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Beyond (Non)-Instrumentalization: Migration and Dignity within a Kantian Framework

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
Issue number2
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)209-224
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date31/08/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This article offers a Kantian account of dignity violations in the context of contemporary migration to western states. It considers three major issues: “modern slavery,” statutory detention, and lack of rights to engage in economic activity. While most Kantian accounts emphasize the dignity violations of treating people as “mere means,” we point out that this does not capture the central issue: the “hostile environment” that so many migrants face. The first part of the article briefly sets out a Kantian account of dignity violations. The second part highlights two key differences between modern slavery and its historical forebears. It emphasizes the interpersonal rather than institutional character of modern slavery, and distinguishes trafficking from smuggling. The third part argues that migrants who lack formal rights to remain and work face institutional exclusions that violate human dignity. Policies that aim to discourage and restrict immigration demean people’s status as ends in themselves. Moreover, they do so by actively denying opportunities to act as means for others. As such, the article draws a link between Kant’s well-known cosmopolitan right not to be treated with hostility and his less well-known ethical duty, “to be a useful member of the world.” Dignity can be found in acting as a means for others; hostility and exclusion can violate dignity just as much as instrumentalization.