10th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Ferguson

Benjamin Ferguson

What Expolitation isn’t

Most accounts of exploitation begin with an appeal to an informal ordinary language definition, claiming that exploitation involves some form of ‘taking unfair advantage’ (Goodin 1987; Wertheimer 1996; Sample 2003; Elster 1997). Some accounts go further, arguing that exploitation is brought about by, or the result of, past injustice. This position is found explicitly in Steiner (2010, 1984, 1987) and is implicit in Roemer (1982a,b, 1986). Others argue that although exploitation may often be brought about by injustice, it may also involve (at least) two other domains: a failure to be constrained by others’ basic needs, and trade in non-commodifiable goods, such as human organs or sex. In this paper I argue against the plausibility of situating the cause of exploitation within the basic needs domain. Exploitation, I claim, involves a failure to meet basic needs only if these basic needs are unmet because of a past injustice. All legitimate cases of exploitation arising from an appeal to basic needs fall within the domain of justice. In other words, whatever exploitation is, it isn’t the result of taking advantage of mere poverty. Whether we can make sense of the third domain, exploitations within a framework where we accept objective goods|as those defending exploitation involving non-commodifiable goods would claim is not discussed in this paper.