Michael Diamond-Hunter (LSE): “The limits of accuracy for retrospective descriptions of racial groups”

In this paper, I will provide a discussion and solution for a phenomenon that has been left untouched by contemporary philosophical accounts of race: the understanding of groups in history. This paper is centrally concerned with retrospective description: the usage of contemporary racial terms as labels or classifications for historical phenomena. This paper seeks to provide an answer to the following question: under what circumstances is it correct to apply racial classifications to historical phenomena? My argument for the paper will be the following: that for the category race, the only way to have a successful and comprehensible way for correctly applying racial descriptions retrospectively is to take an instrumentalist approach – an approach that rejects using both biological realist accounts and social constructionist accounts as the bases for ascertaining whether a racial term has been correctly applied to past phenomena.

Michael Diamond-Hunter is an LSE Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method.