We are pleased to present our first Politics Philosophy & Economics discussion of AJ Julius's paper 'The Possibility of Exchange'. Julius's paper is available on open access here.
Victor Tadros, professor at the School of Law, the University of Warwick, is kicking off the discussion with a critical précis. Here now is Victor Tadros:
Comments on A J Julius: The Possibility of Exchange
AJ’s terrific paper is concerned with coercion and exchange. Here is the problem. Consider:
Inducement. I get you to x by indicating that if you x I will y.
Sometimes this is wrong: I get you to cut off your finger by threatening your life. Sometimes it is permissible. I get you to give me a newspaper by promising to pay for it. How to distinguish these cases? Sensible sounding proposals fail. For example, consider: an instance of Inducement is wrong iff it is wrong for you to x or for me to y. As is familiar from blackmail cases, this fails.
AJ draws on an intrapersonal principle
(2) I should not (do y, intend by ying to bring it about that I do x, and fail to believe with warrant that, for some reasons independent of me, my ying facilitates by [doing x because I take R as giving me sufficient reason to x].
From it, he endorses an interpersonal principle:
(3) The Independence Principle. I should not (do y, intend by ying to bring it about that you do x, and fail to believe with warrant that, for some reasons R independent of me, my ying facilitates [doing x because you take R as giving you sufficient reason to x].
AJ summarizes these principles together as follows: ‘they require of a person that she not aim to produce an action, whether her own or the action of another person, except by helping the person who performs the action to do it for a reason that favours the action independently of what is done to produce it.’ (363)
Amongst other things, AJ then considers, and rightly rejects, attempts to explain the difference between coercion and legitimate exchange on the basis of the obligation to reward others for services rendered. It is sometimes permissible for me to induce D to v by offering i even if there would be no obligation for me to give D i if he vs. Our reasons to form certain intentions or to make certain promises will also not do the work: the reasons that we have to form intentions and make promises in cases of exchange are normally the reasons that we have to execute our intentions and carry out our promises in a way that makes the exchange fair and valuable to both parties.
AJ condemns certain exchanges on the basis that they are inconsistent with The Independence Principle. However, he argues that there are exchanges that are consistent with this principle. These are exchanges that can be made by co-operators. He suggests that there are sometimes reasons for people to act in virtue of the fact that their actions would be part of a co-operating set of actions.
Consider his example:
Couch: You and I have sufficient reason to do (you lift the south end of the couch, I lift the north end).
In this case: it is valuable that both ends of the couch are elevated. It is valueless that my end is elevated unless yours is. It is valueless that your end is elevated unless mine is.
As I cannot elevate both ends on my own, I lack a reason to elevate my end unless you elevate yours and vice versa. We have a reason to cooperate.
Cooperation: You and I have sufficient reason to do (you fix my door, I make your shoes).
Though he does not spell this out, I think that AJ thinks that the value of this pair of actions is not only in the door-fixing and the shoe-making, but also in the fact that in performing this pair of actions we help each other. This seems plausible.
We are then in a position to determine which ‘inducements’ are permitted and which are not. Those that are permitted are those that contribute to cooperative patterns of activity that people have reason to participate in. Wrongful exploitation occurs when inducements cause people to act, but there is no such pattern of activity.
I was not completely clear about AJ’s principles to determine which patterns of activity can be jointly recommended to participants as suitably co-operative. His example involves a case where part of a person’s labour – the morning’s work – is used simply to benefit an already wealthy person. There is no good reason, he thinks, for a person to work the morning when the morning’s work will all but be wasted on the rich person. Hence, complete course of action cannot be recommended to that person consistent with The Independence Principle. It would help, though, if we had more complete criteria to determine when actions can be jointly recommended as suitably co-operative.
If I understand them, AJ’s intrapersonal and interpersonal principles seem invalid.
To see the invalidity of The Independence Principle consider:
Coercion: D threatens to shoot my child unless I induce P to v by offering i. If I offer i, D will not carry out his threat whether or not P vs.
Typically, I should induce P to v, even if there is no reason for P to v and no reason for P to want i (wanting i is irrational), either independently of, or after, I have offered i.
Perhaps The Independence Principle would be better if ‘I should not…’ was replaced by ‘It is pro tanto wrong to…’
If this is right AJ could do more to explain the pro tanto wrongness of inducing a person to do what they lack a reason to do. We might think: there are many things that I do that I have no reason to do. When these things are not disadvantageous to me in any way, I have little reason to care that I do them. If other people benefit by inducing me to do these things, why should I object?
AJ might claim: because I use P for my sake. If this is right, AJ’s view might be a variation on the principle that it is wrong for one person to use another as a means to his good. This principle is normally understood as a principle concerned with coercion. AJ might suggest that he means to extend it to cases of non-cooperative inducement.
It seems problematic to distinguish wrongful from legitimate exchanges on the basis of what we have reason to do together. Here’s why. It can sometimes be coercive to induce a person to do what they have sufficient reason to do. And it can sometimes be unproblematic to transact with a person who does what they have no reason to do.
For the first case, consider:
Marriage: if you and I get married, we will live happily ever after. Irrationally, you don’t want to marry me. A kidney would significantly improve your quality of life. I have a ‘spare’ kidney.
Suppose that it is supererogatory for me to give you a kidney. If I offer you a kidney in exchange for you marrying me, we do what we have good reason to do together. There is good reason for me to give my kidney to you independently of us getting married. There is good reason for you to marry me independently of getting a kidney. And there is good reason for us to do (we get married and I give you a kidney). Yet it nevertheless seems wrong for me to offer you a kidney in return for marriage.
Save: You can save my life at the cost of your leg. You refuse to do this. I have some medicine that belongs to you that you need for your survival. I refuse to give you the medicine unless you save my life. You do so.
Let us assume, as is plausible, that a person can sometimes have a decisive reason to v even if ving is supererogatory. This might be true of you. You might have a decisive reason to save my life at the cost of a leg. Let us suppose you do. If so:
You and I have reason to (You save my life at the cost of a leg and I give you your medicine).
Yet it is wrong for me to threaten you with withholding the medicine, even though by doing so I get you to do something that you have decisive reason to do anyway. AJ’s principle seems to permit this. Perhaps AJ might argue that these acts are not appropriately linked, and hence this is not a case of cooperation. That, though, needs explaining. It is not obvious what the difference is between this case and AJ’s cobbler/carpentry case.
Furthermore, if these acts are not appropriately linked, AJ’s principles seem too restrictive. It would be permissible for me to do threaten you if you were required to save my life. If saving my life would cost you only your little toe, you might be required to save my life, and your duty might be enforceable. In that case it is permissible for me to withhold your medicine. It is not clear from AJ’s principle how to distinguish these cases. The acts in this case seem no more linked than the acts in the previous case. The problem, I think, is that AJ’s principles do not distinguish between what we have reason to do and what we are required to do.
I also think that it is sometimes permissible to cooperate with a person to do something that has no benefit for them at all. Consider:
False God: You are rich. I am poor. You ask me to build a shrine to your false God and offer me a handsome reward in return.
You and I have no reason to (I build a shrine and you reward me handsomely).
Yet it does not seem wrong for me to build your shrine. Furthermore, AJ’s view seems to imply that the wrong that is done in False God is a wrong that you do to me – you get me to do something that I have no independent reason to do. But if anything, it is I who exploit your false belief. I think this permissible, but if there is wrongdoing, it is mine not yours.