SEWing Circle: Kareem Khalifa on Thin Biological Realism: An Ontology of Race for the Working Social Scientist

Kareem Khalifa (UCLA) will be giving a talk on Thursday April 6th, 2023 at 2:30pm EDT in the Humanities Institute Conference Room (Homer Babbidge Library).

This event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning. Register to attend virtually.

The talk is titled “Thin Biological Realism: An Ontology of Race for the Working Social Scientist”


Ontological discussions of race seek to answer two questions, “Do races exist?” and “If so, what are they?” In this talk, I’ll answer a slightly different question: “What must race be in order for social science to be empirically successful?” This change in questions has three surprising results. First, the standard philosophical methodology of first determining the meaning of race terms and then ascertaining whether those terms refer is not the most fruitful way of answering my question. Second, despite the obvious attraction of social constructionist accounts of race for the social sciences, an approach that construes races as groups of people with common geographic ancestry is more fruitful for empirical research. Finally, while this amounts to a kind of biological realism about race, it is “thin” in adopting no substantive commitments to biological theory.

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