The hidden assumption: The conflation of nature and nurture in the race debate
Smith, Susan L.
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This project reveals the false conceptual space within which the contemporary debate about the nature of race is taking place. There is an implied spectrum within philosophical discussions of the nature of race which ranges from purely biological accounts of race to purely socially constructed accounts of race. The reality is that no account of race can be given which exists at either extreme of the spectrum. An account of race will be given which takes into account the proper conceptual territory for the debate. The tethered account of race acknowledges the inseparability of biological and social influences on race. The same discussion also applies to accounts of ethnicity. Ethnicity, though typically thought of as a non-biological entity, will be shown to be the result of a combination of nature and nurture or biological and social effects. Again, the conceptual space of the debate regarding ethnicity is smaller than traditionally conceived, the far ends of the spectrum must be excluded. In contemporary accounts of race and ethnicity a particular assumption is made that race and ethnicity are separable and, likewise, the biological and/or social effects which result in race and/or ethnicity are separable. This assumption pervades philosophical thought on race and has provided a false conceptual landscape for the debate. A crucial question concerning the separability of race and ethnicity, and the most important, is why this separation or lack of separation matters? For example, if discrimination is occurring does it matter whether it is based upon race or ethnicity? It may not in many ways, but with respect to the use of race within the field of medicine, this issue becomes extremely important. For example, research has shown that the drug BiDil is more effective in the treatment of African American males than other groups. 1 We see a prevalence of diseases such as Tay Sachs, Sickle Cell Anemia and Cystic Fibrosis in certain racial groups. This has led some to jump to the conclusion that if the relation between medicine and race are real then race is solely biological. Others have taken the position that these correlations are unrelated to race, and may just be anomalies. Neither of these positions takes into account the possibility that there could be aspects of nature and nurture at play here and that the positions may not be mutually exclusive. The overall goal of this project is to show that race is not entirely biological nor is it entirely social and, if we want an account of race which accurately reflects reality, we must acknowledge the inseparability of nature and nurture. That is, we must explore the “apparent” biological ties and understand its social aspects while acknowledging that the two are not entirely separate. An approach to race is proposed that acknowledges the entwined nature of race/ethnicity, i.e. neither is completely divorced from nature or nurture. This tethered account of race utilizes the current genetics research, current epidemiological research and takes into account what has been assumed for so long within studies of the metaphysics of race, the inseparability of race and ethnicity. 1 Research has shown that approximately 29 medicines have differences in their effects based upon a person's race or ethnicity (Tate and Goldstein, 2008)