Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Philosophy of Race

Historically, philosophical questions about race have been about the nature and reality of race, the nature of racism, and social or political questions related to race or racism. In fitting with that history, the first part of the course will focus on the nature and reality of race, as understood in biology and as understood by ordinary people.  We will begin by looking at biological race theories from Francois Bernier in 1684 to Robin Andreasen in 1998. Next, we will look at the philosophical work that has been done on the nature and reality of as ordinarily understood in the contemporary United States.  We will discuss racial anti-realism, social constructionism about race, and biological racial realism from well-known philosophers of race like Anthony Appiah, Sally Haslanger, and Joshua Glasgow.  The second part of the course will focus on the nature of racism and social or political questions related to race or racism. In our discussion of racism, we will cover, at least, intrinsic racism, extrinsic racism, and institutional racism.  In our discussion of social or political issues related to race or racism, we will look at whether any US racial groups should be used to diagnose, study, or treat genetic disorders.

Quayshawn Spencer

Quayshawn Spencer is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has six published peer-reviewed journal articles on topics in the philosophy of race, all of which have been at the intersection of philosophy of race and philosophy of biology.  His most cited article is, “What ‘biological racial realism’ should mean” in Philosophical Studies (2012), and his most recently published article is, “Do Humans Have Continental Populations?” in Philosophy of Science (2016).  Spencer earned his PhD in philosophy at Stanford University in 2009, and holds an MS in biology from Stanford as well.  Spencer has won two Ford Foundation Fellowships, a National Science Foundation Grant (Award #: 1331110), a Philosophy of Science Association Grant, and two Fleishhacker Foundation Grants to support his research on race.  Spencer has also given over 35 academic talks on the topic of race & biology, including many talks for professional biologists (e.g. at the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering).  Currently, Spencer has two books under contract with Oxford University Press: The Race Debates from Metaphysics to Medicine and Four Views on Race (co-authored with Sally Haslanger, Joshua Glasgow, and Chike Jeffers).  He also has a third book in preparation: A Radical Solution to the Race Problem.