Why do we respect and honor certain so-called "Enlightenment", "rationalist" and "humanist" philosophers when they were proponent racists?

Submitted by TheWhyNPhilosopherE in AskRaddle (edited )

For example Voltaire who said:

Their round eyes, their flattened nose, their lips which are always large, their differently shaped ears, the wool of their head, that very measure of their intelligence, place prodigious differences between them and the other species of men.

And they are not men, except in their stature, with the faculty of speech and thought at a degree far distant to ours. Such are the ones that I have seen and examined.

And one could say that if their intelligence is not of another species than ours, then it is greatly inferior. They are not capable of paying much attention; they mingle very little, and they do not appear to be made either for the advantages or the abuses of our philosophy.

And it is a big question whether among them they are descendants of monkeys, or if monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man is the image of God: behold a pleasant image of the eternal Being with a flat black nose, with little or no intelligence! A time will come, without a doubt, when these animals will know how to cultivate the earth well, to embellish it with houses and gardens, and to know the routes of the stars. Time is a must, for everything.

David Hume who said:

I am apt to suspect the N****s, and in general all other species of men, to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures among them, no arts, no sciences... Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men

Emmanuel Kant, another philosopher had this to say:

The N****s of Africa have not received any intelligence from Nature that rises above foolishness. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to suggest even one example of a n**** who has displayed any talent. As he himself verifies, among the hundreds of thousands of blacks who have wandered far away from their homelands, even though many of them have been liberated, not one exists who has succeeded in anything great, either in the arts or the sciences or in any other noteworthy thing. On the contrary, among the whites, people continuously rise above the low point that they were and they evolve through their superior qualifications, attaining worldly fame. The difference therefore between the two races is an essential one: It appears to be equally big, both with regard to the capabilities of the mind, as well as to the color.

Some scholars even propose that modern European racism has its roots in the "Enlightenment" movement.


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Defasher wrote

The entire concept of the 'enlightenment' is racist "The west is the cradle of civilisation' supremacy. Fuck the enlightenment and its colonisation of the entire planet.


kazahana wrote

Because the people deciding who the great philosophers are, are racist?

It would also be why you can apparently only be a great philosopher if you're white. Virtually every other culture in the world has a considerable history of philosophy or some field of thought very similar, but you're not very likely to hear about them when you could just hear Europeeuropeeurope all the time.


sudo wrote

I don't know many people who respect philosophers for who they were as people. I think everyone respects the ideas that they put forth. For example, I think nearly everything Karl Marx said about political economy is correct, but in real life, he was a benevolent sexist, and he had bad habits of chain smoking and bar hopping. Those things don't invalidate his thoughts on political economy, though - to claim so would be an ad-hominem fallacy.


Tequila_Wolf wrote

People who do respect these things as a whole are generally racists, so far as I understand. I think the enlightenment theorists are especially significant racists because they were around when race was invented.

As anarchists we would do well to look on the whole of modernity with disdain. Modernity itself, along with western weath, grew off of the blood and sweat of terribly oppressed people and the looting of their lands.

That said, basically any theory coming from old white guys is suspect and needs to be read with a sharp eye for racism and sexism and other garbage.

Even the poststructuralists have been marked for racism, just not of the sort that we see in times past. Spivak's essay "Can The Subaltern Speak" engages with this.


surreal wrote

i wonder how the enlightenment of Africa would have been if the west hadn't beat the shit out of her.


obtk wrote

We respect them because, while they had abhorrent ideals they still ultimately had great contributions to the field of philosophy, and most of their appreciated work has nothing to do with race. Should we gain what there is to gain from the past's work, or should we hate them and judge them with a modern eye for having what was then, mainstream positions. A great example (different field, but it still applies) is the Nazis. Obviously, what they did was abhorrent and inexcusable by any measure, but should we not seek to better our society with the medical advances they made? It's not like if a racist person says or invents something it's automatically incorrect or invalid.


surreal wrote

you are talking about rich white men with too much free time. ofc they had some interesting ideas but who wouldnt with all the opportunities they had.