American Philosophy

C.I. Lewis

How did Alain Locke apply pragmatism to issues of race and culture?

Locke was interested in values and valuation, cultural pluralism, and race relations. He argued that each cultural group has a distinct identity, which should not conflict with the citizenship of its members in a wider whole. Thus, African Americans could have the cultural identity(ies) supported by the Harlem Renaissance and remain Americans. This model of identity was the intellectual foundation of Locke’s efforts in promoting black culture. But some now view it as an applied pragmatic strategy.

Locke believed that black identity was largely the result of economic and political forces and not biology. However, his pragmatic strategy was not to argue this belief directly, but to promote an understanding of race as culture—within a broader society that emphasized false biological notions of race—toward the goal of eventual “racial” equality.


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