Mises Wire

The Intellectual Poverty of Racial Polylogism

In this age of the “decolonized curriculum,” universities have set out to decolonize the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. By “decolonize,” they simply mean that all fields of knowledge should reflect all cultures and not just what they see as “Western” science. Epistemology, too, has been decolonized.

In a field known as the “philosophy of race and racism,” it is argued that philosophy itself—how human beings reason and understand the world—is determined by race. For example, Charles W. Mills writes that philosophy as a discipline is “white,” arguing that “philosophy aspires to the universal, whereas race is necessarily local, so that the unraced (whites) become the norm.” Mills’s argument suggests that the essential idea of an objective search for truth is “white.” If that were the case, it would follow that unlike the “unraced” who seek objective truth, the “raced” need not seek the truth in any objective sense. Truth seeking is merely a predilection of the “unraced.”

The philosophy of race sees racism itself as a philosophical method and depicts racially determined truths as a justification for rejecting the idea that one ought to seek truth in an objective sense because reason itself is determined by race. Ludwig von Mises describes this as “the polylogism of the racists”; namely, the idea that “there exists between various races a difference in the logical structure of mind.” Pierre Perrin defines polylogism as follows:

Polylogism is an epistemological view based on the proposition that the logical structure of the mind is substantially different between human groups. It thus implies that the logical laws of thought (i.e., the law of noncontradiction, modus ponens [If A, then B; A, therefore, B], etc.) are different between groups to which individuals belong.

Erasing Objective Facts

Racial polylogists argue that the proposition “If A, then B; A, therefore, B” is only true for Europeans because it was first propounded by ancient Greek philosophers. The implications of this are far-reaching. Polylogists do not merely argue that cultural contexts or personal identity influence our subjective values and worldview, a view that would be uncontroversial. As Mises writes in Human Action, “A man’s value judgements and his choices of ends reflect his inborn bodily features and all the vicissitudes of his life.”

Polylogists do not merely assert that variations in subjective life experiences or variations in culture influence our worldview, but they go further to assume that there is no such thing as an objectively knowable reality. For example, white journalists writing about black affairs are assumed not to be objective and more importantly not capable of being objective. The claim is that when white journalists purport to be objective, they are simply representing a white perspective: “The views and inclinations of whiteness are accepted as the objective neutral . . . [but] no journalistic process is objective. And no individual journalist is objective, because no human being is.” The argument is that rather than “pretend” to be objective, journalists should seek simply to be “accurate.” This ignores the fact that accuracy too is founded on the premise that it is possible to ascertain, in some objective sense, what is or is not accurate. Accuracy cannot simply be a matter of subjective opinion about some unknowable truth, as implied by polylogists who say that “my truth” varies from “your truth.”

In denying that an objective view of the facts can be ascertained by anyone of any race, racial polylogism is incompatible with basic tenets of natural justice and the rule of law, such as the presumption of innocence and the attendant requirement that a case must be proved with objective evidence. Adherents of critical race theories argue that these tenets of justice are Eurocentric and of no relevance to nonwhite races in a multicultural context. In their view, upholding such tenets in the context of judicial proceedings merely upholds “white supremacy” and “white privilege” since these principles as currently defined were established in the context of Western civilization. These adherents call into question the entire idea of justice according to law, their claim being that both justice and law are constructs determined by group identity.

From their proposition that there is no such thing as objective evidence, it follows that not only must science fall, but the rule of law itself must fall with it. It is a worldview incompatible with civilization—a matter that does not trouble them in the slightest as they believe barbarism to be “another way of knowing” that is equal to any civilization.

The Correct Counterargument

Some critics have attempted to counter racial polylogists by denying that there is any such thing as race. This is not Mises’s approach. In Human Action, he observes that “it is an established fact that mankind is divided into races,” but it does not follow that human reason is determined by race. Mises adds: “It is a far cry from acknowledgment of this fact to the belief that racial inheritance or class affiliation ultimately determines judgments of value and the choice of ends.”

Similarly, some people attempt to counter racial polylogism by denying that race has any bearing on IQ. Again, this is not Mises’s approach. In Omnipotent Government, he observes that “some men can think deeper and more refined thoughts than others . . . but as far as a man is able to think and to follow a process of discursive thought, he always clings to the same ultimate principles of reasoning that are applied by all other men.”

Mises provides the correct explanation for why theories of “racialized philosophy” are wrong, emphasizing that human reason is common to all human beings:

Until the middle of the nineteenth century no one ventured to dispute the fact that the logical structure of mind is unchangeable and common to all human beings. All human interrelations are based on this assumption of a uniform logical structure. We can speak to each other only because we can appeal to something common to all of us, namely, the logical structure of reason.

This provides the only possible foundation for science, for peaceful coexistence, and for civilization itself.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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