PHILOSOPHY TAKES ON THE REFUGEE CRISIS
ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona.
His books include The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy
(2008), The Remains of Being (2009), and, most recently,
Hermeneutic Communism (2011, coauthored with G. Vattimo),
all published by Columbia University Press.
"When it comes
to political deliberation," as the great pragmatic philosopher
Richard Rorty once said, "philosophy is a good servant but
a bad master." Even though the discipline is equipped with
an array of the finest intellectual concepts and arguments, it
should always avoid recommending straightforward solutions.
does not mean that we philosophers cannot take a stance in current
existential emergencies, such as the ongoing suffering of the
Palestinians or the global environmental crisis. On the contrary,
it is our job to articulate the toughest questions in order to
overcome indifference, prejudice, and fear -- and to invite everyone
to see the bigger picture.
have begun to engage the ongoing refugee crisis, it's not simply
because political leaders have proved incapable of forming a unified
European Union to help the refugees, but rather because this is
not a problem that can be solved with a short-term political solution.
by climate change, mass migrations will increase drastically over
the 21st century, not only in Europe -- which has only recently
begun to receive refugees in large numbers -- but also in other
regions of the world.
philosopher Zygmunt Bauman recently pointed out, there is no "shortcut
solution to the current refugee problem. Humanity is in crisis
-- and there is no exit from that crisis other than the solidarity
not all philosophers follow Bauman's assessment, there is an overall
consensus that the current refugee crisis is not simply a political
problem, but rather an existential one that concerns all of us.
contemporary philosophers, Peter Singer and Slavoj Zizek, have
recently taken very different stances on how to confront this
urgent problem, and both are worth considering.
is an Australian philosopher known for his utilitarian approach,
which seeks to minimise suffering and maximise well-being. In
a recent article he suggested that affluent countries should not
only take more refugees than they can currently accept, but also
increase "support to less affluent countries that are supporting
large numbers of refugees".
support, according to Singer, will not only discourage refugees
from risking their futures and lives in expensive and dangerous
journeys, but also reduce the overall cost of relief. In Germany
it costs at least $13,500 to support one refugee for one year,
but in Jordan it is only about $3,400.
rational solution is founded on Singer's belief that we have the
same moral obligations towards foreigners as we have to our closest
as this solution sounds, one wonders whether it is even possible
to apply a universal moral standard to the actions of peoples
from cultures with different notions of morality.
in spite of its alleged universalistic vocation, the EU seems
to be incapable of responding to this crisis, demonstrated by
the recent shameful bills passed to seize refugee assets (Denmark),
construct fences (Austria), and send troops to its borders (Hungary).
who has recently published a book on the refugee crisis, believes
we must first develop a clear awareness of what is actually causing
the ongoing emergency before we can do something about it.
to the Slovenian philosopher, the current war in Syria is not
the only cause of the refugee crisis. In addition to other Western
military interventions (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya), one
must also take into consideration the social consequences of global
circulation of commodities through global markets is not a democratic
system -- with the same rules for everyone -- but rather represents
a network of political impositions and violations of workers'
are "accompanied by growing social divisions" that create
tensions that often lead to military interventions with drastic
consequences. The "true threat to our common way of life,"
Zizek explains, "does not come in the shape of refugees but
lies in the dynamic of global capitalism," which can be overcome
only through a "radical economic change that abolishes the
conditions that create refugees".
the differences between Singer's and Zizek's positions, both demand
that we overcome our indifference, prejudice, and fear. Both ask
us to look beyond our narrow self-interest.
this is done through a utilitarian approach based on clarity and
consistency in our moral thinking or a Marxist method that seeks
to uncover the socio-economic causes of the crisis is less important
than the need for us to engage with an emergency that touches
all of us.
wait for philosophy to give us the perfect solution to the crisis,
but maybe it can help us propel towards it. Maybe philosophy can
help us to engage, rather than avoid it. It is the task of philosophers
to demand this engagement.