Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History

Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History” is the title of an essay by Stephen Jay Gould, originally published in Natural History magazine, and later included in his essay collection, The Flamingo’s Smile. Gould was an elegant writer, and the essay is worth reading in its entirety. (To read beyond the page in the link, increment the page number in the URL by one.)
Gould’s argument is, first, in support of human equality as not just a moral principle but a scientific fact — at least with respect to racial differences. He writes:
“Human races are not separate species (the first argument) or ancient divisions within an evolving plexus (the second argument). They are recent, poorly differentiated subpopulations of our modern species, Homo sapiens, products at most of tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and marked by remarkably small genetic separations.”
But then he goes on to point out that there’s no biological reason why this had to be the case. There could conceivably have been more than one human species, both intelligent, but with meaningful biological differences. How we would have treated each other in that case — what rights and obligations we would have — is a fascinating topic for thought.
I was reminded of this essay upon reading in paper today that researchers have found remains on Flores island of a new human species that they think lived about 10,000 years after the Neanderthals had become extinct. And it ties in with my thoughts yesterday about whether it’s a good idea to base our moral arguments on factual premises.
A small request:
Some of you may have heard about the controversy that erupted earlier this year when someone discovered that when you entered the word “Jew” into Google, the top link was to an anti-semetic site. The response, after a flurry of initial accusations, was a campaign to get people to link the word “Jew” to its entry on Wikipedia, as I just did. This is now the top result of a google search.
Well, in searching for this essay on line, I discovered that the top hit on “human equality contingent fact history” is for David Duke’s official website. Ugh. If you find this as horrifying as I do, please consider providing a countervailing link to the actual essay, like this:
Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History
or to Gould’s page on WikiQuote, like this:
Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History
Thanks.
November 4 update:
The David Duke site is no longer the first result on Google — now this site is. Not quite what I had in mind, but at least anyone coming here will be pointed to the full article.

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