Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


Biology, Policy, and the Racial Contract

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Michael Bradie


The publication of works such as Why Race Matters, by Michael Levin (1997) and The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (1994) suggests that despite broad agreement that racism is unacceptable, racial thinking is still a powerful force in moral and political decision making. These authors work from a racialist perspective, arguing that biologically distinct races do exist, that the races differ from each other in socially important ways, that these differences are difficult if not impossible to attenuate, and that these differences should thus be considered in social policy decisions. This dissertation documents some of the reasons for rejecting each of those claims, and argues that the concept of the racial contract as developed by Charles Mills provides a useful framework for understanding why the positions defended by Levin, et al, remain influential despite their many flaws.