Skip to main content

Instructor: Caleb Harrison. This course meets MWF 11:15 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. in MU 104.

Over the past few years, the phrase (and movement) “Black Lives Matter” has risen to national attention. But what does the phrase mean? It seems to claim two things: that there are Black lives, and that these lives matter. We can understand the first claim by trying to make sense of what it is for a person to be of a certain race. But what is a race? Is it a group of people with certain biological features? Is it a group of people who have a shared history? Are races even real, or are they just things that we create? And can we even answer questions about what a race “is”, when races are comprised of people of different ages, sexes, genders, classes, abilities, and sexual orientations?

Supposing we can answer the first set of questions, what should we think about the claim that Black lives matter? The suggestion seems to be that Black lives have not been treated as if they do, in fact, matter. But what does it mean to say that a life is treated as if it does not matter? And if it is true that a life has been treated as if it does not matter, what should be done? Can anything be done to “fix” it?

Throughout this course, we will explore how these and related questions have been answered over the past few centuries of African-American philosophical thought. We will explore race, racism and its remedies (e.g. reparations, affirmative action), and how these two sets of concerns are complicated in a world of intersecting identities. In particular, we will explore these answers from a philosophical perspective. Authors read will include W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, James Baldwin, Anthony Appiah, J.L.A. Garcia, Charles Mills, Bernard Boxill, Elizabeth Anderson, Patricia Hill Collins and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Required texts include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract, Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, and Toni Morrison’s James Baldwin: Collected Essays.