What is Race? Four Philosophical Views // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

In his provocative 2006 essay, “‘Race’: Normative, Not Metaphysical or Semantic,” Ron Mallon argues that much of the apparent metaphysical debate over race is an illusion.1 There is widespread agreement that racialist race (race conceived of in essentialist and hierarchical terms) is unreal. The remaining metaphysical debate (over whether race understood in a non-racialist way is real) is mostly illusory, since the parties to the dispute operate with different understandings of the word ‘race’ and different theories of meaning. The real substantive philosophical dispute is normative; it concerns what we want our racial concepts, terms, and practices to do.

The welcome appearance of this book suggests that Mallon may have overlooked the possibility that the proper understanding of the terms is one of the points at issue in the metaphysical debate over race and that this metaphysical debate itself contains a normative dimension. The book makes clear that, in addition to being real, the metaphysical debate over race (understood as a complex dispute that includes a semantic and normative dimension) is alive and well. It brings together, in one convenient volume, the metaphysical accounts of race of four prominent philosophers of race at the cutting edge of the field.
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