Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pandora's Multi-Colored Box

Johann Gottfried Herder was a prophet of his time period, whether he knew so or not. He correctly identified and attempted to correct what would soon develop into a type of Pandora’s Box, which has yet to be closed to this day. In his short essay, Herder almost pleaded with the reader not to encourage what could be viewed as racial separation. Herder’s apparent foresight was uncanny as he tried to place some type of restriction on what would later serve as a type of justification for how certain races were treated throughout history. As we discussed during class, although Herder was a student of Kant, he was not necessarily an advocate of all of his thoughts. The brief detours that Kant takes from his scientific and seemingly objective view of races ultimately helped to set the stage for an even greater division of the races that still exist even in the 21st century and centers around popular misconceptions that came from the time period in which philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Herder wrote on the concept of what would soon be known as race.
Being a young, Black man the concept of race is all too real and many of the different stereotypes that I have heard while growing up now have a origin. The description of Black people as being “lazy” and “aloof” but “strong” and well-suited have been descriptions that have been around for hundreds of years. The argument that I have heard in talking with some people outside of class is that regardless of who made the observations, it would only be a matter of time before the races were eventually separated, regardless of who that person ended up being. This draws off of the idea that all human beings have a natural inclination to differentiate between different people by physical appearance. I would argue that we have no way of knowing what another person had the potential to come to being and make completely different observations regarding race. As Dr. J presented in class, what kept us from being separated by height or eye color or some other physical feature? Although Kant attempts to base his explanation on race behind scientific evidence, its still hard to believe that a complex concept such as the origin of race would be left to those who, according to their writings, present both a subjective and objective view. I would like to present the question of whether or not philosophers such as Hegel and Kant and in some cases Herder should be seen as the source of the racial problems that have plagued humanity over the centuries or if humanity has developed its own sense of race since the times of early racial definition.


  1. That question is a valid question. After reading Kant and Hegel, I think that it is impossible to think that they weren't responsible for some of the racial problems that have plagued humanity over the centuries, but I do think that there have been other philosophers who have went against their thinking and fought for equality. I think humanity has definitely developed its own sense of race from the beginning. I think a combination of race, experiences, and reading philosophers (like Kant and Hegel) all have some importance when it comes to trying to find the source of racial problems in humanity.

  2. I agree with NeNe when she says "that it is impossible to think that [Kant, Hegel, etc.] weren't responsible for some of the racial problems..." Although these thinkers may have been publishing thoughts that were a result of them being a product of an already racially biased society, they still had an overall negative impact on their society's understanding of race. By publishing their work (regardless of intention) they were simply continuing rolling a ball in the wrong direction. They provided society with more language and misconceptions that could easily spur biases and discrimination. One thing that is interesting which I was thinking about is how these works affected European thought, but if they had any influence on other "non-white" societies. Do cultures other than Europeans at this time share the same opinions on race? Does this "Pandora's Box" even exist??

  3. I think it's unfair to call these philosophers the root of racial tensions. The ideas that led to a racist mindset were incredibly complex, they arose from several sources and an environment of group-think. Granted, the individual essays are racist, but I might argue that at least these philosophers were THINKING about race, attempting to find a way to better understand mankind (as flawed as those attempts may have been). From what I know about philosophy, I'm willing to bet every philosopher we read will tell us why the previous is wrong. So starting the discussion seems like the start of the battle. It's narrow to blame the people attempting to explain their surroundings by essentially guessing and checking for being wrong.

    Furthermore, racism exists because of a combination of factors which could have, in reality, affected the formulation of these thinkers' philosophies in the first place. I guess what I mean is that I'm not convinced these thinkers invented the idea of racial inequality and therefore can't reasonably be held responsible for racism.

  4. I would argue that these philosophers, along with all thinkers of the Enlightenment, whether scientist, religious figure, or otherwise, absolutely attributed to the racism that developed over the following centuries. I am slowly getting a grasp on what the dynamic of the time was and how it created the idea of race and that race was the way humankind should be separated.
    Herder, Hegel, Kant(etc.) were responding to this idea that people were
    Seemingly, the philosophers we have been reading were not necessarily creating or constructing the idea of race, rather they were responding to responses to an idea that had developed through other influences, possibly political, religious, or from trade companies. These influences had perhaps the most to gain from labeling entire collections of humans as different and of lesser status genetically, mentally, and spiritually.
    Bernier apparently did create the vocabulary of race, but I don't think he created the idea. People were already thinking of others in this way, and in true philosopher style, Bernier stepped in to clarify and articulate. From there, philosophers (Hegel, Kant, and others) continued to define and specify what was meant by 'race.'
    Whether this had a negative impact is likely true. Philosophers writings did influence minds and provide arguments that could be used to justify racism later.


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