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Philosophy reframes today’s concerns

Last week, North­eastern hosted the 29th Inter­na­tional Social Phi­los­ophy Con­fer­ence, an oppor­tu­nity for experts and stu­dents to weigh deep ques­tions around some of the biggest issues of our time.

Some­times finding a new way to look at an issue can help create new solu­tions, said Serena Parekh, an assis­tant pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy and reli­gion in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. Parekh pre­sented a paper on bringing democ­racy to refugees during a panel Thursday, the first day of the three-​​day conference.

Parekh said that wealthy Western nations realize they must weigh the extent to which they can help refugees and other dis­placed or state­less people by taking some into their own borders.

“One thing that is agreed upon is the terms of the debate,” said Parekh, though the answers from indi­vidual coun­tries vary. While it may seem optimal to have all par­ties sharing a per­spec­tive, that can be lim­iting because it pre­vents nations from con­sid­ering alter­na­tive, out-​​of-​​the-​​box solutions.

Refugees as a whole, Parekh said, are excluded from democ­racy, both on a local and global level. “The heart of what it means to be state­less is to be right­less, in that you lack a com­mu­nity to pro­tect your rights” she said.

Western nations, which ulti­mately take in just a tiny frac­tion of refugees, should instead look for ways to pro­mote democ­racy and pro­tect the rights of dis­placed and state­less people.

Pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy Stephen Nathanson, who orga­nized the con­fer­ence, pre­sented a paper on how phi­los­ophy can broaden a dis­cus­sion and reduce polar­iza­tion between groups whose opin­ions are closer than they might seem. He pointed to remarks by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who at the start of his term cited “philo­soph­ical dif­fer­ences” of opinion regarding the role of gov­ern­ment in society as a major factor in pol­i­tics and public discourse.

“These really are philo­soph­ical dif­fer­ences,” Nathanson said, dis­cussing the apparent polarity between those on oppo­site ends of the polit­ical spec­trum. “Phi­los­ophy is not some­thing you find in old books or that gets dis­cussed by weird people like our­selves. These are real issues in the real world.”

Nathanson dis­cussed the broad spec­trum of options for a government’s role in the economy, not simply cap­i­talism and socialism. Pre­senting a broader array of options can reframe the debate and force people to recon­sider their posi­tions, which may not be as con­crete as first con­sid­ered, he said.

“When we see these issues in a ‘two poles’ kind of way, there are so few options that, of course, people are polar­ized,” Nathanson said. “But when we think about things along a broader spec­trum, I think most people would realize that we aren’t so far away.”

– by Matt Collette

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