« On (modest) Writer's Block | Main | On the Silence(s) of Leading Philosophers »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Leigh M. Johnson

Thanks for this, Eric. I wasn’t familiar with Berkeley’s *Querist,* but I am quite interested in race theory, so I will definitely check it out now!

I have one small (nit-picky, really) question w/r/t your claim that Berkeley “is uninterested in racial purity” because he permitted, and in this case promoted, “race-mixing”: does this necessarily follow? Berkeley was clearly working with an idea of “race” (or “stock” or “volk” or whatever other synonyms stood in for what became “race”), that is, he assumed sets of group-specific morphological, intellectual and characterological traits, heritable across generations. And I think you’re right to point out that his encouragement of race-mixing in this instance is a proto-eugenics program, intended to speed along the natural processes evolution, allowing (as Francis Galton described it) for Man to do ”providently, quickly and kindly” what Nature does “blindly, slowly and ruthlessly.” I just don’t see any way that any version of a race-based pro-eugenics program can be “uninterested” in racial purity.

That Berkeley wasn’t arguing for purity-of-blood maintenance among members of a so-called “higher” race is not all by itself evidence, I think, for your claim. Anti-miscegenation programs were interested in racial purity because they did not want the blood-borne, “positive” qualities of a preferred race diluted. But a program like Berkeley’s (and Gobineau’s, for that matter) operate by the same reasoning, and thus demonstrate an equal interest in racial purity, when they promote miscegenation. Such programs want the blood-borne, “negative” qualities of an ill-favored race diluted. Either way, it is assumed that there are significant, value-laden consequences to racial purity.
In fact, Berkeley reads very similar to Gobineau here, only Berkeley doesn’t seem to think all the way through his own pro-“seed-scattering” logic as Gobineau did. For Gobineau, race-mixing also raises the quality of the lower races, but at the same time it dilutes the strength of the higher races and so, though miscegenation is necessary for the growth of civilization, it will also be the cause of that same civilization’s inevitable decline. Maybe Berkley’s “seed equally scattered” formulation gets him off the hook here, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, as I said above, maybe a nit-picky point, but not an inconsequential one, as I see it. Thanks again for this!

Eric Schliesser

Hi Leigh, thank you for your very interesting and helpful comments. In turn I have two observations: (i) it's unclear how Berkeley thinks about 'evolution' (I don't think he is a proto-Darwinian or neo-Epicurean, although Plato's Laws has a quasi-selectionist model), so I would be a bit cautious reading Galton-style program back into Berkeley. (ii) Berkeley is also very critical of some of the qualities of the (English) upper-classes, so he does not treat them as some kind of pure normative standard. But I will think more about the issue of purity because I certainly did not think through all the ways dilution might be understood here. (The 'chemistry' of Siris becomes relevant context.)

Leigh M. Johnson

In re (ii), just curious: does Berkeley view race-mixing as fortuitous in any way *for* the English upper-classes? That is, are the British upper-classes' vices race-based (heritable)?

Eric Schliesser

For now, I think the texts are just not explicit enough, Leigh. But hopefully this post will inspire further research.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


Blog powered by Typepad