Exploitation, Vulnerability, and Social Domination
Philosophy & Public Affairs
This article attempts to revive a research program by criticizing it. Its object of criticism is the powerful research agenda of analytical Marxism. I shall attempt this revival by criticizing the views of two of the most influential members of that research program, G. A. Cohen and John Roemer. I will argue that they are mistaken in their identification of exploitation with exchange against the background of injustice in the distribution of assets. Exploitation should be conceived, instead, as a form of domination, that is, domination for self‐enrichment. The latter conception captures intuitions surplus to the traditional analytical Marxist view, provides a richer and more plausible understanding of socialist goals, is more amenable to integration into a rigorous Marxist social science, and brings Marxism closer to radical democracy. If I am right, then the idea of exploitation will have received a new lease on life, and the Marxist armory will have been enriched by renewed focus on vulnerability and domination. The article is structured as follows. Section I offers a general definition of exploitation as the self‐enriching instrumentalization of another's vulnerability. Section II restricts the purview of this definition to the economic structure of society. Section III defines domination and argues that exploitation, as conceived antecedently, is a form of domination. Section IV discusses the connection between exploitation and class domination. Section V sketches the Cohen/Roemer distributive‐injustice conception of exploitation. Section VI argues that exploitation as domination for self‐enrichment supplies a better account than exploitation as distributive injustice. Section VII responds to an objection raised by Roemer against the domination‐based account. Section VIII concludes.