Ferguson, B. Erkenntnis, (2016) 81(5): 951–72. doi:10.1007/s10670-015-9776-4
The concept of exploitation brings many of our ordinary moral intuitions into conflict. Exploitation – or to use the commonly accepted ordinary language definition, taking unfair advantage – is often thought to be morally impermissible. In order to be permissible, transactions must not be unfair. The claim that engaging in mutually beneficial transactions is morally better than not transacting is also quite compelling. However, when combined with the claim that morally permissible transactions are better than impermissible transactions, these three imply the counterintuitive claim that it is obligatory to engage in mutually beneficial transactions. In this paper I outline the conditions that comprise this ‘paradox of exploitation’ along with a solution that involves replacing one of the original conditions with a condition I call Weak Non-worseness. The solution captures the priority of our concerns about exploitation by making a concern for the fairness of a transaction subsidiary to a concern for the welfare of the would-be exploited.
Ferguson, B. Economics and Philosophy, (2016) 32(3): 485–509. doi:10.1017/S026626711500036X
Some accounts of exploitation, most notably Ruth Sample’s (2003) degradation-based account and Robert Goodin’s (1987) vulnerability-based account, argue that persons are exploited when the benefit they receive from a transaction falls below a certain threshold value. According to thesen accounts, the duty of the advantaged party to constrain their advantage in light of the other’s disadvantage is independent of the historical cause of that disadvantage; rather, it is justified by a direct appeal to the other party’s disadvantage. They argue that a failure to discharge these duties amounts to exploitation. Because the duty of constraint in these accounts is independent of the reason for the disadvantage, the duty is what I call a `come-what-may’ duty. I show that such duties create moral hazards that can be exploited by the disadvantaged parties. In such cases these accounts of exploitation are either self-frustrating or over-demanding. This tension leaves accounts that contain come-what-may duties unable to provide a coherent analysis of exploitation.
‘Exploitation’, with Hillel Steiner, in The Oxford Handbook of Distributive Justice, ed. Serena Olsaretti, Oxford, forthcoming.
The paper presents an overview and assessment of four contemporary accounts of exploitation: Sample’s (2003), Goodin’s (1987), Steiner’s (1984, 1987) and Roemer’s (1982) along with a brief outline of areas for future research.
Ferguson, B. Res Publica, (2012) 18(4): 303-319. doi:10.1007/s11158-012-9191-5
This paper has two goals, one broad and one constrained. Broadly I argue interpretations of moral worth, as it is presented in the Groundwork, depend on interpretations of Kant’s theory of freedom. I show that whether we can make sense of the inclusion of nonmoral motives in morally worthy actions depends on whether the ‘always causal framework’ is consistent with Kant’s theory of freedom. More narrowly I argue that if we do adopt an ‘always causal’ framework for moral motivation, then Barbara Herman’s account of moral worth and her critique of Richard Henson’s sufficiency-based account fail. Furthermore, within an’always causal framework’ I specify a criterion for judging whether an action is determined by the motive of duty even in the presence of nonmoral motives. I argue that Noa Latham’s pessimistic conclusion that we must accept a face-value interpretation of Kant’s comments on moral worth is incorrect.