David Hume, "Of National Characters"

I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient GERMANS, the present TARTARS, have still something eminent about them in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant differences could not happen in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction betwixt these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negroe slaves dispersed all over Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity, tho' low people, without education, will start up amonst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In JAMAICA indeed they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but 'tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.

In the discourse of sensibility, this sort of racial discussion becomes particularly charged. In other passages we've encountered medical distinctions between more and less sensitive nervous systems, ideas of darker, deranged sensibilities, and the nationalization of certain sets of feeling. Cheyne's "English Malady," for instance, demonstrates the degree to which sensibility could imagine the entire range of feeling into a classed, nationalized discussion; if one were melancholy or hypochondriacal outside of England, what sort of malady would one have? In other words, melancholy and madness of an English variety are understood within the total system of sensibilious feeling; everything else is outside and other. Hume's essentializing of racial difference (though it has little to do, finally, with his philosophical beliefs) indicates the degree to which intellectual and cultural sensitivity could be confused with a racialized physiology.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
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critical bibliography