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Exploitation and joint action

Journal article
Authors Erik Malmqvist
Andras Szigeti
Published in Journal of social philosophy
Volume 50
Issue 3
Pages 280-300
ISSN 0047-2786
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 280-300
Language en
Keywords Complicity, Exploitation, Joint action, Moral responsibility, Remedial duties
Subject categories Practical philosophy


There is a growing philosophical interest in the concept of exploitation as well as in putatively exploitative real-world practices. However, exploitation theory remains underdeveloped in an important way. Philosophers have mainly focused on cases where one party to a transaction or relationship, A, unduly takes advantage of another party, B, in order to secure a gain for him-/herself. At the same time, they have largely ignored cases where A takes advantage of B, but the gains A extracts from B accrue not (only) to A but (also) to a third party, C. The aim of this paper is to fill this gap. We distinguish between three different ways in which third parties can be involved in exploitative arrangements: (i) by non-culpably benefiting from exploitation; (ii) by culpably benefiting, without joint action; and (iii) culpably, through joint action with the exploiter. Drawing on joint action theory, we explore the relevance of this threefold distinction for the attribution of moral responsibility and blame to third parties, and defend it against potential objections. Then we argue that the distinction has important implications for the remedial duties of third-party beneficiaries of exploitation towards those who were exploited. We end by briefly highlighting the usefulness of our approach for ethical analyses of exploitative practices in the real world.

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