Abstract

This article argues that Ernst Cassirer's views about the concept of substance and his views on mythic consciousness are applicable to the concept of race. By analyzing examples from the most influential and representative racial theories, this article shows that the concept of race functions like the concept of substance whereby random, large-scale, and irreducibly complex phenomena is explained through the deterministic behavior of a smaller, material, constituent part. Given that mythic consciousness explains causality in the same way, this substance-mode explanation of becoming can also be termed “mythic.” Further, under this substance/racial understanding of personhood, humans have no agency to determine their own fates. It is this fatalism that Cassirer railed against in The Myth of the State. In place of this substance (racial) understanding of personhood, and as this article will describe, Cassirer argued for a “functional” (cultural) understanding of personhood.

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