Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth

By Jefferson M. Fish | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
6

Science and the Idea of Race:
A Brief History
Audrey Smedley

Since the beginning of the Age of Discovery in the 15th century when some Western Europeans ventured out and encountered new worlds with their strange flora and fauna, and peoples alien and exotic to them, there has been a tremendous expansion of knowledge. So massive has been this increase that it is very difficult for scholars at the beginning of the 21st century to place themselves in the positions and minds of those early explorers. However, from the records they left we can trace some of what they experienced, their shock at the discovery of other societies, and the development of their attitudes toward other human beings. In doing so, we can achieve some comprehension of how great this historical transformation has been.

In this regard the emergence of the idea of race and its grounding in the sciences of the last 200 years has been perhaps the most critical development in the history of human social interaction and in the history of science. All of the human sciences—biology, psychology, anthropology, and sociology—in their early stages were predicated in some fashion on what is identified here as the racial worldview. This was a way of perceiving the world's peoples as being divided into exclusive and discrete groups, called races, that are ranked hierarchically vis-à-vis one another. Consciously or not, the racial worldview was a subtle ingredient in the growth of these disciplines and still remains a sometimes aggravating aspect of the social sciences in the United

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