The common uses of the term race rely on notions of skin color and appearance, language, religious affiliation and nationality. I do not believe that race is a consistent or substantive classification. Instead, it is a cultural, social and political concept rooted in superficiality. In order to show this, we can examine one of the most prominent contemporary scientists of the 18th century – Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. During this century, European scientists were obsessed with deriving various ways to classify all forms of life. Carl Linnaeus’ classification system (which is still in use today) included four categories for humans, which he labeled the “varieties” of the human species. In his descriptions of the “varieties,” he includes biological as well as acquired social characteristics. Homo Europeans were light-skinned, blond, and governed by law; Homo Americans were copper and regulated by customs; Homo Asiatics were sooty and governed by opinions; Homo Africans were black and indolent, governed by impulse. This is nothing less than a thinly masked attempt at ranking the different groups simply based on ethnocentrically skewed assumptions. And the parts about how each group is “governed” would surely not have held true. Even a cursory examination of each racial group would show every variety of behavior here attributed to a given group. The system in which these descriptions were codified is still in use for the animal kingdom today, albeit without this poorly conceived attempt to classify human beings.
Kant’s attempt to classify humans into a taxonomy of sorts is different in one major aspect than Linnaeus’ – he goes about justification of the system from a “logical” perspective. However, it would seem that his argument is merely a spigot of ignorance. Kant believes that he can give explanations which have some plausible merit about the various races by describing reasons for their physical attributes. This involves observing that certain arctic peoples are of smaller build because “with a smaller build the power of the heart remains the same but blood circulation takes place in a shorter time.” This is laughable as a working explanation for the stature of a group of people, and one can imagine several scenarios in which short people live in very warm climates – pygmies, for example. Also explicit in Kant’s taxonomy is the assumption that whiteness equates to perfection of reason and minimal deviation from the root lineage of man. It is clear that this account is also saturated with the types of ethnocentric judgments which other popular intellectuals were espousing. Kant also believed that human reason was the true mark of humanity, and this classification of inferiority which he supported makes many implicit judgments about general comprehension and reasoning faculties of the races which are further from what he considered to be the lineal “root,” or white Germans.