In this episode, Olivia speaks with Phil Yaure – assistant professor of philosophy at Virginia Tech University – about the political philosophy of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery, but eventually became one of the most influential black abolitionists of the 19th century after escaping his enslaved condition and learning to read and write. Phil’s research focuses on Douglass as a political philosopher, with special concern for Douglass’s conception of the US constitution as an anti-slavery document and his belief that citizenship is a function of one’s contribution to a polity (in contrast to thinking of citizenship as a status that is conferred upon someone by the powers of the state). Phil argues that Douglass considers abolitionist resistance itself to be a way of contributing to American society, which leads to the conclusion that enslaved people fighting against the injustice of slavery make themselves American citizens in doing so. We also discuss the philosophical value of the autobiography genre, and Phil offers listeners some recommendations for where to begin if they want to incorporate Frederick Douglass into their history of philosophy courses.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (by Douglass, originally published 1845)
My Bondage and My Freedom (by Douglass, originally published 1855)
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (by Douglass, originally published 1881 and revised 1892)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (by Harriet Jacobs, originally published 1861)
Select Speeches by Douglass:
“The Free Negro’s Place is in America” (delivered 1851)
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (July 5 Speech) (delivered 1852)
“Claims of our Common Cause: Address of the Colored Convention held in Rochester, July 6-8, 1853” (delivered 1853)
Other Sources Mentioned:
Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)
Birthright Citizens, Martha S. Jones (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Immigrants and the Right to Stay, Joseph H. Carens with Deborah Chasman (MIT Press, 2018)
Immigration and Democracy, Sarah Song (Oxford University Press, 2019)
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Olivia Branscum is a PhD student in Philosophy at Columbia University. She is co-producer of the ENN New Voices podcast