In the beginning of Immanuel Kant’s essay, “Of the Different Human Races,” he distinguishes between natural division and artificial division. According to Kant, “race” is a natural deviation from the original line of human descent. Based on this understanding of “race,” Kant argues that “race” is scientifically supported. However, what exactly constitutes a “race?” Is it one’s physical, cognitive, or emotional characteristics that have “deviated”? If so, how can one measure such deviations? Does one’s cultural community and religion influence one’s race, and if so, how? Kant seems to make a broad claim about “race” without defining specific characteristics used to differentiate between races.
Kant’s observations of various races are primarily physical. For example, he describes people who lived in the arctic region as having a smaller build because “with a smaller build the power of the heart remains the same but blood circulation takes place in a shorter time” (p. 15). Similarly, Kant explains, “Negros…produced a thick, turned up nose and thick, fatty lips” (p. 15). However, imbedded within the context of the essay are remarks about cognitive deviation as well, for example differences in personality. After the extensive paragraph that describes how surrounding environment influences the appearance of Negros, Kant writes, “However, because he is so amply supplied by his motherland, he is also lazy, indolent, and dawdling” (17). Like physical attributes, does Kant believe personality traits, such as “laziness,” are preserved as well? For example, would Kant argue that a “Negro” who is born and raised in a sparse environment would be “lazy, indolent, and dawdling?” Clearly, this is an absurd claim to make. Because such characteristics are not preserved throughout generations, Kant should not include such observations in his essay. Rather, Kant should maintain his definition of “race,” although poorly defined, in order to uphold the belief that “race” belongs to the category of “natural law.” Not only does Kant’s statement about Negros undermine his naturally based philosophy of race, but it also undermines the integrity of different races. Words such as “lazy, indolent, and dawdling” are charged with negative connotations. Comments such as these emphasize the political motivation for race. Kant directly criticizes other “races,” with the hopes to indirectly advance his own.
Although I now understand “ten things to know about race” after class discussion, I, myself, do not have answers to the questions I have posed. Although slightly embarrassing to admit, I do not know what “constitutes” race. I am looking forward to further investigating this question throughout the course of the semester.