Natives, Nature, and Natural Slavery, by Justin E. H. Smith

In “Natives, Nature, and Natural Slavery,” Justin E.H. Smith traces an intellectual history of native populations, conceptions of nature, and natural slavery, back to Aristotle and through the Enlightenment. Smith contends that an understanding of these historical legacies is necessary to disrupt racist essentialism that still infects our ways of thinking today. He connects these histories to the status of race in the contemporary US where, he argues, society is divided into the categories of ‘white’ as an aspirational category, and that of an underclass of Black descendants of African slaves. The latter remain permanently in the underclass formed historically by the trans-Atlantic slave trade system due to racist conceptions of their individual and collective limitations—conceptions that stem from early modern European anthropology.

Article available through Philosophy Documentation Center, here.


Justin E. H. Smith is University Professor of the Département d’Histoire et Philosophie des Sciences at Université Paris Diderot— Paris VII. He has published widely in the history of philosophy and the concept of race. Among his publications are Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life (Princeton University Press, 2011), as well as two forthcoming books: Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 2014), and The Philosopher: A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Justin E. H. Smith, “Natives, Nature, and Natural Slavery,” in “Philosophy and Race,” ed. Alexis Dianda and Robin M. Muller, special issue, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 35:1–2 (2014), pp. 81–100.

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