‘the Black, scabby brazilian’: Some thoughts on race and early modern philosophy

Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (2):211-221 (2005)
When Spinoza described his dream of a ‘black, scabby Brazilian’, was the image indicative of a larger pattern of racial discrimination? Should today’s readers regard racist comments and theories in the texts of 17th- and 18th-century philosophers as reflecting the prejudices of their time or as symptomatic of philosophical discourse? This article discusses whether a critical discussion of race is itself a form of racism and whether supposedly minor prejudices are evidence of a deeper social pathology. Given historical hindsight, we may read such discussion of race in early modern philosophy as a sign of the incipient struggle against prejudice, a sign that we can recognize and use in the struggles of our own time. Key Words: colonialism • the concept of haunting • essentialism • David Hume • Immanuel Kant • racism • Benedict Spinoza.
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