Prisoners of Abstraction? The Theory and Measure of Genetic Variation, and the Very Concept of 'Race'

Biological Theory 7 (1):401-412 (2013)
Authors
Rasmus Winther
University of California, Santa Cruz
Jonathan Kaplan
Oregon State University
Abstract
It is illegitimate to read any ontology about "race" off of biological theory or data. Indeed, the technical meaning of "genetic variation" is fluid, and there is no single theoretical agreed-upon criterion for defining and distinguishing populations (or groups or clusters) given a particular set of genetic variation data. Thus, by analyzing three formal senses of "genetic variation"—diversity, differentiation, and heterozygosity—we argue that the use of biological theory for making epistemic claims about "race" can only seem plausible when it relies on the user’s own assumptions about race; the move from biological measures to claims about “race” inevitably amounts to a pernicious reification. We also excavate assumptions in the history of the technical discourse over the concept of "race" (e.g., Livingstone's and Dobzhansky's 1962 exchange, Edwards' 2003 response to Lewontin 1972, as well as contemporary discussions of cladistic "race", and "races" as clusters). We show that claims about the existence (or non-existence) of "race" are underdetermined by biological facts, methods, and theories. Biological theory does not force the concept of "race" upon us; our social discourse, social ontology, and social expectations do. We become prisoners of our abstractions at our own hands, and at our own expense.
Keywords Biological ontology  Differentiation  Diversity  Models  Population genetics  Populations  Race  Reification  Variation
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DOI 10.1007/s13752-012-0048-0
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References found in this work BETA

Does 'Race' Have a Future?Philip Kitcher - 2007 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (4):293–317.
Race: Biological Reality or Social Construct?Robin O. Andreasen - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (3):666.

View all 12 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Gould on Morton, Redux: What Can the Debate Reveal About the Limits of Data?Jonathan Kaplan, Massimo Pigliucci & Joshua Banta - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52:22-31.
The Mind, the Lab, and the Field: Three Kinds of Populations in Scientific Practice.Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther, Ryan Giordano, Michael D. Edge & Rasmus Nielsen - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52:12-21.
Philosophy of Race Meets Population Genetics.Quayshawn Spencer - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52:46-55.
In Defense of the Metaphysics of Race.Adam Hochman - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (11):2709–2729.
The Unnatural Racial Naturalism.Quayshawn Spencer - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 46 (1):38-43.

View all 10 citations / Add more citations

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