In recent years, political philosophers have begun to interrogate the methodology they use to construct normative principles. Some have voiced the concern that prevailing liberal egalitarian principles are constructed under idealized assumptions and thus are ill-suited to real-world circumstances where such assumptions do not apply. Specifically, critics have raised three related objections to so-called ideal theory: (1) ideal theory cannot help us understand current injustices in the actual, nonideal world; (2) ideal principles are not sufficiently action-guiding; and (3) ideal theory is counterproductive or even dangerous because it tends to reflect and perpetuate illicit group privilege.
This paper explores recent work on the ethics of immigration in light of these methodological criticisms, focusing on the open borders debate. The central question in this debate is whether liberal states have a moral right to restrict immigration. I argue that prominent arguments on both sides of this issue are subject to the standard criticisms of ideal theory, and thus that a nonideal normative approach to immigration in urgently needed. I then develop several methodological desiderata for such an approach and draw upon these criteria to outline the broad contours of an adequate nonideal theory of justice in immigration.
Shelley Wilcox is Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University. She works in the areas of social and political philosophy, feminist philosophy, and applied ethics, with a special interest in immigration, global justice, and urban environmental issues. She has published articles on the ethics of immigration and globalization in Philosophical Studies, Social Theory and Practice, Journal of Social Philosophy, Philosophy Compass, and The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as in numerous anthologies. She is currently working on a book manuscript on urban environmental ethics and serving as Book Review Editor of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.
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- Shelly Wilcox, San Francisco State
- Eric Schwitzgebel, UC Riverside: The Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors