"This is the most important book-length philosophical analysis of racism yet. Its critiques of others' thought are incisive, and its own original theorizing is creative and full of imagination. Urquidez writes with intelligence, precision, and depth. In a time when careful thinking about racism is so important, this much-needed contribution weaves the conventional and the revisionist, philosophy of language and victims' perspective, apriori methodology and the needs of the oppressed, into a complex explanatory tapestry. Even those of us who disagree with Urquidez's main contentions see that no future philosophizing about racism can dare to ignore this rich and original work."
— Jorge L. A. Garcia, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College, USA

"Alberto Urquidez’s (Re-)Defining Racism: A Philosophical Analysis is without doubt a comprehensive critical working through of recent work in analytic philosophy of race. Urquidez breaks with tradition in that he does not frame his project as one in apply social and political philosophy. Instead, he directly locates his critical project within analytic philosophy of language. To this end, he argues that philosophical definitions of ‘racism’ are not descriptions of (an ontological) reality and that, consequently, any attempted metaphysical analysis of ‘racism’ presupposes a flawed approach to the definition of concepts. Following Wittgenstein, Urquidez defends a view that he calls conventionalism, namely, the thesis that “definitions of ‘racism’ and other explanations of this term are expressions of norms and, specifically, of linguistic norms.” This book is necessary reading for anyone who seeks to become knowledgeable about the relationship between philosophy of race and analytic philosophy of language."
— Clevis R. Headley, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Florida Atlantic University, USA

From the publisher

What is racism? is a timely question that is hotly contested in the philosophy of race. Yet disagreement about racism’s nature does not begin in philosophy, but in the sociopolitical domain. Alberto G. Urquidez argues that philosophers of race have failed to pay sufficient attention to the practical considerations that prompt the question “What is racism?” Most theorists assume that “racism” signifies a language-independent phenomenon that needs to be “discovered” by the relevant science or “uncovered” by close scrutiny of everyday usage of this term. (Re-)Defining Racism challenges this metaphysical paradigm. Urquidez develops a Wittgenstein-inspired framework that illuminates the use of terms like “definition,” “meaning,” “explanation of meaning,” and “disagreement,” for the analysis of contested normative concepts. These elucidations reveal that providing a definition of “racism” amounts to recommending a form of moral representation—a rule for the correct use of “racism.” As definitional recommendations must be justified on pragmatic grounds, Urquidez takes as a starting point for justification the interests of racism's historical victims.

Expanded summary

In Part I, I develop a Wittgenstein-inspired framework for assessing contemporary approaches to racism. I consider and reject the metaphysical approach to racism. On the metaphysical approach, the question "What is racism?" is thought to be a question about the real nature of racism. I reject this contention, arguing that definitions of "racism" are not descriptions of ultimate reality, but expressions of grammatical rules.

In Part II, I argue that "What is racism?" is best understood as a question about languageabout the meaning of "racism." However, it is not best understood as a descriptive question about how the term "racism" is in fact used. Rather, it is a question about how the term "racism" ought to be used. The nature of prescriptive disagreement and the possibility of rational resolution is theorized within this context.

In Part III, I defend three conditions of adequacy for a prescriptive theory of racism. In light of these conditions, I argue that a theory of racism should be defined as an output rather than an input, as a sociocultural phenomenon, as open-textured, and as an unfolding process. Further, racism should be defined from the victim's perspective. As such, a political morality approach to the definition of "racism" is favored over and against a personal morality approach. I ultimately propose that racism be defined as racial oppression.

In addition to addressing the personal/political morality debate, many other open questions are assessed. Is racism best understood as a monistic phenomenon (a single racism), or as a pluralistic phenomenon (many racisms)? Must a theory of racism accommodate the existing categorial plurality of racism? Is racism always wrong? Is traditional conceptual analysis appropriate for analyzing racism, or must racism be analyzed by empirical means? In addressing these issues, the work of Clevis Headley, Leonard Harris, Jorge Garcia, Tommie Shelby, Lawrence Blum, and Charles Mills, among others, is critically assessed.

This philosophical investigation into the concept of racism is essential reading for philosophers of race and racism, philosophers of language, Wittgensteinian philosophers, and metaphilosophers interested in the nature of conceptual analysis. It will also interest readers concerned about how best to resolve conceptual disagreement about contested moral, social, and political concepts.

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