The Ethics of Migration under Non-Ideal Conditions

Open Panel

Conceptions of what we should understand as non-ideal circumstances vary widely in the philosophical discourse. In debates on international cooperation on forced migration, non-ideal theory has been invoked to deal with scenarios of states’ non-compliance in a responsibility-sharing scheme. But it may also serve as a wider comment on the hopes we may hold in realizing migration justice, and how we should organize our practical aims accordingly.
But how should we understand the idea of feasibility in times of deep political polarization?
Others understand realism not as a concern about the feasibility of our ideals, but about taking the ubiquity of disagreement and conflict in social life as starting points for devising normative criteria in the first place. This is often reflected in a heightened emphasis on questions of legitimacy and the justification of state coercion. In migration ethics, a number of recent works have put legitimacy at the centre of broader theories of migration justice, arguing that a state’s internal legitimacy is conditional upon how it deals with migration. But there is still room for debate on why legitimacy should be a central value in a theory of migration in the first place – is its advantage that it does better at grounding duties in the real world than more ambitious accounts of justice?
Finally, some theorists have sought to embed migration ethics in a wider account of the global social processes connected to migration movements, and how these have shifted historically and as a result of political struggles. Here, theory is not concerned with the feasibility of an abstract ideal, but – on the contrary – with criticizing our theoretical categories for their lack of grasp of the dynamic and deeply politicized nature of real-world social processes. This perspective includes critiques of “methodological nationalism” in the political theory of migration, but also a recent debate about the role colonialism as a historical injustice should play in migration ethics. Though conceptually distinct from non-ideal and realist accounts of migration ethics, these critical accounts also concern themselves with mediating theory and real-world processes – so that the question arises how they might relate.