Kant on the different human races (1777)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is perhaps the greatest figure of the German Enlightenment but also among the most contentious for those studying the development of modern racism. In the work translated here he grapples with the subject of human difference, trying to create categories to explain variations in physical features and in cultural practices. The concept of race is clearly important to him as he carries out this project. Although he is attentive to the possibility of fluidity and change over time he also undermines this by falling back on a schema of fixed racial characteristics that condemned certain peoples, blacks above all, to an inferior status. Given Kant’s scholarly authority, his works carried considerable weight among his contemporaries, and he bears considerable responsibility for amplifying abhorrent stereotypes developed first by slaveowners in the Caribbean. But over his career he seems to have become aware of his own contradictions, and his ideas appear to have evolved considerably. By the end of his life he was forcefully denouncing colonial conquest and slavery and mocking the self-important claims of Europeans. Scholars debate today whether Kant’s ideas of universal freedom can be divorced from his own racial categories in order to use them to fight against racial essentialism. 

1. Of the diversity of races in general

In the animal kingdom, the natural division into genera and species is based on the law of common propagation and the unity of the genera is nothing other than the unity of the reproductive power that is consistently operative within a specific collection of animals. For this reason, Buffon’s rule, that animals that produce fertile young with one another belong to one and the same physical genus (no matter how dissimilar in form they may be), must properly be regarded only as a definition of a natural genus of animals in general. A natural genus may, however, be distinguished from every artificial division. An artificial division is based upon classes and divides things up according to similarities, but a natural division is based upon identifying distinct lines of descent that divide according to reproductive relations. The first of these creates an artificial system for memorization, the second a natural system for the understanding. The first has only the intent of bringing creatures under headings; the second has the intent of bringing them under laws.

According to this second way of thinking, all human beings anywhere on earth belong to the same natural genus, because they always produce fertile children with one another even if we find great dissimilarities in their form. The unity of such a natural genus is, in other words, tantamount to the unity of its common effective reproductive power. To account for such unity, we can introduce only a single natural genus, assume that all human beings belong to the one line of descent from which – regardless of their dissimilarities – they emerged, or from which they might at least possibly have emerged. In the first case, human beings belong not merely to one and the same genus, but also to one family. Alternatively, differing human beings might be viewed as similar to one another, but not related, and we would have to assume that there were many different local creations. This alternative is, however, a view that needlessly multiplies the number of causes. An animal genus, which at the same time has a common line of descent, is not comprised of different species (since being comprised of different species just indicates dissimilarities of descent), but their divergences from one another are called deviations when they are inheritable. Similarly, the hereditary marks of descent are called resemblances when they agree with their origin. However, if the deviation can no longer produce the original formation of the line, it would be called degeneration.

Among the deviations,that is, among the hereditary dissimilarities that we find in animals that belong to a single line of descent, are those called races. Races are deviations that are constantly preserved over many generations and come about as a consequence of migration (dislocation to other regions) or through interbreeding with other deviations of the same line of descent, which always produces half-breed off-spring. Those deviate forms that always preserve the distinction of their deviation are called variations. Variations resemble each other, but they do not necessarily produce half-breeds when they mix with others. Those deviations which often, but not always, resemble one another may, on the other hand, be called varieties. Conversely, the deviation which produces half-breed off-spring with others, but which gradually dies out through migration, may be called a special stock.

Proceeding in this way, Negroes and whites are clearly not different species of human beings (since they presumably belong to one line of descent), but they do comprise two different races. This is because each of them perpetuate themselves in all regions of the earth and because they both, when they interbreed, necessarily produce half-breed children, or blends (Mulattoes). Blonds and brunettes are not, by contrast different races of whites, because a blond man who is the child of a brunette woman can also have distinctly blond children, although each of these deviations is always preserved, even when migration occurs frequently over many generations. For this reason, they are only variations of whites. At long last, then, the condition of the earth (dampness or dryness), along with the food that people commonly eat, eventually produces one hereditary distinction or stock among animals of a single line of descent and race, especially with regard to their size, the proportion of their limbs (plump or slim), and their natural disposition. This stock will surely produce half-breed resemblances when it mixes with hereditary stocks foreign to it. Such half-breed resemblances disappear, however, in only a few generations when members of the stock live in other places and change their diet (even when there is no change in climate). We take pleaser in becoming aware of how we can account for the origin of the different stock of human beings according to the variety of causes that account for these differences. Thus someone from the same region is recognizable simply according to the features characteristic of any one from that province. The Boeotians, who live in a region with damp soil, are, for example, distinguishable from the Athenians, who live in a region with dry soil. Such dissimilarity is of course often easily recognizable only to a keen observer, while others find it laughable. Those features that belong to varieties – which are, therefore, by themselves hereditary (even if not always) – can, through marriages that always take place within the same families, even produce, in time, something that I call the family stock. These features ultimately become rooted in the reproductive power so characteristically that they come near to forming a variation in the way that they perpetuate themselves. Indeed, this development has presumably been observed in the old Venetian nobility, particularly in the women. At any rate, all of the noble women on the recently discovered island of Tahiti do have longer noses than is common. – Maupertuis believes that we might cultivate noble stock of human beings in any province, a stock in whom understanding, diligence, and probity were hereditary. His view rests on the possibility that an enduring family stock might eventually be established through the careful selection of the degenerate form the normal births. I think, however, that even though such a scheme is, strictly speaking, certainly practicable, nature, in its wisdom, acts to hinder it rather well. This is because major driving forces lie even within the mixing of evil with good that set the sleeping powers of humanity into play. These forcers require that human beings develop all of their talents and approach the perfection of their calling. If nature, when undisturbed (without the effects of migration or foreign interbreeding) can effect procreation everywhere, she can eventually produce an enduring stock at any time. The people of this stock would always be recognizable and might even be called a race, if their characteristic feature does not seem to insignificant and so difficult to describe that we are unable to use it to establish a special division.


2. Division of the human genus into its different races

I believe that we only need to assume four races in order to be able to derive all of the enduring distinctions immediately recognizable within the human genus. They are: (1) the white race; (2) the Negro race; (3) the Hun race (Mongol or Kalmuk); and (4) the Hindu or Hindustani race. I also count among the first of these, which we find primarily in Europe, the Moors (Mauritanians from Africa), the Arabs (following Niebuhr), the Turkish-Tatars, and the Persians, including all the other peoples of Asia who are not specifically excepted from then in the other divisions. The Negro race of the northern hemisphere is native (indigenous) only in Africa; that of the southern hemisphere (except Africa) is native only to New Guinea and is to be found on several neighboring islands only because of migration. The Kalmuck race seems to be purest among the Khoshuts, to be mixed a little with Tatar blood among the Torguts, and to be mixed more with Tatar blood among the Zingari. This is the same race which in the oldest times carried the name Huns, later that of Mongols (in the wider sense), and currently that of Olitus. The Hindustani race is, in the land of the same name, very pure and ancient, but is to be distinguished from the people who live on the other half of the Indian peninsula. I believe that it is possible to derive all of the other hereditary characters of peoples from these four races either as mixed races or as races that originate from them. The first of these two alternatives occurs when different races interbreed; the second occurs when a people has not yet lived long enough in a specific climate to take on fully the character of the race peculiar to that climate. Thus, the mixing of Tartar and Hunnish blood in the Kara-Kalpaks, the Nagas, and others, has produced half-races. Similarly, the inhabitants of the other side of the Indian peninsula, the Tokinese and Chinese, were possibly produced as mixed races when Hindustani blood was mixed with that of the ancient Scyths (in and around Tibet) and with either more or less that of the Huns. The inhabitants of the northern arctic coast of Asia are, on the other hand, an example of a race that has not yet taken on fully the characteristics of the Huns. This claim is based on the observation that these people already display uniformly black hair, beardless chins, flat faces, and eyes placed within long slits that seem to be barely opened. These features indicate the effect of the arctic climate on a people that were only recently driven into this region from a milder climate. This is the same sort of development that the sea Lapplander, a lineage deriving from the Hungarians, seem to have undergone. If the sea Lapplander did indeed originate from a well-developed people that previously lived in the temperate zone, then they have already, in only a few centuries, acclimated themselves quite well to the peculiarities of a cold climate. Finally, the native Americans appear to be a Hunnish race that is still not fully acclimated. For in the extreme northwest region of America, on the northern coast of Hudson Bay, the inhabitants are quite similar to the Kalmucks (a likely explanation for this is that the inhabitants of this part of the world might have originated in northeastern Asia, since the kinds of animals found in both of these regions are in agreement). Further south, the face is indeed more open and higher, but the beardless chin, the uniformly black hair, the red-brown facial color, together with the coldness and insensitivity of the natural disposition – genuine remnants of the effect of a long residence in a cold region of the world, as we will soon see – continue from the far north of this part of the world to Staten Island. The long residence of the lineal ancestors of the native Americans in northeastern Asia and the neighboring northwestern region of America brought about the perfection of the Kalmuck form , but the speedy dispersal of their descendants toward the south of this region fostered the perfection of the form now characteristic of the native American. Outside of America, there is no further resettlement of this people. This is shown by the fact that all inhabitants of the Pacific islands, except for a few Negroes, have beards. Furthermore, these people show some signs of originating from Malaysians, the same as do the inhabitants of the Sunda islands. This supposition is indeed confirmed by the kind of feudalism that we find on the island of Tahiti, since this sort of political system is also common in Malaysia.

The reason for assuming that Negroes and whites are the base races is self-evident. As for the Hindustani and Kalmuck races, the olive-yellow skin color of the first of these races – which accounts for the lighter or darker brown skin color that we find in peoples living in hot lands – is no more to be derived from some other known national character as is the original face of the Kalmucks. Both leave their mark inevitably in mixed matings. Exactly the same circumstances explain the origin of the closely-related native American race. This race was first struck in the Kalmuck form, but developed through the effects of the same causes. We may also assume, then, that the yellow Mestizo arose form the interbreeding of east Indians with whites, just as red-skinned peoples arose from the inter-breeding of native Americans with whites. Similarly, Mulattoes arose from the interbreeding of whites with Negroes, and Kabugl, or black Caribs, arose from the interbreeding of native Americans with Negroes. These other peoples may, therefore, be viewed as recognizably marked blends with origins derivable from genuine races.

3. Of the immediate causes of the origin of these different races

The causes lying in the nature of an organic body (plant or animal) that account for a specific development are called seeds when this development concerns a particular part of the plan or animal. When, however, such development only concerns the size or the relationship of the parts to one another, I call them natural predispositions. For example, in birds of the same species which can nevertheless live in different climates, there are seeds for the development of a new layer of feathers. These feathers appear when such birds live in cold climates, but they are held back when they live in temperate climates. similarly, the wheat kernel must be more protected against damp cold in a cold climate than in a dry or warm climate. Therefore, a previously determined capacity or natural predisposition lies in it to produce, within a certain period of time, a thicker skin. This solicitude of nature to equip her creatures through hidden inner measures for all possible future circumstances is certainly admirable and enables these creatures to preserve themselves and to be fit for different climates and lands. These hidden measures also make possible the migration and transplantation of animals and plants. Such migration and transplantation may even lead us to believe that new species of animals and plants have arisen, but these apparent new species are really nothing other than deviations and races of the same genus whose seeds natural predispositions have only occasionally developed in different ways in the long course of time.

Neither chance nor general mechanistic laws could produce such matches. For this reason, we must view this sort of chance development as preformed. The more ability to reproduce a specific acquired character in just those cases where nothing purposive presents itself is already proof enough that a special seed or natural predisposition is to be found in organic creation. For external factors might well be occasional but not productive causes of those creatures that necessarily pass on the same characteristic features that they have inherited. It is just as unlikely that chance or physical-mechanical causes could produce an organic body as that they might add something to the reproductive power of such a body, that is, as that they might effect the particular form or relationship among the various parts of a thing that can reproduce itself. Air, sun, and diet can modify the growth of the body of an animal. Factors such as these cannot, however, produce this change together with a reproductive power capable of producing such change without these causes. Any possible change with the potential for replicating itself must instead have already been present in the reproductive power so that chance development appropriate to the circumstances might take place according to a previously determined plan. Such development makes it possible for things to turn out well for the creature and for it to preserve itself continually. For nothing can become part of an animal’s reproductive power that is foreign to it, since this would make it possible for the creature to distance itself gradually from its original and essential determination and produce true degenerate form that might perpetuate themselves.

Human beings were created in such a way that they might live in every climate and endure each and every condition of the land. Consequently, numerous seeds and natural predispositions must lie ready in human beings either to be developed or held back in such a way that we might become fitted to a particular place in the world. These seeds and natural predispositions appear to be inborn and made for these conditions through the on-going process of reproduction. Making use of these ideas, we wish to examine the entire human genus as it can be found all over the earth and to specify purposive causes to account for the appearance of deviations in those cases where natural causes are not readily discernible. However, we also wish to specify natural causes in those cases where we cannot become aware of any purposes. I note here only that air and sun appear to be the sort of causes that influence most intimately the re-productive power. They also seem to produce a long-lasting development on the seeds and predispositions. This is to say that they could be the factors responsible for establishing a race. My reason for saying this is that a specific diet can surely produce a stock of humans, but the distinctions that identify such a stock as distinct quickly disappear when this stock is transplanted to another place. The reproductive power ought not to be responsible for the maintenance of life, but instead for its source, i.e., it ought to affect the first principles of its animal organization and movement.

Displacement into an arctic region, human beings had gradually to take on a smaller build. This is because with a smaller build the power of the heart remains the same but blood circulation takes place in a shorter time. Consequently, the pulse is more rapid and the blood warmer. In fact, Cranz found the Greenlanders not only far smaller in stature than Europeans, he also found the natural heat of their bodies to be noticeably greater. The disproportion between the full body height and the short legs of northern peoples is itself very appropriate for their climate, since this part of the body suffers more danger from the cold due to its distance from the heart. All the same, most of the currently known inhabitants of this region seem to be newcomers. For example, the Lapplanders, who are of the same line of descent as the Finns, that is to say, who emerged from the Hungarian line, have occupied their present place of residence only since the migration of the Hungarians (from east Asia). They are nevertheless already to a certain degree acclimated to this climate.

However, when a northern people is compelled to withstand the influence of the cold of this region for a long time, even greater changes must take place. All development which causes the body only to squander its juices must eventually be impeded in so dry a region as this. For this reason, the seeds for hair growth are suppressed over the course of time so that only so much hair remains as is needed for the necessary covering of the head. By means of a natural predisposition the protruding part of the face, which is the part of the face that is least capable of being covered by hair, gradually becomes flatter. This happens through the intervention of solicitous nature, in order that this people might better survive, since this part of the face also suffers the most from the effect of the cold. The bulging, raised area under the eyes and the half-closed and squinting eyes themselves seem to guard this same part of the face partly against the parching cold of the air and partly against the light of the snow (against which even the Eskimo need snow goggles). This part of the face seems indeed to be so well arranged that it could just as well be viewed as the natural effect of the climate, since these features are to be found only infrequently in milder regions of the earth. Thus, the Kalmuck facial form, marked by its beardless chin, snarled nose, thin lips, squinting eyes, flat face, and the red-brown color with black hair, emerged only gradually. Indeed, this development of an enduring race took root only after an extended period of reproductive activity in the same climate. These features would, therefore, be preserved even if such a people were to migrate immediately to a more temperate climate.

Doubtlessly, someone might ask how I can justify deriving the Kalmuck form from a people that has lived primarily in the far north or northeast when we can presently find them in their most complete development in a mild climatic zone. I would explain this possibility in the following way. Herodotus reported already in his time that the Argippeans, inhabitants of a land situated at the feet of high mountains in a region that we can assume to be the Urals, were bald and that they covered their trees with a white covering (he was presumably thinking of felt tents). We now find this form, in greater or smaller numbers, in northeastern Asia, but even more prominently in the American northwest, which can be explored outward from Hudson Bay. In fact, according to many reports the inhabitants of this region look like true Kalmucks. If we bear in mind then that both animals and humans must have passed back and forth in this region between Asia and America int he most ancient time, that we find the same animals in the cold parts of both of these regions, that this human race first showed itself to the Chinese in a region beyond the Amur river approximately 1,000 years before the Christian era (according to de Guignes), and that it gradually drove other people of Tatar, Hungarian and other lines of descent out of their places of residences, then this account of the origin of this people from out of the cold regions of the world will not seem completely forced.

However, the foremost case, namely, the derivation of the Americans as a people that has inhabited the northern most part of the earth for a long time but which has not yet fully acclimated itself to this region as would a distinct race, is confirmed completely by the suppressed growth of hair on all part of their body except the had and by the reddish, iron rust color that makrs this people when they live in the colder regions of this part of the world and the dark copper color that marks them when they live in the hotter regions. for the red-brown skin color (as an effect of the acidic air) seems to be just as suited to the cold climate as the olive-brown skin color (as an effect of briny bile of the juices) is suited to the hot regions of the earth. We can, in fact, come to this conclusion without even taking into account the natural disposition of the native American, which reveals a half-extinguished life power. This diminishment of life power can, however, also be seen as entirely natural for the effect of a cold region of the world.

The extreme, humid heat of the warm climate must, on the other hand, show quite opposite effects on a people that has lived under such conditions long enough to have become fully acclimated. Conditions such as these will produce exactly the reverse of the Kalmuck form. The growth of the spongy parts of the body had to increase in a hot and humid climate. This growth produced a thick, turned up nose and thick, fatty lips. The skin had to be oily, not only to lessen the too heavy perspiration, but also to ward off the harmful absorption of the foul, humid air. The profusion of iron particles. which are otherwise found in the blood of every human being, and, in this case, are precipitated in the net-shaped substance through the evaporation of the phosphoric acid (which explains why all Negroes stink), is the cause of the blackness that shines through the epidermis. The heavy iron content in the blood also seems to be necessary in order to prevent the enervation of all the parts of the body. The oily skin, which weakens the nourishing mucus necessary for the growth of hair, hardly even allows for the production of the wool that covers the head. Besides all this, humid warmth generally promotes the strong growth of animals. In short, all of these factors account for the origin of the Negro, who is well-suited to his climate, namely, strong, fleshy, and agile. However, because he is so amply supplied by his motherland, he is also lazy, indolent, and dawdling.

The indigenous peoples of Hindustan may be viewed as a race that has sprouted from one of the oldest human races. Their land, which is protected to the north by a high mountain range, is cut through from north to south, to the tip of the peninsula, by a long row of mountains. (I am still including, in the northern part of this region, Tibet, which was, perhaps, the common place of refuge for humankind during the earth’s last great geological revolution, and, in the period following that revolution, a plant nursery for the re-vegetation of the entire earth.) This land is also fortunate to have the most perfect drainage system (draining towards two different oceans) of any of the regions lying in the similarly fortunate climatic zones of mainland Asia. This land could, therefore, have been dry and inhabitable in ancient times, since not only the eastern Indian peninsula, but also China (because its rivers run parallel instead of diverging from one another) must have been uninhabitable in those times of floods. A fixed human race could, therefore, have established itself in this region over a long period of time. The olive-yellow skin of the Asian-Indians, the true gypsy color that is the basis for the more or less dark brown skin color of the Asian peoples, is equally characteristic of these people and does not vary in successive generations. This characteristic skin color and the fact that it is passed on to successive generations is, in fact, just as fixed for this people as is the black skin color of the Negro, and seems, together with other well-developed features and distinct natural dispositions, just as much to be the effect of a humid heat. According to Ives, the common illnesses of Asian-Indians are clogged gall bladders and swollen livers. However, their inborn skin color is virtually jaundiced and seems to manifest a continuous separation of the bile that enters the blood. This continual separating process also has a cleansing effect that quite possibly loosens up and volatilizes the thickened juices and, by this means, cools off the blood in the outer part of the body, even if it does nothing else. The cold hands of the Asian-Indians might well also be explained by a self-defense mechanism based-upon this process, or a similar one, that continually eliminates whatever it is that, through a certain organization (that shows itself in the skin), stimulates the blood. This natural self-defense mechanism may even be the cause of a generally lower blood temperature (although we have not yet observed this) that makes it possible to bear the heat of the climate without its negative consequence.

We now have some ideas about these matters that at least provide us with reasons enough to counter the ideas of others who find the differences among the human genera so irreconcilable that they prefer instead to assume that there must have been numerous local creations of human beings. As Voltaire says: God – who created the reindeer in Lapland to eat the moss of this cold region, and who also created the Lapplander to eat the reindeer – is pretty good inspiration for the poet, but he does not provide much assistance to the philosopher, who is not permitted to abandon the chain of natural causes except in those cases where he clearly sees these causes connected to his immediate fate.

We now justifiably account for the different colors of plants by noting that the iron content of certain identifiably distinct plant juices varies. Similarly, since the blood of all animals contains iron, there is nothing to prevent us from accounting for the different colors of the human races by referring to exactly the same causes. Perhaps the hydrochloric acid, or the phosphoric acid, or the volatile alkaline content of the exporting vessels of the skin, were, in this way, reflected red, or black, or yellow, in the iron particles in the reticulum. Among whites, however, these acids and the volatile alkaline content are not reflected at all because the iron in the bodily juices has been dissolved, thereby demonstrating both the perfect mixing of juices and the strength of this human stock in comparison to others. I must also say, however, that my opinions in these matters are only preliminary, and I offer them only for the purpose of stimulating further investigation in a field with which I am too unfamiliar to do anything more than venture, but with some confidence, some ideas of my own.

We have identified four human races. We can understand all the diversity of the genus on the basis of these four races. However, all deviations surely require a lineal root genus. We must either conclude that this lineal root genus is already extinct or that we can find evidence of it among the existing stock, from which we can generally construct a comparative account of the lineal root genus. To be sure, we cannot hope now to find anywhere in the world an unchanged example of the original human form. However, it is only because of this natural propensity to take on the characteristics of any natural setting over many successive generations that the human form must now everywhere be subject to local modifications. The only part of the earth that we can justifiably think to have the most fortunate combination of influences of both the cold and hot regions is the area between 31 and 52 degrees latitude in the old world (which also seems to deserve the name old world because of the people that inhabit it). The greatest riches of earth’s creation are found in this region and this is also where human beings must diverge least from their original form, since the human beings living in this region were already well-prepared to be transplanted into every other region of the earth. We certainly find in this region white, indeed, brunette inhabitants. We want, therefore, to assume that this form is that of a lineal root genus. The nearest northern deviation to develop from this original form appears to be the noble blond form. This form is characterized by its tender white skin, reddish hair, and pale blue eyes. This form inhabited the northern regions of Germany and, if we believe other available evidence, the region that stretches further to the east up to the Altai mountains, a cold region filled with vast wooded areas. At this time the influence of cold and humid air, which drew the bodily juices toward a tendency for scurvy, produced a certain stock of human beings. This stock would have gotten on well enough to persist as a race if the further development of this deviation had not been so frequently interrupted by interbreeding with alien stock. We can, therefore, at least take all this tentative account of the origins of the real races. If so, the four presently existing races and the natural causes that account for their origins can be illustrated by means of the following summary:

Lineal root genus
White of brownish color

First race
Noble blond (northern Europe)
from humid cold

Second race
Copper red (America)
from dry cold

Third race
Black (Senegambia)
from humid heat

Fourth race
Olive-yellow (Asian-Indians)
from dry heat

4. Of the occasional causes of the establishment of the different races

No matter what explanation one might accept, the greatest difficulty presented by the diversity of races on the surface of the earth is this: the same race is not to be found in similar regions of land at similar latitudes. We do not, for example, find east-Asian Indians in the hottest climatic regions of America and there are even fewer indigenous peoples in America that exhibit the form of the Negro. Similarly, there are no peoples native to Arabia or Persia that have the same olive-yellow skin color of the Asian-Indians, even though these lands are very much in agreement in climate and air quality, etc. The first of these difficulties can be resolved easily enough by examining the type of people who inhabit this climatic zone. For once a race has established itself as the result of a long residency of its ancestral people in northeast Asia, or in the neighboring land of America, as has now happened, no further climatic influences could cause it to change into another race. For only the original lineal formation can turn into a race. However, in those regions where a race has become deeply rooted and stifled the other seeds, it resists further transformation, because the character of the race has become predominant in the reproductive powers.

How, then, are we to explain the particular location of the Negro race? This race is peculiar to Africa (and in its most completely developed form to Senegambia). It is, therefore, similar to the Asian-Indian race, which is also confined to its own land (except to the east, where it also appears in half-breed form). I believe that the cause of these peculiarities is to be found in an ancient inland sea which kept Hindustan, as well as Africa, separated from other lands that are in close proximity. For the strip of land that stretches in an only slightly broken continuous land mass from the Baikalia border to Mongolia, lesser Bokhara, Persia, Arabia, Nubia, and the Sahara to Cape Blanc, looks, for the most part, like the bottom of an ancient sea. Bauche calls the lands of this region plate formations. They are high and comprised of numerous horizontally placed flat regions. The mountains that we find in this region have been placed upon these flat regions and nowhere do the slopes of these mountains extend very far. The base of these mountains is also buried under horizontal layers of sand. For these reasons, the few rivers that we find in this region only flow a short distance and then dry up in the sand. They are similar to the basins of ancient seas, because they are surrounded by regions of high altitude and in their interiors, considered in their entirety, they hold whatever water that drains into them. For these reasons, rivers neither flow into nor out of these regions. For the most part, these regions are also covered with sand that might have been left behind from an ancient, calm sea. Taking into account all these factors, it becomes comprehensible how the Asian-Indian character was not able to take root in Persia and Arabia, since these regions still served as the basin of a sea when Hindustan had presumably already been inhabited for a long time. Further, these factors also explain how the Negro, as well as the Asian-Indian race, could survive without mixing with northern blood for such a long time. This occurred because the Negro race was cut off by this same sea. We see, then, that the description of nature (i.e., the condition of nature at the present time) does not suffice to explain the diversity of human deviations. We must, therefore, venture to offer a history of nature, even if we are also – and rightfully so – hostile to the impudence of mere opinion. This kind of history is, however, a separate special science and it could well serve to move us gradually from opinions to true insights.


Source: Immanuel Kant, “Von der verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen” (1777), translated by Jon Mark Mikkelsen and published in Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997).

The original text in German can be found here.