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Realism, Antirealism, and Conventionalism about Race

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


This paper distinguishes three concepts of “race”: bio-genomic cluster/race, biological race, and social race. We map out realism, antirealism, and conventionalism about each of these, in three important historical episodes: Frank Livingstone and Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1962, A. W. F. Edwards’s 2003 response to Lewontin’s 1972 paper, and contemporary discourse. Semantics is especially crucial to the first episode, while normativity is central to the second. Upon inspection, each episode also reveals a variety of commitments to the metaphysics of race. We conclude by interrogating the relevance of these scientific discussions for political positions and a post-racial future.

Medical and Social Sciences
Philosophy of Science , Volume 81 , Issue 5 , December 2014 , pp. 1039 - 1052
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Winther thanks Carlos López Beltrán, Marcus Feldman, and Amir Najmi for ongoing discussions on these matters and Alexandre Dor and Cory Knudson for research assistance; he is partially supported by a faculty research grant from the Academic Senate Committee on Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For comments on this article, both authors thank Doc Edge, Anthony W. F. Edwards, James Griesemer, Michael Hunter, Richard C. Lewontin, Roberta Millstein, Omri Tal, and an anonymous reviewer, as well as the other symposium participants and audience members at the PSA session “The State of Race in Population Genetics” and at a “Genomics and Philosophy of Race” workshop ( held at Stanford in November 2013, sponsored by the Institute for Humanities Research at University of California, Santa Cruz; the Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics Center at Stanford University; and Science and Technology Studies at University of California, Davis, and organized by Edge and Winther. This paper was written fully jointly.


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