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Lecture at St. John's College Considers Locke and Kant on Race
FOR RELEASE: October 26, 2008
CONTACT: Patricia Dempsey 410-626-2539
A scholar whose research has explored the concepts of race and racism, particularly in their relation to the history of philosophy, will share his insights in a lecture at St. John's College. Professor Robert Bernasconi of the University of Memphis will talk on "Universalisms Partially Applied: On Locke's and Kant's Racisms". The lecture will be held in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium on Friday, November 14, at 8:15 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.
John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher who has had a profound influence on political philosophy. Immanuel Kant was an 18th-century German philosopher widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of modern Europe and of the late Enlightenment. In his lecture Bernasconi will examine the relationship of Locke's and Kant's theoretical writings to their reticence on the question of the Atlantic slave trade, in the light of recent scholarly debate. "My aim is to explore the changing nature of racism during this period so as to be on guard against new forms of it in our own time. In the process, the lecture intends to show how even the most commendable universal principles fail if they are only partially applied," notes Bernasconi.
In the case of Locke, Bernasconi says the question concerns the relation of his discussion of slavery in the fourth chapter of the "Second Treatise" to the African slave trade. Although the form of slavery that Locke legitimates there does not fit the North American practice, it is hard not to suspect that Locke's defense of slavery was sufficiently anomalous to cast doubt on his intentions.
"Although he criticized the way that the slaves were treated, Kant never spoke out publicly against the existence of the African slave trade, although slavery seems inconsistent with his moral theory and he explicitly speaks against it in his 'Metaphysics of Morals,'"says Bernasconi.
Bernasconi received his doctorate from Sussex University and taught at the University of Essex for 13 years before becoming the Lillian and Morrie Moss professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis.