Knowledge by the Slice: What is Race?

Excellent talk on Race by Quayshawn Spencer.

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I’m no linguist, but isn’t it weird to begin with a word and then have to struggle to find a concept to fit it?
I wonder if it is not more or much more or nearly universally so, that you begin with a thing (noun, verb, etc.) before you choose a label for it.
This idea came home to me near the end of Quayshawn Spencer’s presentation. At 29:56 he says, “I think that the truth is that race is a plurality of things, and the real mistake is that we keep thinking that it is a single thing.”
Maybe these should be seen as my first thoughts only, though. As I said, I’m no linguist.
It just occurred to me however Joshua, that you may have been going through the same exercise at 3:00 here, "What is Science" by Joshua Swamidass
Any thoughts?


It’s a very very common thing, we just usually don’t realize when this it he case. The same is true of the word “human”.

Yup that’s right too.

I think that’s true of almost any place where there is disagreement. People are often using the same utterances with very different meanings, and often not even realizing this to be the case.

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Ok, in a different sense then. It maybe starts as I said and then morphs into what you suggest.
It certainly seems likely, doesn’t it, that the first person to coin a word would mean a very specific thing about it?

According to Wikipedia (and generally confirmed elsewhere),

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I don’t think that’s true at all. In addition to the many examples he gave, consider the word “UFO.” Can you see all the many things it can mean? And that it is in almost no sense “specific.”

Words are utterances. We often pair words to refer to poorly defined things we don’t understand yet. While at times we might be gesturing in the same general direction with a common utterance, we often have difference conceptions and emphases of what that “thing” is.

Maybe I overstated my suggestion slightly then.

Really? Not at all?

What if I drop the word very. Maybe even the word specific. How about that the first person to coin a word meant something by it. Will you grant that?

Examples of what? Did he ever consider (or mention it in the video) how the word was coined. I don’t recall that being a concern of his at all. If, on the other hand, you mean that he pointed to examples of how the word was not used inconsistently or with overlapping meanings, I agree.
I can kind of see this going off track though. I certainly do agree with what the speaker, Quayshawn Spencer, said, namely,

It seems to me a lot of words have gone through the same ‘evolution’.
I imagine that you are aware of C.S. Lewis’ defense of limiting the use of the word Christianity in his preface to ‘Mere Christianity’. Here is a smidgeon of it. He said,
“Far deeper objections may be felt — and have been expressed — against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?” or “may not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. it has every amiable quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much
less important, word.”
That word was gentleman.
I could be considerably off track from where you wished this to go. The meaning of words. I alluded to linguistics, John Harshman to etymology. But surely the meaning of the word Race seems to be central to the topic of this thread.
In my opinion, meanings of words are huge around here. Evolution, ID, creationist, Darwinism (I think you make much of this one Joshua), even conspiracy.
With no attempt to use words in a consistent manner, no conversation (at least one of contention) should be expected to lead anywhere. As you may know, I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the peaceful in Peaceful Science. Equivocate on what words mean and one can assert anything.
My favorite example,
Premise A: No cat has 8 tails.
Premise B: One cat has 1 more tail than no cat.
Conclusion: One cat has 9 tails.

And to end on a light note,

Even that is only true in a somewhat modified definition of the word ‘utterance’. No? :slightly_smiling_face:
I think that the silent text on your screen are mostly words too.

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I think we are going deep into philosophy of language. Have you read much of it yet?


Meanwhile, the news media is currently addressing this “What is race?” question in the context of the Whoopi Goldberg controversy (concerning the Nazi view of race.)
(ABC Suspends Whoopi Goldberg Over Holocaust Comments - The New York Times)


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