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What Is Race?

Four Philosophical Views

Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, Chike Jeffers, and Quayshawn Spencer

Publication Date - June 2019

ISBN: 9780190610180

296 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


Across public discourse, in the media, politics, many branches of academic inquiry, and ordinary daily interactions, we spend a lot time talking about race: race relations, racial violence, discrimination based on race, racial integration, racial progress. It is fair to say that questions about race have vexed our social life. But for all we speak about race, do we know what race is? Is it a social construct or a biological object? Is it a bankrupt holdover from a time before sophisticated scientific understanding and genetics, or can it still hold up in biological, genetic, and other types of research? Most fundamentally, is race real?

In this book, four prominent philosophers and race theorists debate how best to answer these difficult questions, applying philosophical tools and the principles of social justice to cutting-edge findings from the biological and social sciences. Each presents a distinct view of race: Sally Haslanger argues that race is a socio-political reality. Chike Jeffers maintains that race is not only political but also, importantly, cultural. Quayshawn Spencer pursues the idea that race is biologically real. And Joshua Glasgow argues that either race is not real, or if it is, it must be real in a way that is neither social nor biological. Each offers an argument for their own view and then replies to the others. Woven together, the result is a lively debate that opens up numerous ways of understanding race. Above all, it is call for sophisticated and principled discussion of something that significantly permeates our lives.


  • Through a lively and engaging debate format, presents competing views on race from four prominent philosophers and race theorists
  • Presents cutting-edge theories that draw on and engage philosophy, the social and biological sciences, and race theory
  • Synthesizes very recent theoretical and empirical advances in philosophy and the sciences
  • Accessible to a wide range of readers, appropriate for undergraduates, graduate students, and the general public

About the Author(s)

Joshua Glasgow is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Sonoma State University, where he also served as Director of the Center for Ethics, Law, and Society. He has published numerous works in philosophy of race, moral philosophy, and other areas of philosophy. His previous book, A Theory of Race (Routledge), was published in 2009.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies at MIT. She has published broadly in metaphysics, epistemology, feminist theory, and critical race theory. Her book Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique (OxfordIn 2015, she was the Spinoza Professor at the University of Amsterdam and Koninklijke Van Gorcum, 2017). In 2013-14, she served as the President of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division and in 2015 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Chike Jeffers is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He specializes in Africana philosophy and philosophy of race, with broad interests in social and political philosophy and ethics. He is the editor of Listening to Ourselves: A Multilingual Anthology of African Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2013) and he is currently working on a book-length introduction to the philosophical thought of W.E.B. Du Bois. With Peter Adamson, he is the co-author of the History of Africana Philosophy, a series of podcasts forming part of Adamson's acclaimed History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.

Quayshawn Spencer is the Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He has a PhD in philosophy and an MS in biology from Stanford University. He specializes in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of race. His research in the metaphysics of race has appeared in such journals as Philosophy of Science and Philosophical Studies, and has been funded by the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He is the editor of The Race Debates from Metaphysics to Medicine, a forthcoming edited volume with Oxford University Press. He is also an editorial board member for Ergo, Biology & Philosophy, and Critical Philosophy of Race.


"...a rich and satisfying book that presents four key views on the metaphysics of race in critical conversation with one another." -- Katharine Jenkins, Metascience

"Philosophy of race has experienced a vibrant period of development over the last three decades, and the fruits of this development, as well as its continuation, are fully on display in this book of essays and responses from four of the leading figures in the field...the book exemplifies the use of philosophical methods and theories to advance discussion about matters of considerable complexity and import....the essays are, from the beginning, developed not only with an eye to articulating each author's preferred theory, but in conversation with one another as well as with the larger body of recent work in philosophy of race. Combine that with each author's clear and careful exposition of the issues, and there is simply no better book through which to become familiar with the state-of-the-art regarding the metaphysics of race. It will be useful as an introduction, as well as required reading for philosophers working in this area" -- Australasian Journal of Philosophy

"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...[the] book provides a wonderful snapshot of the current state of the metaphysics of race. It will be of interest to philosophers unfamiliar with that debate who would like to know what is going on in the field. It will also be of interest to philosophers familiar with the work of Glasgow, Haslanger, Jeffers, and Spencer who would like to see the latest presentations of their views. This volume could serve as the centerpiece of graduate seminars on race or as a text in upper-level undergraduate philosophy classes. It is a book well worth having." -- Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: Tracing the Socio-Political Reality of Race, Sally Haslanger
    Chapter 2: Cultural Constructionism, Chike Jeffers
    Chapter 3: How to be a Biological Racial Realist, Quayshawn Spencer
    Chapter 4: Is Race an Illusion or a (Very) Basic Reality? Joshua Glasgow
    Chapter 5: Haslanger's Reply to Glasgow, Jeffers, and Spencer
    Chapter 6: Jeffers' Reply to Glasgow, Haslanger, and Spencer
    Chapter 7: Spencer's Reply to Glasgow, Haslanger and Jeffers
    Chapter 8: Glasgow's Reply to Haslanger, Jeffers, and Spencer

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