Universalist Rights and Particularist Duties: The Case of Refugees


  • Per Bauhn Linnaeus University, Sweden




The conflict between refugees’ human right to be admitted to a safe country and the right of states to exercise sovereign control of their borders, including the right to deny refugees entry, can be understood in terms of a normative conflict between two ethical systems, namely those of ethical universalism and ethical particularism. Here it is suggested that this conflict can be resolved by combining a universalist comparable cost argument with a particularist fair share argument. The comparable cost argument affirms that a state receiving refugees should allow at least the most basic rights of refugees to override less important rights of its own citizens. The fair share argument modifies the comparable cost argument by affirming that no state is morally obligated to sacrifice any of its citizens’ rights for the sake of protecting a larger share of refugees than what is fair, given its resources.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Per Bauhn, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Professor of Practical Philosophy, School of Cultural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Sweden.


Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. London: Allen Lane.

Carens, J. (2013). The Ethics of Immigration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gewirth, A. (1978). Reason and Morality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Gewirth, A. (1982). Human Rights. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Griffin, J. (2008). On Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Gutmann, A. (2001). "Introduction". In: A. Gutmann (ed.), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (pp. vii–xxviii). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

IMF. (2018). World Economic Outlook Database, April 2018. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2018/01/weodata/index.aspx

Kelly, E. (2003). "The Burdens of Collective Liability". In: D. K. Chatterjee and D. E. Schied (eds.), Ethics and Foreign Intervention (pp. 118–139). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kelly, E. (2004). "Human Rights as Foreign Policy Imperatives". In: D. K. Chatterjee (ed.), The Ethics of Assistance (pp. 177–192). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Kennan, G. F. (1985). "Morality and Foreign Policy". Foreign Affairs, 64 (2): 205–218.


Miller, D. (2016). Strangers in Our Midst. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Murphy, L. (1993). "The Demands of Beneficence". Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22 (4): 267–292.

Nagel, T. (2005). "The Problem of Global Justice". Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33 (2): 113–147.


Pogge, T. (2005). "Real World Justice". The Journal of Ethics, 9 (1–2): 29–53


Sen, A. (2010). The Idea of Justice. London: Penguin Books.

Singer, P. (2016). One World Now. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sirkeci, I. (2017). "Turkey's Refugees, Syrians, and Refugees from Turkey: A Country of Insecurity". Migration Letters, 14 (1): 127–144.


Stilz, A. (2009). Liberal Loyalty. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


UNHCR. (2018). Figures at a Glance. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

Walzer, M. (2000). Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic Books.

Wellman, C. H. & Cole, P. (2011). Debating the Ethics of Immigration. New York: Oxford University Press.





How to Cite

Bauhn, P. (2019). Universalist Rights and Particularist Duties: The Case of Refugees. Migration Letters, 16(2), 145–153. https://doi.org/10.33182/ml.v16i2.541