How we divide the world

Philosophy of Science 67 (3):639 (2000)
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Real kinds or categories, according to conventional wisdom, enter into lawlike generalizations, while nominal kinds do not. Thus, gold but not jewelry is a real kind. However, by such a criterion, few if any kinds or systems of classification employed in the social science are real, for the social sciences offer, at best, only restricted generalizations. Thus, according to conventional wisdom, race and class are on a par with telephone area codes and postal zones; all are nominal rather than real. I propose an account of real kinds that recognizes the current reality of race but not zip codes and shows how a kind can be both constructed and real. One virtue of such an understanding of realism is the light shed on our current practice of racial classification. Race is not a real biological kind but neither is race a myth or illusion. However, the question of whether a social kind is real is separate from whether the category is legitimate. W. E. B. Du Bois maintained that while there are no biological races, race is real and should be conserved. My aim, in this paper, is not to argue for the legitimacy or conservation of race but to defend Du Bois's idea that kinds of people can be both made up and real and provide an understanding of realism that does justice to the social sciences.



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Michael Root
University of Minnesota

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References found in this work

The souls of Black folk.W. E. B. Du Bois - 1987 - Oxford University Press.
A matter of individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
The Natural Shiftiness of Natural Kinds.Ronald de Sousa - 1984 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (4):561-580.
Realism in the Social Sciences.David-Hillel Ruben - 1989 - In Hilary Lawson & Lisa Appignanesi (eds.), Dismantling Truth: Reality in the Post-modern World. London: Weidenfeld.

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