During the Age of the Enlightenment in European history there was high emphasis on the ideals of reason and individualism. Scientists and philosophers pushed reason as an ultimate guideline to reforming society and challenging its old traditions and faith. This was the philosophers’ attempts to further advancing our knowledge through scientific method. Things like skepticism and intellectual interchange were highly promoted during this period. The true way to gain rational thought was through the process of using logic to make tests and conclusions out of clear evidence rather than superstitious ideas.
There are two important enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and Immanuel Kant who despite their high praise of reason and logic, share clearly racist views in their philosophies. Could these two enlightened thinkers actually be capable of contradicting their entire philosophy or could it just be pure ignorance? We are going to discuss what sort of racist views Hume and Kant share and how they possibly created the idea of racial differences. First we must discuss what the idea of reason truly is and what it has to do with human thought.
Reason is ultimately what separates us human beings from animals. Animals physically cannot express reason. Reason is the mental capacity to be able to make sense of something. It is how we are able to apply logic to help create facts. Understanding of academics like math, science, and philosophy are attributes only humans possess. The ability to understand and appreciate art and beauty are examples of reason that animals have never shown. Animals may show desire for certain things, but that is not the same as appreciating the beauty of it. David Hume believes that all human beings share similar moral feelings.
He does however believe that animals can feel sympathy which is one of the essential foundations of morality. Hume also believes that morality is entirely independent of religion and that morality is found deep in true human nature itself. He states that the belief in God is irrelevant to morality. This is similar to Immanuel Kant’s belief in human autonomy. He believes that human beings have their own free will and can think independently without being governed. Humans can be moral and free without the need of God’s divine support. Hume and Kant believe we have a right to faith but also in the possibility that it limits knowledge to make room for faith.
They believe we can have faith in ourselves and be governed by reason rather than our animal impulses. The racism of Hume and Kant are most definitely reflected in their philosophic views. Hume believes in the idea of causation, which is the understanding between two events (one being the cause, the other being the effect) that the second event is always the consequence of the first event. Hume whole-heartedly believes that Europe is the model of all humanity and culture, that blacks are an inferior race.
He considers their supposed inferiority to whites to be natural. He states that he has never witnessed any black manufacturers, artists, or scientists and that they are simply a barbaric breed of man. Hume falls into a fatal error of his own causality by saying that there is a causal relation between a person’s skin color and their intelligence. He is identifying that simply the color of one’s skin makes a constant difference between two races of men.
This is horribly contradictory and morally wrong. Kant, despite all of his beliefs in that all humans can understand morality and reason, he singles out blacks as totally inferior in these very human attributes. Kant has actually dismissed a person’s statement and position as stupid without a moment of analyzing the content because the person was black. This is extremely contradictory to the sorts of logic and reason a true philosopher should have when regarding any human being whether white or black. The two philosophers show a huge lack in open-mindedness when it comes to anyone non-white. The supposed racial differences that Hume and Kant seem to believe there are have no real proof or logic behind them.
This is truly ignorant of both Hume and Kant and it’s surprising that two important philosophers in history could actually believe in ideas that are so close-minded and completely illogical. There is simply no morality or rational thinking behind these false judgments. Kant stating that he has never seen black artists or scientists just sounds like he hasn’t looked beyond his backyard window. Although Kant does indeed believe that all humans are born free and that level of intelligence does not determine who deserves to be a slave to another.
Despite this positive belief, he still believes blacks are inferior. As intelligent as their ideas of sharing knowledge for the advancing of mankind sound at first, it is truly sad that they are only speaking for one single race rather than ‘all’ human beings equally. Their racism does indeed cast much doubt on their Enlightenment understanding on what a person was. There should not be such a disregard for the possibility of equal opportunity among all human beings. Peoples’ idea of race is purely subjective and there really are no significant differences. The only true racial differences are geographical.
Skin color has nothing to do with one’s mental capacity and ability. Works Cited Denis, Lara. “Kant and Hume on Morality. ” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University, 26 Mar 2008. Web. 7 Mar 2014. <http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/kant-hume-morality/>. Maduka, Enyimba. “Racism and Philosophy. ” Racism, Philosophy, and African Thought . izuchukwu, 20 Apr 2005. Web. 10 Mar 2014. <http://www. frasouzu. com/Issues and Papers/Enyimba Maduka etc on Racism, Philosophy and African Thought. pdf>.
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