This chapter engages with current philosophical accounts of racial categories, paying particular attention to the relevance for recent philosophy of both social constructionism as well as the cognitivist approach in understanding categorial schemes such as that of modern racial classification. It aims to show that, while much of the recent literature in fields as diverse as cognitive anthropology, analytic philosophy of race, and postcolonial theory has been tremendously useful in clarifying the precise nature and function of racial categories, and in accounting for their tenaciousness in a world in which they are recognized to be of little scientific value (with a few caveats), nonetheless these approaches must be complemented by a deepened understanding of the historical development of the categories they call into question, and of the way current thinking about race is shaped and also constrained by a past of which we remain largely unaware.
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