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Refugees and the limits of political philosophy

ERI 149
Wednesday 16 January 2019 (15:15-17:00)

Philosophy Society Seminar Series 2018/19

  • Title: Refugees and the limits of political philosophy
  • Speaker: Sarah Fine (King's College London)

For more information please contact the convenors, Scott Sturgeon and Henry Taylor.


Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, but in practice many seek and do not find. Where asylum is in short supply, can we identify principles for prioritizing the asylum claims of some over those of others?

In this paper, I reflect on what kind of question this is, and whether it is one that I am in a suitable position to answer. For example, there are some questions that have no appropriate answer—perhaps each option is equally bad and all are impermissible—and in which context a political philosopher is redundant. There are some questions which call for the marshalling of various forms of empirical evidence or rely heavily on experience, in areas where a political philosopher may have no special expertise. There are some questions which are difficult, contentious, sensitive, and require nuanced responses. Here the political philosopher will add caveats and provisos, but those details may be overlooked or ignored by the relevant audience. There are some questions where the political philosopher’s answer could lend justification to what seem like inexcusable policies, and thus could issue in serious harms. So which kind of question is this? And is it one that I ought to try to answer?

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