaning of 'Race'. Journal of Philosophy 102 (2):94 - 106.
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  7. Robin O. Andreasen (2004). The Cladistic Race Concept: A Defense. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 19 (3):425-442.
    Many contemporary race scholars reject the biological reality of race.Elsewhere I have argued that they have been too quick to do so. Part ofthe reason is that they have overlooked the possibility that races canbe defined cladistically. Since the publication of the cladistic raceconcept, a number of questions and objections have been raised. My aimin this paper is to address these objections.
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  8. Robin O. Andreasen (2000). Race: Biological Reality or Social Construct? Philosophy of Science 67 (3):666.
    Race was once thought to be a real biological kind. Today the dominant view is that objective biological races don't exist. I challenge the trend to reject the biological reality of race by arguing that cladism (a school of classification that individuates taxa by appeal to common ancestry) provides a new way to define race biologically. I also reconcile the proposed biological conception with constructivist theories about race. Most constructivists assume that biological realism and social constructivism are incompatible views about (...)
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  9. Robin O. Andreasen (1998). A New Perspective on the Race Debate. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49 (2):199-225.
    In the ongoing debate concerning the nature of human racial categories, there is a trend to reject the biological reality of race in favour of the view that races are social constructs. At work here is the assumption that biological reality and social constructivism are incompatible. I oppose the trend and the assumption by arguing that cladism, in conjunction with current work in human evolution, provides a new way to define race biologically. Defining race in this way makes sense when (...)
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  10. Jonny Anomaly (2014). Race, Genes, and the Ethics of Belief: A Review of Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance. [REVIEW] Hastings Center Report 44 (5):51-52.
  11. Kwame Anthony Appiah (2006). How to Decide If Races Exist. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (3):363–380.
    Through most of the twentieth century, life scientists grew increasingly sceptical of the biological significance of folk classifications of people by race. New work on the human genome has raised the possibility of a resurgence of scientific interest in human races. This paper aims to show that the racial sceptics are right, while also granting that biological information associated with racial categories may be useful.
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  12. Guido Barbujani (2001). What Genetics Tells Us About Races. In N. J. Smelser & B. Baltes (eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 19--12694.
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  13. Michael S. Billinger (2007). Racial Classification in the Evolutionary Sciences: A Comparative Analysis. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 29 (4):429 - 467.
    Human racial classification has long been a problem for the discipline of anthropology, but much of the criticism of the race concept has focused on its social and political connotations. The central argument of this paper is that race is not a specifically human problem, but one that exists in evolutionary thought in general. This paper looks at various disciplinary approaches to racial or subspecies classification, extending its focus beyond the anthropological race concept by providing a comparative analysis of the (...)
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  14. C. O. Carter (1951). Races. The Eugenics Review 43 (2):99.
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  15. C. D. Darlington (1974). Race. Journal of Biosocial Science 6 (3):397.
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  16. L. Darwin (1968). The Future of Our Race Heredity and Social Progress. The Eugenics Review 60 (2):99-108.
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  17. L. Major Darwin (1917). The Disabled Sailor and Soldier and the Future of Our Race. The Eugenics Review 9 (7).
  18. Joshua Glasgow (2011). Another Look at the Reality of Race, by Which I Mean Race-F. In Allan Hazlett (ed.), New Waves in Metaphysics.
    Recently the idea that race is biologically real has gained more traction. One argument against this claim is that the populations identified by science do not sufficiently map onto the concept of race as deployed in the relevant racial discourse, namely folk racial discourse. Call that concept the concept of race-f. Robin Andreasen (2005) argues that this "mismatch" criticism fails, on a variety of grounds including: ordinary folk semantically defer to scientists; scientists can disagree about facts; historians disagree about the (...)
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  19. Joshua Glasgow (2009). In Defense of a Four-Part Theory: Replies to Hardimon, Haslanger, Mallon, and Zack. Symposia on Gender, Race, and Philosophy 5 (2):1-18.
  20. Joshua M. Glasgow (2003). On the New Biology of Race. Journal of Philosophy 100 (9):456 - 474.
  21. David Miguel Gray (2013). Racial Norms: A Reinterpretation of Du Bois' “The Conservation of Races”. Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (4):465-487.
    I argue that standard explanations of Du Bois' theory of race inappropriately characterize his view as attempting to provide descriptive criteria for races. Such an interpretation makes it both susceptible to Appiah's circularity objection and alienates it from Du Bois' central project of solidarity—which is the central point of “Conservation.” I propose that we should understand his theory as providing a normative account of race: an attempt to characterize what some races should be in terms of what other races are. (...)
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  22. G. Ainsworth Harrison (1961). Human Races. The Eugenics Review 53 (2):102.
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  23. Adam Hochman (2016). Race: Deflate or Pop? Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 57.
    Neven Sesardic has recently defended his arguments in favour of racial naturalism—the view that race is a valid biological category—in response to my criticism of his work. While Sesardic claims that a strong version of racial naturalism can survive critique, he has in fact weakened his position considerably. He concedes that conventional racial taxonomy is arbitrary and he no longer identifies ‘races’ as human subspecies. Sesardic now relies almost entirely on Theodosius Dobzhansky’s notion of race-as-population. This weak approach to ‘race’—according (...)
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  24. Adam Hochman (2015). Of Vikings and Nazis: Norwegian Contributions to the Rise and the Fall of the Idea of a Superior Aryan Race. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 54:84-88.
    Nazi ideology was premised on a belief in the superiority of the Germanic race. However, the idea of a superior Germanic race was not invented by the Nazis. By the beginning of the 20th century this idea had already gained not only popular but also mainstream scientific support in England, Germany, the U.S., Scandinavia, and other parts of the world in which people claimed Germanic origins (p. xiii). Yet how could this idea, which is now recognised as ideology of the (...)
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  25. Adam Hochman (2013). Against the New Racial Naturalism. Journal of Philosophy 6:331–51.
    Support for the biological concept of race declined slowly but steadily during the second half of the twentieth century. However, debate about the validity of the race concept has recently been reignited. Genetic-clustering studies have shown that despite the small proportion of genetic variation separating continental populations, it is possible to assign some individuals to their continents of origin, based on genetic data alone. Race naturalists have interpreted these studies as empirically confirming the existence of human subspecies, and by (...)
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  26. Adam Hochman (2013). Racial Discrimination: How Not to Do It. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C (3):278-286.
    The UNESCO Statements on Race of the early 1950s are understood to have marked a consensus amongst natural scientists and social scientists that ‘race’ is a social construct. Human biological diversity was shown to be predominantly clinal, or gradual, not discreet, and clustered, as racial naturalism implied. From the seventies social constructionists added that the vast majority of human genetic diversity resides within any given racialised group. While social constructionism about race became the majority consensus view on the (...)
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  27. H. F. Humphreys (1926). Evolution of the Pre-Historic Races. The Eugenics Review 18 (1):15.
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  28. C. J. Jolly (1967). The Living Races of Man. The Eugenics Review 59 (4):272.
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  29. C. J. Jolly (1964). The Origin of Races. The Eugenics Review 55 (4):235.
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  30. Jonathan Michael Kaplan & Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther (2014). Realism, Antirealism, and Conventionalism About Race. Philosophy of Science 81 (5):1039-1052.
    This paper distinguishes three concepts of "race": bio-genomic cluster/race, biological race, and social race. We map out realism, antirealism, and conventionalism about each of these, in three important historical episodes: Frank Livingstone and Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1962, A.W.F. Edwards' 2003 response to Lewontin (1972), and contemporary discourse. Semantics is especially crucial to the first episode, while normativity is central to the second. Upon inspection, each episode also reveals a variety of commitments to the metaphysics of race. We conclude by interrogating (...)
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  31. Catherine Kendig (2011). Race as a Physiosocial Phenomenon. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 33 (2):191-222.
    This paper offers both a criticism of and a novel alternative perspective on current ontologies that take race to be something that is either static and wholly evident at one’s birth or preformed prior to it. In it I survey and critically assess six of the most popular conceptions of race, concluding with an outline of my own suggestion for an alternative account. I suggest that race can be best understood in terms of one’s experience of his or her body, (...)
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  32. Harold Kincaid & Jennifer McKitrick (eds.) (2007). Establishing Medical Reality: Methodological and Metaphysical Issues in Philosophy of Medicine. Springer Publishing Company.
  33. Philip Kitch (2007). Does 'Race' Have a Future? Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (4):293 - 317.
  34. David Ludwig (2015). Against the New Metaphysics of Race. Philosophy of Science 82 (2):244-265.
    The aim of this article is to develop an argument against metaphysical debates about the existence of human races. I argue that the ontology of race is underdetermined by both empirical and non-empirical evidence due to a plurality of equally permissible candidate meanings of "race." Furthermore, I argue that this underdetermination leads to a deflationist diagnosis according to #hich disputes about the existence of human races are non-substantive verbal disputes. $hile this diagnosis resembles general deflationist strategies in contemporary metaphysics" I (...)
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  35. Ron Mallon (2013). Was Race Thinking Invented in the Modern West? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (1):77-88.
    The idea that genuinely racial thinking is a modern invention is widespread in the humanities and social sciences. However, it is not always clear exactly what the content of such a conceptual break is supposed to be. One suggestion is that with the scientific revolution emerged a conception of human groups that possessed essences that were thought to explain group-typical features of individuals as well the accumulated products of cultures or civilizations. However, recent work by cognitive and evolutionary psychologists suggests (...)
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  36. Ronald Jerry Mallon (2000). Making Up Your Mind: The Social Construction of Human Kinds and its Implications. Dissertation, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick
    What does it mean to say a thing is socially constructed? What is implied by something's being a social construction? I explore these questions in what follows, focusing on constructionist claims concerning human kinds. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the dissertation and discusses a number of background questions relevant to the realist, naturalistic approach to social constructionism I take. ;In Chapter 2, I develop the notion of a social role and review a body of empirical literature suggesting that social (...)
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  37. Tom Martin (2012). Joshua Glasgow, A Theory of Race (New York: Routledge, 2009). Philosophical Papers 41 (1):175-179.
  38. Roberta L. Millstein (2015). Thinking About Populations and Races in Time. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52:5-11.
    Biologists and philosophers have offered differing concepts of biological race. That is, they have offered different candidates for what a biological correlate of race might be; for example, races might be subspecies, clades, lineages, ecotypes, or genetic clusters. One thing that is striking about each of these proposals is that they all depend on a concept of population. Indeed, some authors have explicitly characterized races in terms of populations. However, including the concept of population into concepts of race raises three (...)
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  39. Roberta L. Millstein (2012). Darwin's Explanation of Races by Means of Sexual Selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (3):627-633.
    In Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that ‘‘Darwin would put his utmost into sexual selection because the subject intrigued him, no doubt, but also for a deeper reason: the theory vindicated his lifelong commitment to human brotherhood’’ (2009: p. 360). Without questioning Des- mond and Moore’s evidence, I will raise some puzzles for their view. I will show that attention to the structure of Darwin’s arguments in the Descent of Man shows that they are far from (...)
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  40. Gérard Molina (2005). Charles Darwin et la question du racisme scientifique. Actuel Marx 2 (2):29-44.
    The article re-addresses the question of the relation between Darwinism and the biological sciences, taking as its starting-point the precise chronology of the successive inquiries carried out by Darwin into the question of races, in connection with the various aspects of his theory of natural selection. It argues that the writings of Darwin do not share any uniform aim, nor do they come under a single epistemological category. Darwin adopts a number of divergent approaches, as he addresses a series of (...)
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  41. Stephen G. Morris (2011). Preserving the Concept of Race: A Medical Expedient, a Sociological Necessity. Philosophy of Science 78 (5):1260-1271.
  42. Vicky L. Morrisroe (2013). “Sanguinary Amusement”: E. A. Freeman, the Comparative Method and Victorian Theories of Race. Modern Intellectual History 10 (1):27-56.
    This article seeks to revise the conventional portrait of the historian E. A. Freeman (1823–92) as an arch-racist and confident proponent of Aryan superiority. Focusing on the relatively obscure Comparative Politics (1873), it is argued that, while attitudes towards race were hardening in the later nineteenth century, Freeman combined the insights of the practitioners of the Comparative Method and the Liberal Anglican philosophy of Thomas Arnold to define the Aryan race as a community of culture rather than of blood. Explicitly (...)
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  43. Jean-Claude Mounolou & Dominique Planchenault (2009). De l'Évolution, des Races Et des Hommes. Natures Sciences Sociétés 17 (2):111-112.
  44. Bence Nanay (2010). Three Ways of Resisting Racism. The Monist 93 (2):255-280.
    Two widespread strategies of resisting racism are the following. The first one is to deny the existence of races and thus block even the possibility of racist claims. The second one is to grant that races exist but insist that racial differences do not imply value differences. The aim of this paper is to outline a strategy of resisting racism that is weaker than the first but stronger than the second strategy: even if we accept that races exist, we can (...)
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  45. Silviene Oliveira & Luzitano Ferreira (2004). Biological Views Of The Inexistence Of Human Races. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2):60-63.
    In biology, race can be defined as a geographically bounded population showing accentuated genetic differentiation. It is believed that the division of human species into "races" presents solid biological base. However, there are problems over using this term. The present work aims to point out some of the difficulties of using the concept of races for the human species, using a biological approach. The race concept is typological, imprecise, based on subjective concepts, and can suffer different interpretations according to the (...)
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  46. Lucius T. Outlaw (2014). If Not Races, Then What? Toward a Revised Understanding of Bio-Social Groupings. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 35 (1-2):275-296.
  47. Jeremy Pierce (2009). Mutants and the Metaphysics of Race. In Rebecca Housel J. Jeremy Wisnewski (ed.), X-Men and Philosophy: Astonishing Insight and Uncanny Argument in the Mutant X-Verse. Wiley/Blackwell
  48. Massimo Pigliucci & Jonathan Kaplan (2003). On the Concept of Biological Race and its Applicability to Humans. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1161-1172.
    Biological research on race has often been seen as motivated by or lending credence to underlying racist attitudes; in part for this reason, recently philosophers and biologists have gone through great pains to essentially deny the existence of biological human races. We argue that human races, in the biological sense of local populations adapted to particular environments, do in fact exist; such races are best understood through the common ecological concept of ecotypes. However, human ecotypic races do not in general (...)
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  49. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1927). The Primitive Races of Mankind. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 5:72.
  50. Mark Risjord (2007). Race and Scientific Reduction. In Harold Kincaid & Jennifer McKitrick (eds.), Establishing medical reality: Methodological and metaphysical issues in philosophy of medicine. Springer Publishing Company
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