DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S007-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2021, from

4. Coercion and exploitation

A different solution is proposed by David Zimmerman (1981), who employs a critical distinction between coercion, understood as necessarily restrictive of freedom, and exploitation, understood as not necessarily coercive. In the lecherous millionaire example, A is an opportunist who happens to chance upon a vulnerable party, but who played no role himself in creating her vulnerability. In Zimmerman’s terms, that makes A an exploiter. For him to be a genuine coercer, it must be the case that he deliberately created the situation in which B is helpless. Zimmerman illustrates the distinction between exploitative offers that are, and those that are not coercive, with the following example: A kidnaps B, brings him to the island where A’s factory is located, and abandons him on the beach. All the jobs in A’s factory are considerably worse than those available on the mainland. The next day A approaches B with the proposal ‘Take a job in my factory and I won’t let you starve’.

This example is a genuine coercive offer, according to Zimmerman, but if there were two factories on the island, and the owner of the second learns of B’s plight and rushes to the beach before A can get there in order to make the same kind of offer to the kidnapped worker, then A’s offer is merely opportunistic exploitation: ‘Coercing goes beyond exploiting, however objectionable the latter may be’ (Zimmerman 1981: 122). The effect on the victim appears to be coercive whether the exploiter deliberately created the vulnerability or only took advantage of it opportunistically. ‘Work or starve’ is as coercive in effect as ‘Sleep with me or your baby dies’. However, in the example that Zimmerman uses, A inflicts a kind of double blow on B, first by undermining B’s freedom (the act of kidnapping) and then by taking advantage of his undermined state with a ‘coercive offer’. The lecherous millionaire, in contrast, was a mere opportunist. Whilst his behaviour may be viewed as morally reprehensible, it can be argued that his unsavoury conduct did not violate the vulnerable party’s right; nor did it threaten any harm to B beyond what she could expect to occur anyway in the normal course of events.

Citing this article:
Feinberg, Joel. Coercion and exploitation. Coercion, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S007-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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