The last two issues of the inimitable journal, Ethics, both include articles encapsulating the wisdom of two philosophers regarding the morality of immigration. As usual, neither author makes any attempt to establish the legitimacy, authority, or foundation of the moral principles they deem relevant. Apparently, we are just supposed to swallow whatever moral principles they concoct for us because, after all, they have Ph.D’s in the subject. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just as well, because no legitimacy, authority, or foundation can be established for things that don’t exist. The idea that there are such things as moral principles applicable to immigration in the modern world is absurd.
In fact, as alluded to by Darwin and elaborated by Westermarck, there are no moral principles at all other than the subjective variety spawned by emotions, assuming all sorts of kaleidoscopic forms as they percolate through the skulls of creatures with large brains. The idea that such principles can be true regardless of what anyone thinks of them is an illusion, spawned by the power of the emotions themselves. As Westermarck put it in a nutshell,
The presumed objectivity of moral judgments thus being a chimera, there can be no moral truth in the sense in which this term is generally understood. The ultimate reason for this is, that the moral concepts are based upon emotion, and that the contents of an emotion fall entirely outside the category of truth.
As might be expected given the ideological dogmas currently fashionable in academia, both of the authors mentioned above favor limited or no restrictions on immigration. Both have derived “moral principles” supporting their opinions. In an article entitled Race beyond Our Borders: Is Racial and Ethnic Immigration Selection Always Morally Wrong? that appeared in the January 2022 issue of Ethics, Sahar Akhtar, currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University, argues in favor of considering global status in determining whether it is moral for states to exclude some categories of people, but welcome others. For example, in the case of Israel, she writes,
We appeal to how the Jewish people were, and sometimes continue to be, subject to significant injustices in numerous states – but, importantly, not to how Jewish people have experienced such injustices within Israel. Given how the Jewish community was regarded as morally inferior in numerous states and systematically targeted and murdered in the Holocaust, it’s plausible that Jews constitute a vulnerable group in the global sense, in terms of the social bases of their self-respect. And Jewish populations might also constitute domestically vulnerable groups within some states today, including the United States, where there has been a recent rise in hate crimes against them. But what is not plausible is that they are vulnerable qua members of Israel. If anything, they are clearly the dominant domestic power in social, economic, and political terms. Thus, to understand why the Law of Return might be justified – however preliminarily – we implicitly refer to the Jewish people’s global status.
Thus, to determine whether it is permissible for them to welcome Jews but reject Moslems, the Jews of Israel are advised that they must consult the Moral Law. As usual, it is simply assumed that the applicable Moral Law exists and isn’t merely a subjective matter of opinion. Of course, it is somewhat obscure, and must be teased out based on a careful reading of the global status versus domestic status tea leaves. In spite of the fact that the leaders of Israel might become a bit impatient awaiting the outcome, this will have the happy effect of keeping a whole battalion of philosophers busy into the indefinite future. In her conclusion, Prof. Akhtar writes,
My goal was not to conclusively argue that certain selective criteria wrong or fail to wrong members or nonmembers, nor was it to argue for the overall (im)permissibility of any policy. My goal was instead mainly to develop the concept of global status and demonstrate its significance for selective immigration. In doing so, I hope to have laid some of the groundwork for applying anti-discrimination duties to states’ admission decisions.
It is certainly well that she didn’t attempt to conclusively demonstrate any of the moral rules applicable to immigration, because none exist. The idea that such things as moral duties exist relevant to a state’s immigration decisions is equally absurd.
The futility of modern philosophy is on full display here. Consider the fact that the physical bases for the existence of human moral behavior in the brain evolved at a time when no one had ever heard of such things as “global status,” or the existence of nation states with populations numbering in the millions, or, for that matter, that some principle of “anti-discrimination” extended to groups outside of one’s own. There is no basis at all for the conclusion that morality is even relevant here. As a general rule, it is always irrational to attempt to decide matters that one has sufficient time to actually think about by instead blindly responding to emotional reactions. That rule applies here, because morality is the outcome of emotional reactions in our species. I have no illusions on the subject. I realize perfectly well that it is the nature of our species to attempt the solution of complex problems via application of emotionally based rules. That doesn’t make it any less irrational.
It would behoove the leaders of Israel, and the rest of us as well, to ignore the “moral rules” concocted by the philosophers in determining national policy. One must consider what one’s ultimate goals are, and reason how one can best achieve them. Obviously, the irrational moral behavior of our species must be taken into account in the process, but that hardly implies a requirement to believe in imaginary “moral principles.” That is doubly true in the case of the rarefied stuff currently emanating from the academic hothouses of philosophy.
One finds the same kind of stuff in the second article, which appeared in the April issue of Ethics. Entitled Relational Equality and Immigration, it was submitted by Daniel Sharp, a postdoc at Maximilian University in Munich. The abstract says it all:
Egalitarians often claim that well-off states’ immigration restrictions create or reinforce objectionable inequality. Standard defenses of this claim appeal to the distributive consequences of exclusion. This article offers a relational egalitarian defense of more open borders. On this view, well-off states’ immigration restrictions are problematic because they accord the citizens of well-off states a troubling form of asymmetric power over the disadvantaged. This creates an objectionably unequal relationship between affluent states’ citizens and disadvantaged immigrants. I show that this argument offers a compelling diagnosis of a central problem with border control, defend the argument against objections, and explore its implications.
In other words, immigration decisions are to be decided based on moral rules that are implicitly assumed to be objectively true, derived from what philosophers agree is “objectionable” and “troubling.” The author imagines we will be “compelled” to agree with his emotional responses to border control.
So much for the futility of modern philosophers. I have no intention of paying any attention to their “compelling” versions of morality until they demonstrate at least a vague knowledge of what morality is and the reasons for its existence. Given the emotional origins of morality, it should never be made the basis of important policy decisions. That is doubly true when it comes to applying it to societies of a kind that didn’t exist when it evolved. It is highly unlikely that making decisions based on moral emotions in the world we live in now will have the same outcome it did in the prehistoric world of our ancestors.
What is the alternative? As I have suggested before, keep morality simple, and restrict it to routine social interactions when rationally analyzing each step we take would be impractical. However, it is not impractical to carefully reason about the decisions we make regarding such matters as border policy. These decisions should be made based on what our ultimate goals happen to be, and our conclusions about how we can best achieve them. If we happen to choose goals in life that are in harmony with the reasons that account for the existence of morality, not to mention the rest of our significant characteristics, then allowing open borders cannot be seen as other than an unmitigated disaster. If, on the other hand, one chooses as an ultimate goal strict adherence to some “moral law” suggested by the equalist dogmas currently fashionable in academia, regardless of how that may happen to affect the odds of one’s own survival, or the survival of one’s children, then the choice regarding borders may well be different.
3 thoughts on “Immigration and the Free-Floating Morality of the Philosophers”
I always love to read your essays. As for this one, talk about pissing against the wind of academic blather. Someone recently asked my why academia is so heavily weighted with Liberals and arch-Liberals (aka “Progressive” Democrats). I think as an educator myself (also, a PhD in physics) I have not a unique, but a rare background of working in industry (the “real” world) for 22 years. This provides on with a view of life not quite so sanitized as those who never spent any time outside of the academic echo chamber.
A friend once told me about the three stages of business management: Wonder, Blunder, and Thunder. Graduating with a business management degree they immediately upon getting a job want to apply the Wonderful theories they learned in college. This rapidly moves them to the Blunder stage when they experience the fact that rarely did they learn anything of practical value and so they spiral into one SNAFU after another. If they survive stage two long enough, they will move into management by Thunder: Do it goddammit because I said to! Well, most people who spent their adult life mostly or entirely in academia fully engage with and are stuck in the Blunder stage of life, having little real world experience to draw from. Not that I am advocating the Thunder stage; merely giving my view of why the one-sided point of view of most academics.
There is no arguing (as in, a civil exchange of differing points of view) with these people because they are so dead sure they are right. Those with a differing point of view are not just wrong. They are dead wrong and dangerous (in their view). So, to borrow Al Gore’s versatile title The Assault on Reason, we are now in a period of prolonged irrationality masquerading as principle.
Anyway, keep up the good fight,
It’s sad how abject the woke, hackneyed stuff one finds today in the philosophical journals is compared to the brilliant and inspired work produced in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Left is in the grip of secular religious fanatics, and they are demanding and getting ideological conformity, not just in philosophy, but in the rest of the academy as well. What is to be done? That’s a good question. Perhaps, like the Communists, they will be destroyed by their own insanity in the end, but they’ll certainly do a lot of damage before that happens.