Philosophy of race meets population genetics

Philosophy of race meets population genetics

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Volume 52, August 2015
pages 46–55
Genomics and Philosophy of Race
DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.04.003

Quayshawn Spencer, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of Pennsylvania


  • I discuss the recent human population-genetic research that has revived biological racial realism.
  • I summarize four semantic and metaphysical objections to the new biological racial realism.
  • I show that each objection stems from an implausible semantic or metaphysical assumption.
  • I provide 3 suggestions for how to productively move forward in the debate.

In this paper, I respond to four common semantic and metaphysical objections that philosophers of race have launched at scholars who interpret recent human genetic clustering results in population genetics as evidence for biological racial realism. I call these objections ‘the discreteness objection’, ‘the visibility objection’, ‘the very important objection’, and ‘the objectively real objection.’ After motivating each objection, I show that each one stems from implausible philosophical assumptions about the relevant meaning of ‘race’ or the nature of biological racial realism. In order to be constructive, I end by offering some advice for how we can productively critique attempts to defend biological racial realism based on recent human genetic clustering results. I also offer a clarification of the relevant human-population genetic research.

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