Misplaced Idealism and Incoherent Realism in the Philosophy of the Refugee Crisis

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Many contributions to the philosophical debate about conceptual and normative issues raised by the refugee crisis fail to take properly account of the difference between ideal and nonideal theory. This makes several otherwise interesting and apparently plausible contributions to the philosophy of the refugee crisis problematic. They are problematic in the sense that they mix up ideal and nonideal aspirations and assumptions in an incoherent way undermining the proposed views. Two examples of this problem are discussed. The first example is David Miller’s contribution to the conceptual debate about how we should understand refugeehood. The second example is a common argument from the normative debate about how states should discharge their duties to help refugees, namely the claim that states should help in neighboring countries rather than by taking in more asylum seekers. Both are examples of arguments about how we should understand or respond to the refugee crisis, which appear to offer coherent principles for the moral guidance of political actors but which are actually incoherent as principles of practical reasoning for the context they aim to address.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2016


  • refugees
  • migration
  • ideal theory
  • nonideal theory
  • David Miller

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