2016 Workshop on Exploitation and Coercion

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Alan Wertheimer's Exploitation

November 4-5, 2016

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Alan Wertheimer's seminal work Exploitation, the Center for Ethics & Policy at Carnegie Mellon University is hosting its inaugural workshop on the theme of "Exploitation and Coercion". Discussion will focus on the theoretical underpinnings of moral claims about exploitation and coercion and the moral force of such claims, as well as implications for important current topics in applied ethics and policy. The Center is pleased to welcome Richard Arneson as keynote speaker.
In support of a productive and accessible workshop, accepted papers will be circulated in advance of the conference so that all participants can read them ahead of time and the meeting can focus on critical feedback and discussion. The conference space and hotel are wheelchair accessible. Food will include vegan and vegetarian options. Participants are asked not to bring or wear strong scents. If you have any questions or concerns about accessibility, please contact the workshop organizer, Danielle Wenner, at dwenner@andrew.cmu.edu.


Exploitation, Coercion, Domination - and Fair Distribution
Transnational Surrogacy as Capacity Building: Exploitation, Coercion, and Empowerment

Those who oppose transnational surrogacy (TNS) for ethical reasons often invoke the concept of autonomy in their argumentation. They contend that (a) the surrogates (especially those from countries with emerging economies) do not meet classic liberal theory’s standard of autonomy; as such, (b) TNS contracts are always either exploitative or coercive, and therefore (c) TNS contracts are ethically impermissible. Although we agree with claim (a), we argue that this does not entail (b) or (c). TNS contracts fit into a sub-category of exploitation that Alan Wertheimer refers to as mutually beneficial exploitation, which renders them ethically permissible under certain conditions. We defend the ‘ethicality’ of TNS in cases where these contracts benefits surrogates in terms of improving their material (but not restricted to financial) conditions, and guaranteeing they have sufficient protections and opportunities for empowerment. Further, we contest the claim that increasing benefits to surrogates increases their vulnerability to exploitation or undue inducement. We ground our analysis in the material (and empirically tractable) benefits TNS offers might women who engage in it—especially those benefits that have the power to enhance women’s individual and collective ‘capabilities.’

Coercion: The Wrong and the Bad

Alan Wertheimer famously argued that coercion can be analysed only with reference to pre-existing rights distributions. Despite its widespread influence, however, this ‘moralised’ approach has faced two persistent concerns: (1) that essential moralisation prevents the idea of coercion from functioning as a basic moral concept, and (2) that it is counterintuitive to hold, as this view must, that (genuine) offers can never be coercive. This paper argues that both concerns may be met by distinguishing between two moral-theoretic roles that the idea of coercion plays for us: a deontic role, in which claims of coercion serve to indicate relatively weighty prima facie wrongs and excuses, and an axiological or eudaimonic role, in which claims of coercion serve to pick out instances of a distinctive kind of pro tanto human bad (such as unfreedom or interpersonal subjection).

Sexual Coercion & Agency

There is widespread reluctance to think of victims of sexual assault as exercising any kind of agency during their assault, out of well-intentioned concern that we might be exposing victims to undesirable moral scrutiny. However, this resistance is ill founded. I will suggest that the view of victims as purely passive relies on a model of sexual assault involving pure force, but that many assaults actually proceed by way of coercion. Drawing upon such accounts of coercion as Robert Nozick's, I will argue that the mechanisms of coercion involve the coercee's agency in important ways, and that we need to apply this understanding to sexual assault. Far from being victim blaming, an account of sexual assault that acknowledges that a victim can retain limited agency speaks much better to the dynamics of sexual assault, and the experience of many survivors.

Paying People to Take Health Risks

In medical ethics, there is a widespread consensus that paying subjects cannot justify exposing subjects to health risks. Risks to research subjects are justified only by prospects of social benefit from research or of direct medical benefit to subjects. In business, by contrast, health risks to employees are widely considered unobjectionable if employees give informed consent to working conditions, if the employer takes appropriate steps to minimize risk, and if the employer provides adequate hazard pay. Pointing out the similarities between payment for risk in medical research and in industry, Alan Wertheimer has argued that medical ethicists’ concerns about payment for risk are misguided. I argue that the standard view of hazard pay in medical ethics is correct and that it should apply in employment contexts. Paying people to take health risks is acceptable only if people can reasonably value the risky activities for reasons other than payment.

Two Puzzles about Exploitation

This paper examines two puzzles about exploitation. The first puzzle—call it the Non-Worseness Claim—is that it is difficult to see how it can be morally worse to exploit someone than to not interact with them at all when the interaction is mutually advantageous, consensual, and free from negative externalities. By contrast, the second puzzle—call it the Welfare-Fairness Tradeoff—seeks to highlight a conflict or tradeoff between welfare and fairness that critics of exploitation have largely ignored. The basic idea is that if the moral imperative of non-exploitation derives from an underlying concern for the interests or well-being of a particular group’s members, then what reason could we have to prioritize fairness for the few over welfare for the many? I defend the moral significance of exploitation from these challenges and thereby lay the groundwork for a more compelling account of why we have an obligation to treat people fairly.

Exploitation & Joint Action (co-author Erik Malmqvist)

The paper aims to forge a link between exploitation and collective action theory. Arguably, the study of exploitation has remained underdeveloped in an important way. Much attention has been devoted to direct exploitation. This occurs when one party (A) takes advantage of the other party (B) in order to benefit themselves. At the same time, philosophers have largely ignored what might be called indirect exploitation, i.e., when the gains A extracts from B accrue not (only) to A but (also) to C. We distinguish three ways in which third-party beneficiaries can be involved in indirect exploitation: (i) through joint action with the exploiter; (ii) culpably, but without joint action; and (iii) non-culpably. Our main claim in the paper is that type (i) involvement is common and the fact that third-party beneficiaries act together with exploiters in such cases has important moral implications.

Exploitation as Domination: Wertheimer on Power, Vulnerability, and Markets

Alan Wertheimer claims that ‘A exploits B when A takes unfair advantage of B’ (Wertheimer 1996, p. 16). Call this the fairness view. On a distinct, and possibly incompatible, view, A exploits B when A extracts a benefit from A’s domination of B. Call this the domination view. Drawing upon the discussion of markets in Wertheimer (1987) and Wertheimer (1996), this paper shows that Wertheimer’s account of exploitation is based on the domination view. It then argues for the cogency of that view, as opposed to the fairness view.

Moral Baselines & The Two-Pronged Theory of Coercion

The aim of this paper is to fill a gap in Wertheimer’s argument for the so-called two-pronged theory of coercion. His defense of the two-pronged theory crucially depends on the assumption that proposals that count as threats relative to a moralized baseline—i.e., threats to do what one has no moral right to do—are themselves wrongful, whereas proposals that constitute threats only relative to non-moral baselines are not. My aim is to offer an account of why we should accept this assumption. What explains the link between the deontic status of a threat and the deontic status of the act threatened? To do this I attempt to show how the threat to do something impermissible illegitimately forces the victim to take on a responsibility that is properly borne by the person issuing the threat. I argue, futher, that this account helps to shed light on apparent exceptions, such as blackmail.

Download CFP       Draft Program


Danielle M. Wenner, Alex John London


Derrick Gray, Aidan Kestigian, Daniel Malinksy, Jacob Steen, Patrick Walsh


Carnegie Mellon University
Cohen University Center, McKenna & Peter Rooms (2nd Floor)
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA


A limited block of rooms are available at the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center at a discount rate of $130/night plus applicable taxes. This rate includes free parking and wifi. The hotel will provide free transportation to and from CMU's campus. To book at the conference rate, visit the hotel's website and use Group Code 1103841CE, or call the hotel at (412) 682-6200 and ask for the CEP Workshop rate. Discount rate is available only through October 13.
Other hotels within walking distance of the workshop venue include the Shadyside Inn and the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh University Place.


Workshop presenters do not need to register. Others wishing to attend are asked to send an email to centerforethicsandpolicy@gmail.com. Due to limited seating and in order to keep discussion productive, a limited number of spots are available for non-presenting participants. All who attend are expected to read workshop papers in advance; full papers will not be presented.
Please bring cash or check to the event. Fee schedule is as follows:
  • Graduate Student Days Only: $20 (includes breakfast & lunch Friday; breakfast Saturday)
  • Faculty Days Only: $40 (includes breakfast & lunch Friday; breakfast Saturday)
  • Graduate Student, incl. Reception: $35 (includes breakfast, lunch, & dinner Friday; breakfast Saturday)
  • Faculty, incl. Reception: $70 (includes breakfast, lunch, & dinner Friday; breakfast Saturday)