"The Enlightenment Origins of Scientific Racism: Buffon, Kant and Historicizing the Human Species"
This paper will explore some of the consequences of the “naturalizing” of the human species in the eighteenth century, with particular focus on the impact of the natural-historical sciences. The importance of the naturalized approach to the human species by the Swedish natural historian Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778); and his French contemporary and rival, Georges Louis LeClerc, Compte De Buffon (1707-1788) will be discussed, with the differences between the classificatory approach of Linnaeus contrasted to the genetic historical approach of Buffon as it affected the conception of a species in natural history highlighted. The latter part of the paper will discuss the importance of the reworking of these positions by Immanuel Kant in his papers on Race of 1775,1777, 1785, 1788. These texts underlie the claim of several scholars that Kant is particularly responsible for the development of a theory of “essentialized” races that supplied scientific and philosophical arguments which could later be used by others in the nineteenth century to rationalize racial subjugation and racial biology.
Phillip is Professor Emeritus in the Program of Liberal Studies and HPS graduate program.
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