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Hereditarian “Reasoning” on Race

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Charles Darwin

Denis Noble

JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson


1100 words

The existence of race is important for the hereditarian paradigm. Since it is so important, there must be some theories of race that hereditarians use to ground their theories of race and IQ, right? Well, looking at the main hereditarians’ writings, they just assume the existence of race, and, along with the assumption, the existence of three races—Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid, to use Rushton’s (1997) terminology.

But just assuming race exists without a definition of what race is is troubling for the hereditarian position. Why just assume that race exists?

Fish (2002: 6) in Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth critiques the usual hereditarians on what race is and their assumptions that it exists. He cites Jensen (1998: 425) who writes:

A race is one of a number of statistically distinguishable groups in which individual membership is not mutually exclusive by any single criterion, and individuals in a given group differ only statistically from one another and from the group’s central tendency on each of the many imperfectly correlated genetic characteristics that distinguish between groups as such.

Fish (2002: 6) continues:

This is an example of the kind of ethnocentric operational definition described earlier. A fair translation is, “As an American, I know that blacks and whites are races, so even though I can’t find any way of making sense of the biological facts, I’ll assign people to my cultural categories, do my statistical tests, and explain the differences in biological terms.” In essence, the process involves a kind of reasoning by converse. Instead of arguing, “If races exist there are genetic differences between them,” the argument is “Genetic differences between groups exist, therefore the groups are races.”

Fish goes on to write that if we take a group of bowlers and a group of golfers then, by chance, there may be genetic differences between them but we wouldn’t call them “golfer races” or “bowler races.” If there were differences in IQ, income and other variables, he continues, we wouldn’t argue that the differences are due to biology, we would attempt argue that the differences are social. (Though I can see behavioral geneticists try to argue that the differences are due to differences in genes between the groups.)

So the reasoning that Jensen uses is clearly fallacious. Though, it is better than Levin’s (1997) and Rushton’s (1997) assumptions that race exists, it still fails since Jensen (1998) is attempting argue that genetic differences between groups make them races. Lynn (2006: 11) uses a similar argument to the one Jensen provides above. (Nevermind Lynn conflating social and biological races in chapter 2 of Race Differences in Intelligence.)

Arguments exist for the existence of race that doesn’t, obviously, assume their existence. The two best ones I’m aware of are by Hardimon (2017) and Spencer (2014, 2019).

Hardimon has four concepts: the racialist race concept (what I take to be the hereditarian position), the minimalist/populationist race concept (they are two separate concepts, but the populationist race concept is the “scientization” of the minimalist race concept) and the socialrace concept. Specifically, Hardimon (2017: 99) defines ‘race’ as:

… 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.

Spencer (2014, 2019), on the other hand, grounds his racial ontology in the Census and the OMB—what Spencer calls “the OMB race theory”—or “Blumenbachian partitions.” Take Spencer’s most recent (2019) formulation of his concept:

In this chapter, I have defended a nuanced biological racial realism as an account of how ‘race’ is used in one US race talk. I will call the theory OMB race theory, and the theory makes the following three claims:

(3.7) The set of races in OMB race talk is one meaning of ‘race’ in US race talk.

(3.8) The set of races in OMB race talk is the set of human continental populations.

(3.9) The set of human continental populations is biologically real.

I argued for (3.7) in sections 3.2 and 3.3. Here, I argued that OMB race talk is not only an ordinary race talk in the current United States, but a race talk where the meaning of ‘race’ in the race talk is just the set of races used in the race talk. I argued for (3.8) (a.k.a. ‘the identity thesis’) in sections 3.3 and 3.4. Here, I argued that the thing being referred to in OMB race talk (a.k.a. the meaning of ‘race’ in OMB race talk) is a set of biological populations in humans (Africans, East Asians, Eurasians, Native Americans, and Oceanians), which I’ve dubbed the human continental populations. Finally, I argued for (3.9) in section 3.4. Here, I argued that the set of human continental populations is biologically real because it currently occupies the K = 5 level of human population structure according to contemporary population genetics.

Whether or not one accepts Hardimon’s and Spencer’s arguments for the existence of race is not the point here, however. The point here is that these two philosophers have grounded their belief in the existence of race in a sound philosophical grounding—we cannot, though, say the same things for the hereditarians.

It should also be noted that both Spencer and Hardimon discount hereditarian theory—indeed, Spencer (2014: 1036) writes:

Nothing in Blumenbachian race theory entails that socially important differences exist among US races. This means that the theory does not entail that there are aesthetic, intellectual, or moral differences among US races. Nor does it entail that US races differ in drug metabolizing enzymes or genetic disorders. This is not political correctness either. Rather, the genetic evidence that supports the theory comes from noncoding DNA sequences. Thus, if individuals wish to make claims about one race being superior to another in some respect, they will have to look elsewhere for that evidence.

So, as can be seen, hereditarian ‘reasoning’ on race is not grounded in anything—they just assume that races exist. This stands in stark contrast to theories of race put forth by philosophers of race. Nonhereditarian theories of race exist—and, as I’ve shown, hereditarians don’t define race, nor do they have an argument for the existence of races, they just assume their existence. But, for the hereditarian paradigm to be valid, they must be biologically real. Hardimon and Spencer argue that they are, but hereditarian theories do not have any bearing on their theories of race.

There is the hereditarian ‘reasoning’ on race: either assume its existence sans argument or argue that genetic differences between groups exist so the groups are races. Hereditarians need to posit something like Hardimon or Spencer.

1 Comment

  1. Romello says:

    Even if everyone were of the same race that wouldn’t prevent some groups from being innately smarter than others. Everyone could look white but people who are left handed on average could be smarter on average than those who aren’t.

    The fact is that African-Americans and Australian Aborigines are low functioning in terms of intelligence and that this level is almost certainly genetic.


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