To be a realist about race is to hold that racial categories pick out real kinds in nature. (Smith, 2015: 43; Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference Race in Early Modern Philosophy)
Claims from biological racial realists are simple: Racial categories pick out real kinds in nature. If racial categories pick out real kinds in nature, then race surely exists.
Racial groups—or groups taken to be racial groups—characterize three conditions from Hardimon (2017): C1: they are distinguished from other groups by patterns of visible physical features; C2: the members are linked by common ancestry which is peculiar to that group; and C3: they derive from a distinct geographic location.
Justifying C1 is simple: groups taken to be ‘racial’ are distinguished from other groups on the basis of physical characters. Someone from Europe looks different than someone from Africa; someone from Africa looks different than someone from Asia; someone from Asia looks different than someone from the Pacific Islands; someone from the Pacific Islands looks different than the Natives of America. Groups taken to be ‘racial’ have different facial features; they have different morphology. Thus, since there are heritable differences between groups taken to be ‘racial’, then this is evidence that race does indeed exist.
It’s important to also discuss what C1 does not demand: it does not demand that racial groups be distinguished by each of their visible physical features; it does not demand that each visible physical features of members of a race be identical; it allows skin color to vary just as much within race as it does between race; finally, it also allows great variation in hair color, skull morphology and skin color. Thus, since Hardimon’s concept is ‘vague’, then one might be able to say that it is “clinal” (that is, these differences vary by geography). But “Physical anthropologist Frank Livingstone’s well-known adage “There are no races, only clines” overlooks the possibility that, logically speaking, races might be clines” (Hardimon, 2017: 38). The claim “There are no races, only clines” is one that is oft-repeated against the reality of biological races.
C2, very simply, shows that differences in visible physical features are not the only things that delineate race: race is also defined in terms of ancestry and is therefore essential to the concept of race (I’d argue that ancestry is essential to any argument that attempts to establish races as biologically real). Races are, clearly, morphologically demarcated ancestry groups. The justification for C2 is thus: it is intuitive. Examples of race articulated in the past also bore this very basic concept: Linneus’ europeaus, asiaticus, afer, and americanus; Blumenbach’s Mongoloid, Caucasoid, Ethiopian, Malay and American; UNESCO’s Negroid, Mongoloid, and Caucasoid (deployed most famously by JP Rushton); and the Office of Management and Budget’s American Indian (or Alaskan native), black, Asian, whites, native Hawaiians (Pacific Islanders) (see Spencer, 2014 for a treatment of the OMB’s views on race and his ‘radical solution to the race problem’).
Now, finally, C3: the condition that groups taken to be ‘racial’ must derive from a distinct geographic location. Race, and the names used to refer to race, and so “The use of typonyms in the naming of racial groups suggests that the thinkers who chose these names were thinking of race as a geographical grouping” (Hardimon, 2017: 50). So, C1 and C2 have been established. This leaves us with C3. Races differ in patterns of visible physical features; these differences are explained by differences in geographic location. If race R1 derives from geographic location G1, and G1 is distinct from G2 which race R2 inhabits, then races R1 and R2 will look physically different.
Thus the groups that we think of when we think about race are groups that genetically transmit heritable characters to their offspring which then correspond to differences in geographic ancestry. So groups that satisfy C1-C3 are ‘races’, in the normal sense of the word. Groups that satisfy C1-C3 are articulated in Hardimon’s (2017) populationist race concept using Rosenberg et al’s (2002) data, and these are, largely, the same groups that Blumenbach pointed out centuries ago (Spencer, 2014).
The Visible Physical Features of Minimalist Race Are Racial
The visible physical features of minimalist race that correspond to geographical ancestry count as “racial” because they are defining features of minimalist races. They no more need to be correlated with normatively important features to be properly counted as racial then minimalist races need to be characterized by normatively important features to be properly counted as races. Just as the concept of minimalist race deflates the concept of RACE, so too it deflates the concept of RACIAL. Visible physical features that correspond to geographical ancestry are eo ipso racial. (Hardimon, 2017: 52)
Hardimon (2017: 99) also articulates one of the best definitions of race I have come across:
A race is a subdivision of Homo sapiens—a group of populations that exhibits a distinctive pattern of genetically transmitted phenotypic characters that corresponds to the group’s geographic ancestry and belongs to a biological line of descent initiated by a geographically separated and reproductively isolated founding population.
Since Hardimon’s views are new (published in 2017), there are no replies to his argument—excpet one, by Spencer (2018). Spencer doesn’t take to two of Hardimon’s claims: that (1) that the minimalist concept of race is the ordinary concept of race and (2) that minimalist races are biologically real. He grants (1) until Hardimon provides evidence that the minimalist concept of race is the ordinary concept of race. (2), on the other hand, Spencer attacks.
His objection to (2) comes down to the simple fact that 13/17 of the different conceptions of racial groups discussed by Linnaeus, Blumenbach, the OMB, and UNESCO do not fit C1-C3 (Blumenbach’s races do fit C1-C3). Spencer (2018) states that “there’s no ancestor that Eurasians share that’s not also shared by East Asians, Oceanians, and Native Americans […] there’s no ancestor that East Asians share that’s not also shared by Oceanians and Native Americans.” (See Duda and Zrzavy, 2016.) We need to be clear on what Hardimon means by “ancestry.” The dictionary definition of “ancestry” is thus: “one’s family or ethnic descent.” On this definition of “ancestry”, groups taken to be races do have “distinct ancestry“, so defined, and so, Hardimon’s (2017) C2 does indeed hold.
Biological racial realism “should” mean “race is a geniuine kind in biology.” Take the argument from Spencer (2011: 24):
(1) The meaning of ‘biological racial realism’ in the race debate should be a metaphysically minimal interpretation of important scientific kindhood that also does the most justice to what counts as an important scientific kind.
(2) A “metaphysically minimal” interpretation of important scientific kindhood is one that does not adopt unnecessary and contentious metaphysical assumptions.
(3) The interpretation of important scientific kindhood that does the most justice to what counts as an important scientific kind is the one that best captures epistemically important scientific kinds—or ‘EIS kinds’ for short.
(4) The candidates for important scientific kindhood in the race debate are natural kinds, naturali kinds, naturalu kinds, naturalp kinds, realp biological kinds, reali biological kinds, and geniuine kinds.
(5) No kind of kind in the race debate is both metaphysically minimal and does a better job of capturing EIS kindhood than genuine kinds.
(6) Therefore, the meaning of ‘biological racial realism’ in the race debate should be ‘race is a genuine kind in biology’.
Spencer has good critiques of Hardimon’s minimalist/populationist race view, but it does not hold.
Even if we allow Spencer’s views on Hardimon’s arguments for the existence of race to hold, Spencer himself has articulated a sound argument for the existence of race. In his 2014 paper A Radical Solution to the Race Problem, Spencer (2014) shows that Americans defer to the US Census on matters of race; the US Census defers to the OMB; the OMB refers to “sets of” populations—blacks, whites, Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders; these “sets of” populations are not kinds (like what Hardimon argues his racial classifications are); therefore, races are not ‘kinds’, the term ‘race’ refers to sets of population groups. Thus, according to Spencer (2014), race refers to “proper names” for population groups, not “kinds”.
Both of Hardimon’s and Spencer’s arguments show that race is a biological reality; they both show that biological racial realism is true. Their concepts pick out real kinds in nature (Smith, 2016: 43).
Philosopher Justin Smith, in his book 2015 book Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference Race in Early Modern Philosophy articulates a Hardimonian argument for the existence our habits of distinguishing between human populations:
Now if scientific taxonomy builds on folk taxonomy, and if racial classification builds on this in turn, there might be some basis for supposing that something about the modern habit of distinguishing between human groups on racial grounds is more deep-seated than we have acknowledged it to be. (Smith, 2015: 47)
The reason why there “might be some basis for supposing that something about the modern habit [which is not truly modern; Sarich and Miele, 2004; which I am sure that Smith knows due to the content of his book] of distinguishing between human groups on racial grounds is more deep-seated” than we have acknowledged because we are picking out real kinds that exist in nature.
Race, as a concept, is biologically real. Racial categories pick out real kinds in nature, as argued by Spencer (2014) and Hardimon (2017). Criticisms on Hardimon from Spencer or Spencer from Hardimon do not take away from this one fact: that race exists and is biologically real. Groups taken to be ‘racial’ look different from each other; they look different from each other due to their geographic locations and their ancestry (C1-C3). Since this is true, then race exists. We can argue this view simply:
P1. If groups of people look different from each other depending on where their ancestors evolved, then race exists.
P2. Groups of people look different from each other depending on where their ancestors evolved.
C. Therefore, race exists since people look different depending on where their ancestors evolved (modus ponens, P1, P2).
Biological racial realism is true.