Race and the limits of liberalism

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32 (2):219-239 (2002)


This review essay considers three prominent recent works in the philosophy of race: Mills's The Racial Contract, Outlaw's On Race and Philosophy, and McGary's Race and Social Justice. Each of these books has played an important role in convincing social and political philosophers to take race more seriously as a category for theoretical analysis rather than simply as a subject related to certain applied moral and political problems such as affirmative action. Each of these works also wrestles with the question of whether the dominant theoretical traditions in modern Western political philosophy, and particularly liberalism, are capable of addressing the wide range of forms of social injustice that are linked to racism. The author indicates a number of differences between the books' approaches and argues that the conclusions at which they arrive are subject to different shortcomings. The author also shows that all three books raise sharp challenges to the liberal tradition at the same time that they remain ambivalent about the risks of departing altogether from that tradition. Key Words: justice • liberalism • modernity • race

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