Essay: Ethical Reasoning Syrian Immigration Crisis

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As a powerhouse nation, it is ethically wrong for the United States to ignore the enormity of the global Syrian Immigration Crisis and only accept 10,000 Syrian immigrants, considering there are 4 million homeless people with very little resource, seeking refuge from their war torn country. Agreeing with Martin Luther King, we should adhere to his charge, “all inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors” and “whatever affects one directly affects another.” (Reflect, Connect, Engage, RCE 273, 283) Together, we will review three different ethical approaches to our dilemma; first, Plato, then Jane Addams, finishing with Anessa Fehsenfeld.
Plato believes ethics and knowledge are inextricable; they cannot be separated. There is good in itself; independent of one’s own interests, further, good is necessary for every moral action. “So insofar as one leads the philosophical life one will never act upon a carelessly accepted but demonstrably false conception of justice…(which shows) that a proposition should be rejected by an interlocutor and its opposite accepted…it can never by itself show us why a proposition ought to be rejected or what makes a proposition worthy of our acceptance.” (What Makes Socrates a Good Man? 175) To take this a step further, in approaching an ethical dilemma, Plato would assert that to be ethical (or good), you should following these three steps: Discover truth through inquiry, tell others about your knowledge, and act virtuously with that knowledge.
In The Apology Socrates is asserting his wisdom over other men, “it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know.” (RCE 62) Socrates is warning the jury about their false presumption and the danger it could cause, “those who suffer from it, are likely to harm themselves more and more by affirming false moral opinions…and perhaps with even
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graver moral consequences, without the benefit of the caution and moderation that self-understanding would provide.” (Journal of the History of Philosophy, 172) From this one could extract that Socrates is imploring his fellow citizens to ask questions and extract truth through knowledge.
In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato is looking for what is absolute behind how something appears. What is our reality or impression of the truth? What do we really see, or know versus what someone is telling us and wanting us to think we know, like a “screen…of puppeteers”? (RCE 48) And once we truly see, what moral obligation do we have to bring truth and knowledge to others once we get outside the cave? “The eyes may be confused in two ways and from two causes, namely, when they’ve come from the light into the darkness and when they’ve come from the darkness into the light. Realizing that the same applies to the soul, when someone sees a soul disturbed and unable to see something, he won’t laugh mindlessly, but he’ll take into consideration whether it has come from a brighter life and is dimmed through not having yet become accustomed to the dark or whether it has come from greater ignorance into greater light and is dazzled by the increase brilliance.” (RCE 52)
Finally, to know something is to know its purpose. But how do we know what we know to be true and just? According to Plato it is philosophical examination and reason. “I know that it is evil and disgraceful to be unjust and to disobey one’s superior, whether it be god or man. I shall never fear or avoid things of which I do not know, whether they may not be good rather than things that I know to be bad.” (RCE 69) In The Apology, Socrates was making the
argument that a person should obey the state even if their life is threatened despite their fear, as an act of virtue.
To apply this to the Syrian immigration crisis, since Plato believes knowledge and ethics are inseparable, he would look for the truth behind what we are hearing in the media, from our
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government for “(government as) powerful as it was, did not frighten me into any wrongdoing” (RCE 72) and from others claiming knowledge of the situation through a method of rigorous inquiry. Enlightened, he would fell obliged to carry the truth to others to warn them of the danger of their false presumptions and implore them to experience self-understanding. Plato would look past the fear of the unknown and look for what is good “for the unexamined life is not worth living”. (RCE 77) Further Plato, living a virtuous life would put his understanding of truth into practice. Finally, if he found the immigration crisis to be unjust, he would likely challenge his lawmakers to reconsider their position and be willing to risk his life in the process.
Jane Addams believed in empathetic knowledge; truly understanding one another lends to a connection between people thereby increasing empathetic moral action. Learning to care draws knowledge from interpersonal experience, Addams would asks, “Why are we here? What is the point of all this?” Her approach to solving an ethical dilemma would include understanding the situation, empathizing with those experiencing the dilemma and acting on what she learned.
First, to understand a situation, Addams would conduct research from resources available to her at the time, “the newspapers, …literature too” (RCE 219) She implies that as good citizens we should aggressively pursue knowledge beyond just facts, diving into a deeper understanding of all people, especially those oppressed, so we may potentially care for and act on our new understanding, “if we grow contemptuous of our fellows, and consciously limit our intercourse
to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit our scope of ethics.” (RCE 219) Tempting as it may be, Addams warns that we should not just focus on our friends and family but look outside our immediate circle of influence.
Next, Addams would take what she learned and identify with it by ‘putting herself in other’s shoes because “sanity of judgment comes only from contact with social experience.”
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(RCE 218) She also believed imagination was an important way to perceive what others were feeling, “we learned as common knowledge that much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination, which prevents a realization of the experiences of other people.”
Finally, with new knowledge, Addams would determine a plan of action surrounded with empathetic insights. She would respond with sincere interest in others’ wellbeing “we can only discover truth by a rational and democratic interest in life…thus the identification with the common lot which is the essential idea of Democracy becomes the source and expression of social ethics…(for) the cure for the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.”
To apply this to the Syrian Immigration Crisis, today Jane Addams would research the situation thoroughly through newspapers, books, TV interviews and the Internet. Then Addams would empathize with the homeless refugees, many educated and/or skilled, with no resources, seeking to reestablish their lives in a safe environment. She could empathize by meeting with them personally or by using her imagination. Finally, with her empathetic knowledge, she would develop a plan of action that would directly respond to the current need. Considering Addams
historical desire to help those oppressed, one would assume, she would agree that we should help as many refugees as possible.
Anessa Fehsenfeld’s approach to solving an ethical dilemma follows a more structured methodology of comparing pros and cons and extrapolating the best outcome and well-being for
all involved equally. Similar to virtue ethics, or moral good ethics, Anessa believes the intended outcome or intention of the decision should be pure. To establish an ethical conclusion, in this order, she would determine the issue, gather information, ask questions, empathize and put a decision into action. First, let’s determine the issue affecting the Syrian refugees; their country of origin is in a
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state of war, they have little to no resources available, they need a country to accept them, support them while they resettle and help them socialize. Considering the United States long history of immigration and welcoming people fleeing persecution, starting with the pilgrims and puritans fleeing for religious persecution, and the wealth and power of our nation, it would follow that the United States should open their doors to assist others in need.
Second, let’s weigh the pros and cons of the crisis. On the affirmative side, the Syrian refugees intention in fleeing is safety. They are not looking for a free hand out per se but eventually for a chance to work and take care of their families in a safe country. Historically speaking, the number of Syrian refugees currently being admitted to the US is very low. In 1975 after the Vietnam War, it’s estimated that 120,000 Vietnamese people came to the US. There was a lot of fear about them being a burden to the system or stealing jobs. Those who came were of varying backgrounds, some were professional and elites, and others were laborers, farmers and fishermen. Four years later, it was found that employment of these immigrants was actually
higher than the whole of the American population. For reference, after World War II, about 400,000 Eastern Europeans came to American and after Castro came to power, 650,000 Cubans migrated to Florida. 120,000 Vietnamese refugees were easily absorbed into the U.S. (Time magazine online) On the negative side of this dilemma, the Syrian people have little experience with democracy or rule of law. Most are Muslim and the U.S. is predominately Christian.
Because there are so many refugees, they can’t go through adequate security clearance and a terrorist may be hiding among them.
Next, Anessa would ask, “What questions would I need to ask to make a reasonably informed decision? Weren’t we all at one-time immigrants to the US? The US could use skilled workers. What level of education or skill set does this population have? How many would need to be on Medicaid or food stamps? Can the government afford it? Could there be a potential
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terrorist hiding with in the refugees?” Upon concluding that indeed, these questions could be reasonably answered and would not pose an undue burden on or threat to the United States in comparison to the extreme need of the oppressed, she would move on to her final realm of resolution, empathy. With this decision in mind, could I live with myself tomorrow? How would I feel if this was happening to my family in my country and I desperately needed a safe place to resettle? Upon conclusion that indeed, the United States should welcome more refugees, she would put her decision into action by contacting her House and State representative, signing a petition, organizing local facilities to accept refugees and using media sources to promote her reasoning.
To conclude, despite your method of moral reasoning, using a systematic framework to manage our ethical assessments, contributes to our ability to make well-informed judgments.
Regardless of our approach to making ethical decisions, our system of values, beliefs, life experiences and capacity for empathy ultimately decide our final conclusion. Nussbaum asserts that we should strive to understand others. For what “citizens who cultivate their humanity need…(is an) ability to see themselves as not simply citizens of some local region or group, but also above all, as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern: as ‘citizens of the world’.” (RCE 43) Therefore, being citizens of a global community, we cannot turn our backs on our “neighbors”. According to Anessa’s method of ethical reasoning, the United States decision to only accept 10,000 immigrants is unethical considering the magnitude of need and our ability to provide. As Martin Luther King inferred, “What is just for one, is just for all.”
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Nussbaum, Martha (1997), Liberal Education and Global Community, Reflect, Connect, Engage, Liberal Education at GVSU, Volume 1 (Issue two) pg. 43
Plato translated by G.M.A. Grube (1992), The Republic by Plato, Reflect, Connect, Engage, Liberal Education at GVSU, Volume 1 (Issue two) pg. 52
Plato translated by G.M.A. Grube (1974), The Trial and Death of Socrates, Reflect, Connect, Engage, Liberal Education at GVSU, Volume 1 (Issue two) pgs. 62, 69, 72
Addams, Jane (1902), from Democracy and Social Ethics, Reflect, Connect, Engage, Liberal Education at GVSU, Volume 1 (Issue two) pg. 219-220
King, Jr. Martin Luther (1967), The World House, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos of Community? Reflect, Connect, Engage, Liberal Education at GVSU, Volume 1 (Issue two) pgs. 273,283
Brickhouse, Thomas C. & Smith, Nicholas D. (1990), What Makes Socrates a Good Man? Journal of The History of Philosophy, Volume 28 (Number 2), pp. 172, 175
Rothman, Lily, Sept. 15, 2015. Time Inc. Network, In Retrieved Sept. 18, 2015, from

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