Michael Gove, William Wilberforce, and the defect of durable degradation
Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (University College London)

part of: Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now
June 5, 2014, 9:00am - 9:30am
Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Room G22/26, Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

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Sponsor(s):

  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Institute of Commonwealth Studies
  • Aristotelian Society
  • Mind Association
  • Analysis Trust
  • UCL Department of Philosophy
  • UCL Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies
  • UCL Race Equality Steering Group

Organisers:

Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman
University College London

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Michael Gove, William Wilberforce, and the defect of durable degradation (Coleman)

The recently developed discipline of Critical Philosophy of Race focusses on philosophers in USA who respond to the political problems of the USA. This parochialism has meant that British philosophers who theorise racial injustice (such as the abolitionist William Wilberforce) are overlooked. Moreover, it has meant that political debates which have no purchase in the USA (such as debates about the content of a national curriculum) are overlooked, too. This essay lays the foundation of a Critical Philosophy of Race that arises from Britain, in response to racial injustice in Britain. 

In the first part of this essay, I argue that Michael Gove would have us teach, to pupils in schools across England, the moral arguments that William Wilberforce advanced against what he called the 'Negro System'. 

In the second part of this essay, I identify William Wilberforce's moral arguments against the 'Negro System'. Those moral arguments are three in number: an argument that the moral defect of the 'Negro System' is degradation; an argument that degradation is durable; and an argument that degradation is marital. 

In the third and final part of this essay, I pay particular attention to Wilberforce's rather surprising argument that degradation is marital, because this argument is ambiguous and easily confused. I distinguish between two marital worries Wilberforce might have had, namely a worry about a meagre rate of marriage and a worry about a reputation for unmarriageability. I show that both marital worries are phenomena that have endured to this day. However, I argue that the defect of durable degradation consists in a bad reputation for cross-racial unmarriageability. I argue that, although Michael Gove worries explicitly about meagre rates of marriage, he also betrays an implicit worry about a bad reputation for cross-racial unmarriageability. This suggests that Gove would be sympathetic to Wilberforce's moral arguments against the 'Negro System'—sympathetic enough to have us teach them to our children.

 

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