The Myth of Race and the Human Sciences

By Stanfield, John H., II | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Race and the Human Sciences


Stanfield, John H., II, The Journal of Negro Education


This article presents a critical assessment of two major schools of thought in the human sciences relative to the mythology of race: logical positivism and social realism. In reviewing both, it maintains that while confronting and resisting the intellectual substance of racist arguments of human scientists is essential, questioning the very nature of science as a way of knowing is even more necessary. It concludes with discussion of an alternative, emerging school of thought: science for the people as a means to facilitate the empowerment of the oppressed, who are usually viewed simply as "human subjects" for dominant-group analysis.

The human sciences are those paradigms, theories, methods, and substantive areas preoccupied with the empirical study of human beings in their physical and social habitats. They include the social sciences and the human concerns of the biological, genetic, and medical sciences. There are two ways of interpreting the history and the sociology of human sciences that have great bearing on the ways in which we come to understand the place of persons of African descent in the intellectual and policy frameworks these sciences produce: logical positivism and social realism

LOGICAL POSITIVISM, RACE, AND THE HUMAN SCIENCES

The first perspective, logical positivism, is the most traditional school of thought in the history and sociology of the human sciences. In the world view of historians who embrace logical positivistic perspectives, these sciences are products of the 18th-century Enlightenment era (Becker, 1932). As such, they are viewed as rational, value-free sources of knowledge acquisition. This unqualified objectivity the human sciences enjoy is made possible through the collection and analysis of measurable, quantifiable data. It was this Enlightenment view of science that resulted in intellectuals such as August Comte (1896) arguing in the early 19th century that it was possible to develop a totally rational society ruled by scientists who would be, of course, absolutely objective and thus free from bias.

The virtually sacred belief in logical positivism in the 19th and especially the 20th centuries was most apparent in the emergence and professionalization of the human sciences. Because human cultural bias is a more obvious intrinsic problem in the study of the human condition than in the investigation of the physical universe, logical positivism has over the years become, in the secular sense of the phrase, the "saving grace" of human scientists who have struggled for at least 150 years to legitimate their intellectual crafts in academic, policy, and popular cultural circles (Furner, 1975; Matthews, 1977; Small, 1895; Stanfield, 1985b). Logical positivism--and its incorporation into the paradigms, theories, and methods of scientific reasoning about human beings--delivered the human sciences from the hands of declining institutional religious powers in the face of an industrializing Europe and United States. It further legitimated distinguishing the work of human scientists from that of amateurs and those laboring in the social charities (Furner, 1975; Small, 1895). Some human sciences such as psychology, genetics, economics, and medicine have been relatively successful in using logical positivism as a legitimizing vehicle, while others such as anthropology, geography, and sociology have not been as fortunate (Gould, 1981; Mills,1959; Montagu,1942; Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 1974). Nevertheless, whatever the quality of the collective careers of the various human sciences, it has been the ideological value of logical positivism in a society and a world in which statistical analytical abilities are equated with intelligence and objectivity that maintained at least a minimal measure of legitimacy for the human sciences in general.

It has been the logical positivistic perspective in the human sciences as a whole that has legitimated the hegemonic authority of (usually) men and women of science to empirically demonstrate virtually anything they pleased as long as their instruments were and still are viewed as reliable and valid within the norms of their respective communities (Gould, 1981; James & Farmer, 1993; Montagu, 1942; Rossiter, 1982; Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 1974; Stanfield, 1985a, 1985b, 1993a, 1994a). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Myth of Race and the Human Sciences
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.