Article | De Ethica. A Journal of Philosophical, Theological and Applied Ethics | Towards a Legal Turn in the Ethics of Immigration
De Ethica
A Journal of
Theological and
Applied Ethics

Towards a Legal Turn in the Ethics of Immigration
Johan Rochel: University of Zürich, Switzerland
Read article:
Full article (pdf)
This contribution presents the case for a ‘legal turn’ in the ethical debate on immigration. The legal turn is an invitation directed mainly at philosophers to take law as a normative practice seriously, to draw upon the normative resources which it entails and to look for cooperation opportunities with legal scholars. In the continuation of the debates on the ethics of immigration, this legal turn represents an important opportunity for philosophy to gain more relevance in the legal and political realms by affirming its capacity to inspire and guide concrete legal evolutions. This piece proposes both a methodological argument on how to make room for the contributions made by ethical theory within a legal argument and an exemplification of this innovative approach as a way to uncover new research fields for both immigration law and ethics. This legal turn represents a promising development of the consistency-based approach used widely by philosophers arguing from the point of view of liberal and democratic values and highlighting inconsistency in immigration policy. The legal turn pleads for a new locus for ethical investigation (namely immigration law) and proposes a methodology labelled as a ‘normative reflexive dialogue’. The potential of this dialogue will be exemplified through the principle of proportionality, a decisive principle for migration law and ethics.
Ethics of Immigration; Legal Turn; Law and Ethics; Principle of Proportionality
No. of pages:
Publication type:

Volume 4, Issue: 1, Article 4, 2017

Johan Rochel
Towards a Legal Turn in the Ethics of Immigration:

Abizadeh, Arash. ‘Democratic Theory and Border Coercion: No Right to Unilaterally Control Your Own Borders’, Political Theory 36:1 (2008), pp. 37-65. DOI: 10.1177/0090591707310090

Abizadeh, Arash. ‘Closed Borders, Human Rights, and Democratic Legitimation’, in Driven from Home, Protecting the Rights of Forced Migrants, edited by David Hollenbach. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2010, pp. 147-166.

Bader, Veit. ‘The Ethics of Immigration’, Constellations 12:3 (2005), pp. 331-361. DOI: 10.1111/j.1351-0487.2005.00420.x

Bast, Jürgen. ‘Of General Principles and Trojan Horses – Procedural Due Process in Immigration Proceedings under EU Law’, German Law Journal 11 (2010), pp. 1006-1024.

Bast, Jürgen. Aufenthaltsrecht und Migrationssteuerung. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.

Beitz, Charles R. The Idea of Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572458.001.0001

Bengoetxea, Joxerramon. ‘Principia and Teloi’, in Principes en droit européen - Principles in European Law, edited by Samantha Besson and Pascal Pichonnaz. Genève: Schulthess, 2011, pp. 65-84.

Bengoetxea, Joxerramon, Neil MacCormick and Leonor Moral Soriano. ‘Integration and Integrity in the Legal Reasoning of the European Court of Justice’, in The European Court of Justice, edited by Gráinne De Burca and Joseph Weiler. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 43-86.

Besson, Samantha. ‘The European Union and Human Rights: Towards A Post-National Human Rights Institution?’, Human Rights Law Review 6:2 (2006), pp. 323-360. DOI: 10.1093/hrlr/ngl001

Besson, Samantha. ‘General Principles in International Law - Whose Principles?’, in Les principes en droit européen - Principles in European law, edited by Samantha Besson and Pascal Pichonnaz. Genève: Schulthess, 2011, pp. 19-65.

Besson, Samantha. ‘The Extraterritoriality of the European Convention on Human Rights: Why Human Rights Depend on Jurisdiction and What Jurisdiction Amounts to’, Leiden Journal of International Law 25:4 (2012), pp. 857-884. DOI: 10.1017/S0922156512000489

Besson, Samantha. ‘The Law in Human Rights Theory’, Zeitschrift für Menschenrechte – Journal for Human Rights 7 (2013), pp. 120-150.

Besson, Samantha and Pascal Pichonnaz (Eds.). Les principes en droit européen - Principles in European law. Genève: Schulthess, 2011.

Blake, Michael. ‘Immigration and Political Equality’, San Diego Law Review 45:4 (2008), pp. 963-980.

Bogdandy, Armin von, and Jürgen Bast (Eds.). Principles of European Constitutional Law. Oxford, Hart/München, CH Beck, 2010.

Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Carens, Joseph. ‘Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders’, The Review of Politics 49:2 (1987), pp. 251-273. DOI: 10.1017/S0034670500033817

Carens, Joseph. ‘Realistic and Idealistic Approaches to the Ethics of Migration’, International Migration Review 30:1 (1996), pp. 156-170. DOI: 10.2307/2547465

Carens, Joseph. ‘The Philosopher and the Policymaker: Two Perspectives on the Ethics of Immigration with Special Attention to the Problem of Restricting Asylum’, in Immigration Admissions: the Search for Workable Policies in Germany and the United States, Vol 3, edited by Kay Hailbronner, David A. Martin and Hiroshi Motomura. New York: Berghahn books, 1997, pp. 3-50.

Carens, Joseph. The Ethics of Immigration. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Carens, Joseph. ‘How Should We Think About the Ethics of International Migration?’, EUI Forum on Migration, Citizenship and Demography (2014), 1-8. Online at (accessed 2017-05-01).

Chang, Howard F. ‘The Immigration Paradox: Poverty, Distributive Justice, and Liberal Egalitarianism’, DePaul Law Review 52:759 (2003), pp. 759-776. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.414561

Chetail, Vincent, Philippe De Bruycker and Francesco Maiani (Eds.). Reforming the Common European Asylum System. Nijhoff: Brill, 2016.

Cohen-Eliya, Moshe, and Iddo Porat. ‘Proportionality and the Culture of Justification’, American Journal of Comparative Law 59:2 (2011), pp. 463-490. DOI: 10.5131/AJCL.2010.0018

Cole, Phillip. Philosophies of Exclusion: Liberal Political Theory and Immigration. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

Costello, Cathryn. ‘The Asylum Procedures Directive in Context: Equivocal Standards Meet General Principles’, in Whose Freedom, Security and Justice? EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, edited by Anneliese Baldaccini, Elspeth Guild and Helen Toner. Oxford: Hart, 2007, pp. 151-193.

Craig, Paul P. EU Administrative Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199568628.001.0001

Culp, Julian. ’Two Conceptions of a Complementary Relation Between Ideal and Nonideal Theory’, Arace – Direitos Humanos em Revista 2:2 (2015), pp. 127-153.

Dan-Cohen, Meir, and Jeremy Waldron. Dignity, Rank, and Rights. New York: University Press, 2012.

Daniels, Norman. ’Reflective Equilibrium’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta. Online at (accessed 2017-05-01).

de Vries, Sybe. ‘Balancing Fundamental Rights with Economic Freedoms According to the European Court of Justice’, Utrecht Law Review 9:1 (2013), pp. 169-192. DOI: 10.18352/ulr.220

Dickson, Julie. ’Interpretation and Coherence in Legal Reasoning’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta. Online at (accessed 2017-05-03).

Douglas-Scott, Sionaidh. ‘The Problem of Justice in the European Union: Values, Pluralism and Critical Legal Justice’, in Philosophical Foundations of European Union Law, edited by Julie Dickson and Pavlos Z. Eleftheriadss (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 412-447. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199588770.003.0016

Farahat, Anuscheh. ‘”We want you! But . . “, Recruiting Migrants and Encouraging Transnational Migration Through Progressive Inclusion’, European Law Journal 15:6 (2009), pp. 700-718. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0386.2009.00486.x

Farrelly, Colin. ‘Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation’, Political Studies 55:4 (2007), pp. 844-864. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2007.00656.x

Franck, Thomas M. ‘On Proportionality of Countermeasures in International Law’, American Journal of International Law 102:4 (2008), pp. 715-767. DOI: 10.2307/20456680

Geuss, Raymond. Philosophy and Real Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. DOI: 10.1515/9781400835515

Goodin, Robert E. ‘Political Ideals and Political Practice’, British Journal of Political Science 25:1 (1995), pp. 37-56. DOI: 10.1017/S0007123400007055

Green, Leslie. ‘Positivism and the Inseparability of Law and Morals’, New York University Law Review 83 (2008), pp. 1035-1058.

Groussot, Xavier. General Principles of Community Law. Groningen: Europa Law Publishing, 2006.

Guastini, Riccardo. ‘Les principes de droit en tant que source de perplexité théorique, in Les principes en droit, edited by Sylvie Caudal-Sizaret. Paris: Economica, 2008, pp. 113-126.

Harbo, Tor-Inge. ‘The Function of the Proportionality Principle in EU Law’, European Law Journal 16:2 (2010), pp. 158-185. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0386.2009.00502.x

Honohan, Iseult. ‘Domination and Migration: an Alternative Approach to the Legitimacy of Migration Controls’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 17:1 (2014), pp. 31-48. DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2013.851482

Klatt, Matthias, and Moritz Meister. ‘Proportionality—a Benefit to Human Rights? Remarks on the I·CON Controversy’, International Journal of Constitutional Law 10:3 (2012), pp. 687-708. DOI: 10.1093/icon/mos019

Kumm, Mattias. ‘The Idea of Socratic Contestation and the Right to Justification: The Point of Rights-Based Proportionality Review’, Law & Ethics of Human Rights 4:2 (2010), pp. 142-175. DOI: 10.2202/1938-2545.1047

Lawford-Smith, Holly. ‘Ideal Theory—A Reply to Valentini’, Journal of Political Philosophy 18:3 (2010), pp. 357-368.

Lecucq, Olivier. ‘Le principe de proportionnalité : simple technique juridictionnelle ou norme de fond. Réflexions tirées du droit constitutionnel des étrangers’, 8è Congré Mondial de lAssociation Internationale de Droit Constitutionnel (2010), pp. 1-15.

Lenaerts, Koen, and José A. Gutiérrez-Fons. ‘The Constitutional Allocation of Powers and General Principles of EU Law’, Common Market Law Review 47:6 (2010), pp. 1629–1669.

Letsas, George. ‘Rescuing Proportionality’, in Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights, edited by Rowan Cruft, Matthew Liao and Massimo Renzo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 316-340. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199688623.003.0018

Lister, Matthew. ‘Justice and Temporary Labor Migration’, Georgetown Immigration Law Review 29:1 (2014), pp. 95-123.

Miller, David. ‘Immigration: the Case for Limits’, in Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, edited by Andrew Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, pp. 193-206.

Miller, David. ‘Border Regimes and Human Rights’, Law & Ethics of Human Rights 7:1 (2012), pp. 1-23. DOI: 10.1515/lehr-2013-0001

Miller, David. Strangers in Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2016. DOI: 10.4159/9780674969827

Molinier, Joël. Les principes fondateurs de lUnion européenne. Paris: PUF, 2005. Mouffe, Chantal. On the Political. London: Routledge, 2005.

Nicolaïdis, Kalypso and Justine Lacroix. ‘Order and Justice Beyond the Nation-State: Europes Competing Paradigms’, Order and Justice in International Relations 1 (2003), pp. 125-155. DOI: 10.1093/0199251207.003.0006

O’Neill, Onora. Towards Justice and Virtue: A Constructive Account of Practical Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511621239

Peers, Steve. ‘An EU Immigration Code: Towards a Common Immigration Policy’, European Journal of Migration and Law 14:1 (2012), pp. 33-61. DOI: 10.1163/157181612X627661

Pevnick, Ryan. Immigration and the Constraints of Justice: Between Open Borders and Absolute Sovereignty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511975134

Räikkä, Juha. ‘The Problem of the Second Best: Conceptual Issues’, Utilitas 12:2 (2000), pp. 204-218. DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800002788

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Rawls, John. The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Raz, Joseph. ‘Why Interpret?’, Ratio Juris 9:4 (1996), pp. 349-363. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9337.1996.tb00251.x

Raz, Joseph. ‘Incorporation by Law’, Legal Theory 10:1 (2004), pp. 1-17. DOI: 10.1017/S135232520400014X

Robeyns, Ingrid. ‘Ideal Theory in Theory and Practice’, Social Theory and Practice 34:3 (2008), pp. 341-362. DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract200834321

Rochel, Johan. ‘Paving the Way for an Institutional Approach Towards an Ethical Migration Regime’, Ancilla Iuris (2013), pp. 51-70.

Rochel, Johan. Immigration to the EU: Challenging the Normative Foundations of the EU Immigration Regime. Genève: Schulthess/LGDJ, 2015.

Rochel, Johan, and Alain Zysset. ‘Between Authority and Morality: Identifying Two Legitimatory Roles of Legal Principles’, in Principes en droit européen - Principles in European Law, edited by Samantha Besson and Pascal Pichonnaz. Genève: Schulthess, 2011, pp. 85-105.

Sager, Alex (Ed.). The Ethics and Politics of Immigration: Core Issues and Emerging Trends. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016.

Scheffler, Samuel. Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Schlothfeldt, Stephan. ‘Ökonomische Migration und globale Verteilungsgerechtigkeit’, in Was schulden wir Flüchtlingen und Migranten? Grundlagen einer gerechten Zuwanderungspolitik, edited by Alfredo Märker and Stephan Schlothfeldt. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 2002, pp. 93-109. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-663-11815-2_5

Schmidtz, David. ‘Nonideal Theory: What It Is and What It Needs to Be’, Ethics 121:4 (2011), pp. 772-796. DOI: 10.1086/660816

Schotel, Bas. On the Right of Exclusion: Law, Ethics and Immigration Policy. London: Routledge, 2012.

Seglow, Jonathan. ‘Immigration’, in International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013, pp. 2549-2560. DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee153

Shachar, Ayelet. ‘Selecting By Merit: The Brave New World of Stratified Mobility’, in Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership, edited by Lea Ypi and Sarah Fine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 175-199. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199676606.003.0009

Simmons, A. John. ‘Ideal and Nonideal Theory’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 38:1 (2010), pp. 5-36. DOI. 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2009.01172.x

Stemplowska, Zofia, and Adam Swift. ‘Ideal and Nonideal Theory’, in The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, edited by David Estlund..Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 373-389. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195376692.013.0020

Thym, Daniel. ‘Europäische Einwanderungspolitik: Grundlagen, Gegenstand und Grenzen’, in Europäisches Flüchtlings- und Einwanderungsrecht. Eine kritische Zwischenbilanz, edited by Rainer Hofmann and Tillmann Löhr. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2008, pp. 183-204. DOI: 10.5771/9783845209784-183

Tridimas, Takis. The General Principles of EU Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

alentini, Laura. ‘On the Apparent Paradox of Ideal Theory’, Journal of Political Philosophy 17:3 (2009), pp. 332-355.

Valentini, Laura. ‘Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map’, Philosophy Compass 7:9 (2012), pp. 654-664. DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2012.00500.x

Von Bogdandy, Armin. ‘Founding Principles of EU Law: A Theoretical and Doctrinal Sketch’, European Law Journal 16:2 (2010), pp. 95-111. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0386.2009.00500.x

Waldron, Jeremy. ‘Legal and Political Philosophy’, in The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law, edited by Jules Coleman and Scott Shapiro. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 352-382.

Waluchow, Wil J. ‘Constitutionalism in the European Union: Pipe Dream or Possibility’, in The Philosophical Foundations of European Union, edited by Julie Dickson and Pavlos Eleftheriadis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 189-215. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199588770.003.0008

Walzer, Michael. Spheres of Justice: a Defence of Pluralism and Equality. Oxford: Basic Books, 1983.

Wellman, Christopher Heath. ’Immigration’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta. Online at (accessed 2017-05-03).

Wiens, David. ‘Prescribing Institutions Without Ideal Theory’, Journal of Political Philosophy 20:1(2012), pp. 45-70. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2010.00387.x

Wiesbrock, Anja. ‘The Self-Perpetuation of EU Constitutionalism in the Area of Free Movement of Persons: Virtuous or Vicious Cycle?’, Global Constitutionalism 2:1 (2013), pp. 125-150. DOI: 10.1017/S2045381712000147

Wilcox, Shelley. ‘Immigrant Admissions and Global Relations of Harm’, Journal of Social Philosophy 38:2 (2007), pp. 274–291. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9833.2007.00379.x

Volume 4, Issue: 1, Article 4, 2017

Johan Rochel
Towards a Legal Turn in the Ethics of Immigration:
Note: the following are taken directly from CrossRef
No citations available at the moment