Re: Races of Man (was Re: Tolkien and the ruin of Fantasy)

Matt Austern (
08 Nov 1996 13:52:29 -0800 (Ethan A Merritt) writes:

> You are responding to a statement that "race" is merely an attribute
> assigned by reference to superficial appearance. You counter-claim
> that "real, distinguishable physical racial differences do exist".
> But your supporting evidence is basically just that some guy (the
> "forensicist" whatever that is supposed to mean) is happy to assign
> race based on the superficial appearance of reconstructed faces.

There's another problem that's more subtle: from the fact that
physical differences between people exist , it absolutely does not
follow that race is "real".

To take a simple example: we all agree that differences in temperature
are real. However, the divisions "cold", "warm", and "hot" are purely
arbitrary, and different people make those divisions in different

Similarly, the division of people into some small set of races is a
purely arbitary one. In one popular classification, Swedes and
Bengalis belong to one race, while Ethiopians and Senegalese belong to
a different race. What is natural about this classification? Nothing
at all. It's purely a matter of convention.