Language, Politics, and “The Folk”: Looking for “The Meaning” of ‘Race’

The Monist 93 (2):169-187 (2010)
Contemporary discussions of race and racism devote considerable effort to giving conceptual analyses of these notions. Much of the work is concerned to investigate a priori what we mean by the terms ‘race’ and ‘racism’ (e.g., Garcia 1996; Garcia 1997; Garcia 1999: Blum 2002; Hardimon 2003; Mallon 2004); more recent work has started to employ empirical methods to determine the content of our “folk concepts,” or “folk theory” of race and racism (Glasgow 2009; Glasgow et al 2009; Faucher and Machery 2009). In contrast to both of these projects, I have argued elsewhere that in considering what we mean by these terms we should treat them on the model of kind terms whose reference is fixed by ordinary uses, but whose content is discovered empirically using social theory; I have also argued that it is not only important to determine what we actually mean by these terms, but what we should mean, i.e., what type, if any, we should be tracking. (Haslanger 2000, Haslanger 2006) My own discussion of these issues, however, has been confused and confusing. In giving an account of race or gender, is the goal to provide a conceptual analysis? Or to investigate the kinds we are referring to? To draw attention to different kinds? To stipulate new meanings? Jennifer Saul has raised a series of powerful objections to my accounts of gender and race, suggesting that they are neither semantically nor politically useful, regardless of whether we treat them as revisionary proposals, or as elucidations of our concepts. (Saul 2006) Joshua Glasgow has also offered a critique of my externalist approach to race as an effort to capture “our concept” (Glasgow 2009, Ch. 6-7). I agree with much of what they say, but I also believe that there is something I was trying to capture that..
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