African-American Political Philosophy (PHIL 274H.001)

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Instructor: Bernard Boxill. This honors course meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30PM – 1:45PM in Caldwell 103.

The American revolutionaries claimed that they rebelled against their king because he was violating their sacred right to liberty; as they liked to put it, he was reducing them to abject slavery. Yet they held slaves before and after their revolution. This is the American Paradox.

The revolutionaries were aware of the paradox. Thomas Jefferson explained that black slavery confronted them with a dilemma: justice or self-preservation but not both. Critics claimed that the American revolutionaries separated from the mother country to more effectively dispossess the Indians and enslave Africans. Others insisted that the Americans never believed that the race they enslaved was human or that its members had rights to liberty. Jefferson’s explanation of the paradox has proved the most durable. Updated versions have always been produced to excuse later versions of the American Paradox. In our course we will study how five African American thinkers have responded to the different versions of the paradox and of Jefferson’s dilemma. They are Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King Jr.

This course satisfies the PH and US general education requirements.

Bernard Boxill’s webpage