35 / 2012
David Himler

Book Review - Heath Wellman, Christopher & Philip Cole, Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is there a Right to Exclude? Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, 340 pp.

A quotation commonly attributed to the French essayist Joseph Joubert poignantly captures the driving idea behind Christopher Heath Wellman and Philip Cole’s book: Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is there a Right to Exclude?: “It is better to debate a question without settling it, than to settle a question without debating it?”

Wellman and Cole, professors of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Wales, Newport respectively, set out to do just that with the question of “whether states have a unilateral right to control membership [or] whether individuals enjoy a fundamental right to freedom of international movement” (Wellman & Cole 2011: 7).

If we take the noun “debate” to mean, as the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it, “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly in which opposing views are put forward”, then Wellman and Cole’s debate, publicly available in the reviewed volume, seems to fit the description flawlessly, for they put forward diametrically opposed views on the subject. As they state in their introduction: “Wellman defends a legitimate state’s right to exclude outsiders, and Cole counters that countries have no moral right to prevent people from crossing their borders.” (Wellman & Cole 2011: 2).


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