Race, Gender, and Otherness in History of Philosophy

The four-year project Origins of Racializing Thought – Race, Gender, and Otherness in History of Philosophy explores the notions of “race”, gender and otherness caused e.g., by national origin or disability, and the theoretical underpinnings and consequences of these views within the history of Western philosophy. By scrutinizing philosophical sources through the prism of intersectional feminism, we highlight different narratives of otherness, classifications and groupings of people, and intersections or parallels between different categories (such as, woman, slave, barbarian, etc.). 

The project aims at revealing certain early origins and historical continuations of racializing thought – in other words, theories or ways of thinking that posit differences and hierarchies between groups of people, attempt to naturalize these differences by treating them as universal and unchangeable, and assume intrinsic connections between physical and mental capacities. Intersectional methodology helps us to show how the different categories of marginalization intertwine, and analyze the various metaphysical, ethical, medical, and political arguments that are used to explain and justify these categories. 

We ask, for example, how and on which grounds people were grouped together in different philosophical theories, and how do such concepts as physical features, national origin or cultural differences configure in such groupings? What do women and slaves have in common, and how are these categories different? Which are the critical counterarguments other thinkers presented against such classifications? What are the consequences of the reoccurring xenophobic tendencies (such as the juxtaposition between Greeks and barbarians) for the philosophers’ views on human beings and their capacities? Are all children viewed as educable and capable of reaching for happiness ad wisdom, or only some? Does the Ancient physiognomic theory continue in the early modern systems of thought that were used to justify slavery, or in the biopolitical practices formulated in the 18th century? Why did both race and sex develop into biological concept during this time? 

By posing original research questions to the original sources the project offers a detailed scrutiny of history of philosophy that also opens important and topical perspectives to the present-day society. In order to understand the racial prejudges and xenophobia of today, it is significant to engage in a critical investigation of the history of racializing thought and different modes of marginalization in early phases of the Western philosophical tradition. A critical scrutiny of the history of philosophy also provides tools for an examination of present-day attitudes, prejudices, and practices. The project reveals further how the history of philosophy also provides us with powerful arguments against categorizing people into separate groups and positing artificial hierarchies between them. Our research is directed towards the history of philosophy, but its significance is closely connected to this day and its debates.