Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Work and Cooperation

2011 (33) Issue 1


Both in social theories with the aim of looking into the creative core of society as well as in everyday politics, two intuitions often supplement each other. The first intuition, empirico-analytical, views common organization of work and production as being the very aim of society, and other parts of society being explicable from this. A second intuition, ethical or moral, holds the sphere of work to be the central site for diagnoses of a society's inherent justice. Both intuitions not only contribute to but also strengthen each other. Certainly, endeavours of justice have to presuppose something like what Rawls called a `basic structure' of society, including certainly common production. And, vice versa, work and production seem impossible without incorporating a form of distribution somehow legitimized among the parties involved. Production and distribution, work and exchange, seem to be, according to these intuitions, the fundamental frame from which both empirical explanations and normative judgements – as from one common source – have to be developed.

So much for theory. In practice, the gap between the empirical and the normative, or between the different disciplines involved, has hardly ever been crossed. Even if accepted as a major domain of social and political relevance, the importance of work and labour for society is, under the impact of globalization, highly contested. Whether there is a future at all for a contributory role of all or most citizens is an issue over which scientists and politicians repeatedly agonize. Unfortunately normative social theories, whether they come from the rational choice or the ethical tradition, are not of immediate help either. The rational choice methodology has only recently been applied to situations in the labour-sphere, proceeding still at a highly abstract level. On the ethical side the 'contractualist' tradition in political philosophy has always been more narrowly fixed on the legitimization of private property than being open to study the relevance of work for justice. Now that positions towards shortened work-opportunities and extreme wage-differentials are inescapable, a convincing general framework for such answers is missing. The philosophers' offerings, be they from Nozick, Rawls, Dworkin, Miller or others, do not reach down precisely enough to the level where these topics are debated in actual politics.

With these lacunae in the background, the present issue is organized into three thematic sections, assembling philosophers, economists and sociologists, including conceptual, normative and empirical analysis, and not least in the last section interpreting experimental studies of relevance for the work-sphere. Even if not explicitly taken up in all contributions, 'cooperation' is the conceptual focus, suggesting itself as something that opens up the systematic mechanisms, both empirical and normative, in work, production and exchange, the more concrete sphere of common labour and the more abstract of commodity exchange. Trying to stake out a terrain for an intensified and terminologically coordinated debate Anton Leist presents an overview on the different roles that economists and philosophers would like the concept of cooperation to play. According to his diagnosis it seems imperative for these two groups to take note of each other's achievements in the analysis of cooperation, even if methodological obstacles have to be overcome for this. The strikingly strong social motivation documented in anonymous exchange between players in experimental games might be theorized more fruitfully if there is an awareness of the intentional structure of cooperation. Some of the philosophical contributions in this issue provide just such analyses.

Hans Bernhard Schmid argues for an often evoked contrast between individually 'strategic' and socially 'consensual' or 'cooperative' action, and defends the latter's irreducibility to the former. Schmid tries to prove that strategic agents are unable to achieve the coordination of even most simple actions (thus being, in this sense, 'idiotic') and so forego the basic advantages of cooperative behaviour. Alternatively and elaborating on Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas, he suggests that the normative content in and from we-attitudes is typical for human sociality and presumably distinctive against the non-human primates. In his commentary Fabian Schuppert discusses critically Schmid's use of an example for coordination and points to the wide difference between coordination and cooperation.

In full accord with Schmid Raimo Tuomela distinguishes sharply between 'I-mode cooperation' and 'we-mode cooperation', and points out that a middle position, called by him the 'individualistic pro-group I-mode account', is under-describing what is typical in human cooperative exchanges. Tuomela's article draws heavily on two recent books and includes a collection of different arguments – conceptual, choice-theoretical and empirical – buttressing the irreducible role of we-intentions for cooperation. In a commentary, the individualist pro-group account finds a defender in Cedric Paternotte, who critically illuminates Tuomela's 'we-mode account' under three aspects: its rationality, its efficiency in depicting cooperation compared to the individualistic pro-group account, and its irreducibility claim. According to Paternotte the jury is still out as to how to find the right judgement on joint action.

The articles by Andrew Lister and Robert Myers, responded to by Ivo Wallimann-Helmer and Anton Leist, discuss ethical claims included in or connected with social cooperation. Lister takes up the problem, coming from Rawls, of how to do justice to the disabled and to foreigners, who are not contributing to society on equal terms with other citizens, but who reclaim the same equal moral status. To which extent can the normative view of cooperation, perhaps idealized or further specified, nevertheless ground an equal status? Myers is disturbed by the problem, seen as crucial in parts of moral philosophy, of how to make such conflicting moral principles as beneficence and individual rights cohere with each other. He suggests that cooperating 'to promote the good' is the best way to resolve this problem, thereby trying to find a middle ground between otherwise incompatible moral theories. The exchange reveals these ethicists to be of different opinion as to which extent moral principles can or should be reconstructed from real life cooperation, rather than taken as abstract entities valid on their own.

That a successful synthesis of efficient cooperation and moral equality among cooperating workers exists in real life is little known, unfortunately, among social scientists outside Spain: the synthesis manifesting itself in the Mondragon Corporation cooperatives in Basque Country. According to Ramon Flecha and Ignacio Santa Cruz the synthesis results from what they call five 'successful cooperativist actions' relating to both economic and social security, but also including democratic rights in the managing productive programmes, and participation in a self-owned university. David Ellerman, in his complementary remarks, points to the ethical background of Catholic social thought and to the internal capital account as being the two crucial conditions, which according to him make the difference between Mondragon and many other less successful workers' cooperatives.

The contributions by Sonja Dänzer, Mark Starmanns and Winfried Ruigrok cover different aspects of the ethical and economic mechanisms involved in large-scale commodity-chains. Dänzer takes up the task of making clear why multinational companies are morally responsible for the adequate working conditions in companies within their supply chains. On the basis of a five-category distinction between different supply relations, she provides an analysis of different types of responsibility multinationals have for the ancillary business partners they work with. As becomes obvious from her ethical argument, the special ways in which multinationals and suppliers are related to each other is of crucial relevance for the extent of such a responsibility. Mark Starmanns develops Dänzer's analysis further but also suggests the politicised public as the more suitable normative sphere for addressing normative critique to multinationals. Ruigrok aims at an empirical analysis of commodity chains, illustrated with the product of organic cotton. In his view, perhaps contrary to the ethicists' hopes, it is the morally motivated, NGO-based networks that least provide the chance to create a mass market for organic products, compared to ones organized by international companies.

A further conceptual way of reconstructing the mechanisms of work-relationships with an eye on an underlying morale comes from the social philosophy of 'recognition'. Hermann Kocyba engages with the claims introduced by Axel Honneth and critically discusses the extent to which the latter's idea of 'visibility' is suitable as an ethical criterion for diminishing attitudes of recognition in the burgeoning sphere of service work. Kocyba and Christoph Henning vary significantly, however, as to the general promise involved in the recognition approach. In his sharp criticism Henning points to the conservative self-restriction that this method opens itself up to, and suggests that an anthropologically founded view of cooperatively working together offers a richer, less historically contingent basis for reciprocal esteem.

Laying bare anthropologically general dispositions towards cooperating instead of seeking conflict in social exchanges has been on the agenda of experimental economists for some time already, as is evident in the third section of this issue. Lorenzo Sacconi}, Marco Faillo and Steffania Ottone are inspired by Rawls' answer to the 'compliance problem', as known in rational choice theory. Rawls accepted the idea of a 'natural' development of a 'sense of justice', as reconstructed earlier by developmental psychologists like Piaget and Kohlberg, and, in the least often read third part of his A Theory of Justice he sketched a three-stage development of justice dispositions built on the mechanism of reciprocity. Sacconi/Faillo/Ottone place both their experiments and their empirical findings in this context. Their experiments with the so-called 'exclusion game' show that whether or not people behave self-interestedly or fairly depends on the possibility of making explicit agreements ahead of crucial decisions. This result is all the more surprising as the experiments explicitly include the awareness of 'strong' and 'weak' players, contingently put into their roles. As complex as they are, any definite findings from the experiments are open to further interpretation. In his comment David Copp queries the authors' claims concerning a solution to the compliance problem. Regular moral attitudes do not depend on explicit agreements, and the 'fair' behaviour of (only) part of the games' subjects would also match with a utility maximizing attitude.

The effect of fairness dispositions once again strikingly shows up in the series of experiments on employer-employee-relationship constellations, reported by Johannes Abeler et al. Contractual relations in this context are proved to resemble more of a reciprocal 'gift-relationship' than a narrow pay-performance relation: something clairvoyantly suggested some time ago by George Akerlof. By a selection of experiments, arising from an earlier experiment on equity and equality concerns ('unequal pay for unequal work') conducted by Abeler et al., the authors demonstrate the quite robust role of fairness attitudes under diverse social conditions: among others, those of differential efforts, different transparency of effort to the employer, difference of social closeness, productivity differences and other, still more detailed differences. In one of the experiments, interestingly, communication is revealed as quite an ambiguous, and overall more disturbing than promoting, influence on the disposition to reciprocate fairly in employment relationships.

Julian Culp and Heiner Schumacher acclaim the extension of economic theory into domains of pro-social behaviour, but they suggest conceptual improvements in further experiments of two sorts. They think that present experiments suffer from not taking into account the motivating power of reasons, which are not themselves tied down to given preferences but rather create new preferences. Also, and complementarily, they suggest that agents' opinions about the degree of 'background justice' in the larger society might influence heavily local decisions with fairness aspects. Decisions that appear to be self-interested could then be deciphered as reciprocal after all, even if only in a larger context. Looking back on this and the other contributions in this issue, the gap between theory and practice bemoaned at the beginning of this editorial seems to have been at least somewhat narrowed down in the end.

Most of the contributions in this volume result from a conference Work and Cooperation, organized by Anton Leist, held at the Ethics-Centre/Zurich in November 2010. The organizer is grateful to the University of Zurich for financial support.

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Table of Contents

Title: Potentials of Cooperation
Author: Anton Leist
Page: 7-33

Abstract: Since Hobbes' Leviathan was published in 1651, the 'problem of order' has been known for some time. Despite this long gestation period for social theory even today we do not have a universally agreed upon answer to this 'problem'. One of the reasons behind this lacuna may be the overly dispersed work being done in the economic and sociological traditions. Whereas one tradition favours 'collective action' as a central answer, the other thinks of the problem itself being dissolved by the acceptance of 'socialized man'. Here, an attempt is made to offer the phenomenon of 'cooperation' as a promising middle ground for both traditions. To underline the importance of cooperation as an elementary social activity, first, cooperation is shown as working in tandem with its rival 'competition'. Secondly, several conceptual analyses of what is included in collective action and cooperation are offered. These analyses, thirdly, are deepened by an overview of the motivational bases potentially advancing cooperation. Overall, an awareness of the self-creating character of cooperation is explored, and put forward as the most feasible way of answering the classical problem of order.

Title: The Idiocy of Strategic Reasoning. Towards an Account of Consensual Action
Author: Hans Bernhard Schmid
Page: 35-56

Abstract: Practical reasoning is an agent's capacity to determine her course of behavior on the base of some evaluation of available alternatives. Reasoning is instrumental insofar as an agent decides over available alternatives by aiming to choose the best means to realize her own goals. Reasoning is strategic if the agent assumes that what the best means to realize her own goals is depends on what other agents will do. Strategic reasoning still plays a central role in influential accounts of social action. This paper first argues for the view that purely strategic reasoners are unable to achieve even the most basic and unproblematic forms of mutually beneficent coordination, and then gathers some elements of a richer account of relevant forms of practical reasoning.

Title: Comment on Hans Bernhard Schmid: Coordination, Cooperation and the Origin of Normative Expectations
Author: Fabian Schuppert
Page: 57-64

Abstract: This comment suggests that coordination and cooperation are very different things, as the former simply is a device for problem-solving, while the latter relies on the existence of some shared intentionality. Similarly there exist different origins for the normative expectations an agent might form. Hence the comment argues that Schmid's taxonomy of action types, though helpful, needs to be extended and revised.

Title: Cooperation as Joint Action
Author: Raimo Tuomela
Page: 65-86

Abstract: The paper studies cooperation as joint action, where joint action can, first, be conceptualized either individualistically in terms of the participants' individual goals and beliefs that the joint action is taken to serve. This is individualistic or 'I-mode' cooperation. Special version of it is 'pro-group I-mode' cooperation, where the goals are shared. Second, cooperation can be of the kind where a group of persons act together as a group in terms of the non-aggregative 'we' that they form. The results of the paper support the conjecture that we-mode conceptualization and an account of cooperation is needed to complement the individualistic (pro-group) I-mode account(s) in social science theorizing and experimentation.

Title: Comment on Raimo Tuomela: Joint Action: How Rational? How Irreducible?
Author: Cedric Paternotte
Page: 87-92

Abstract: In his 'Cooperation as joint action', Tuomela presents a we-mode account of cooperation, which he argues has several advantages over an individual account. This commentary examines to what extent this is true. In particular, I assess three related characteristics of we-mode joint action: its possible rationality, its greater efficiency, and its alleged irreducibility to purely individual properties, which are recurring points of the article.

Title: Justice as Fairness and Reciprocity
Author: Andrew Lister
Page: 93-112

Abstract: This paper tries to reconcile reciprocity with a fundamentally 'subject-centred' ethic by interpreting the reciprocity condition as a consequence of the fact that justice is in part a relational value. Duties of egalitarian distributive justice are not grounded on the duty to reciprocate benefits already received, but limited by a reasonable assurance of compliance on the part of those able to reciprocate, because their point is to constitute a valuable relationship, one of mutual recognition as equals. We have unconditional duty to help establish just global institutions, institutions which would allow us to share fairly in the burdens and benefits of global economic cooperation, but no unilateral duty to share fairly, where such institutions are not in place. Since non-contribution on the part of those unable to contribute involves no failure of recognition, the disabled do not fall outside the scope of distributive justice.

Title: Comment on Andrew Lister: Just Distribution(s) for Mutual Recognition
Author: Ivo Wallimann-Helmer
Page: 113-122

Abstract: This comment questions Lister's reading of the reciprocity condition in three respects. First, it challenges the view that this condition necessarily leads to egalitarian claims about just distribution. Secondly, it questions Lister's argument that the reciprocity condition is linked to substantial schemes of egalitarian distribution irrespective of context. Thirdly, it claims that entitlements to justice for people with mental or psychological impairments cannot be based on a distinction between willingness and unwillingness to contribute to the cooperative venture of a society.

Title: Cooperating to Promote the Good
Author: Robert Myers
Page: 123-139

Abstract: I argue that the aim of moral activity is to cooperate with others in the promotion of value, where the concept of cooperation denotes not a formal ideal to be given content through reasoning but a substantive way of engaging with others. I show how this approach to ethical theory can provide better accounts of many of our moral convictions than consequentialist or contractualists approaches can, and defend it against the objection that, by downplaying moral reasoning, it robs itself of any explanatory force.

Title: Comment on Robert H. Myers: Finding Out What is Substantive in Cooperation
Author: Anton Leist
Page: 141-148

Abstract: Myers' offer of cooperation as a medicine for ailing moral theories is welcomed as potentially helpful, even if his handling of it is diagnosed as implicitly one-sided consequentialist. His search for an ethically "substantive way of engaging with others'' is shown as not coherent with his remarks on the tasks cooperation as an ethical concept has to fulfil. Instead, it is proposed that the concept be disentangled from the micro-problems Myers' wants it to solve, and that it be read more freely, from the perspective of Rawls' conception of cooperation.

Title: Reply to Anton Leist: Keeping Constructivism in Its Place
Author: Robert Myers
Page: 149-153

Abstract: Leist worries that by tying the ideal of cooperation to the aim of promoting the good I exhibit a bias towards consequentialism, and that this in turn leads me to downsize the role to be played by the ideal of cooperation within moral theory. I maintain that no bias is exhibited towards consequentialism but acknowledge that realism is being favoured over constructivism. I further argue that the role assigned to the ideal of cooperation is as large as realism permits.

Title: Cooperation for Economic Success: The Mondragon Case
Author: Ramon Flecha / Ignacio Santa Cruz
Page: 157-170

Abstract: The Mondragon Corporation, a group of cooperatives, is a thriving example of how cooperatives can succeed. The authors describe six features of the corporation and five 'successful cooperative actions' that they consider to be crucial in explaining its accomplishments. Both the specific features and the successful actions are contrasted with those of standard capitalist companies, to show how this case is unique in the field of corporate organization and management. Through a combination of democratic principles, the values of solidarity, and strong competitiveness, Mondragon has simultaneously achieved both efficiency and equity and has become an alternative to the organizational and governance models of traditional capitalist firms.

Title: Comment on Ramon Flecha and Ignacio Santa Cruz: The Priority of Labor and Capital Accounts
Author: David Ellerman
Page: 171-174

Abstract: Two aspects of the fine Flecha-Cruz paper can be usefully elaborated. The Mondragon cooperatives differ not only from capitalist firms but also from most other cooperatives in the doctrine of the 'priority of labor over capital' which means that the people working in any sort of cooperative will be members and will not be rented as employees. Also the Mondragon system of internal capital accounts solves the equity-structure problem that has plagued many modern cooperatives structured as non-profits or traditional worker cooperatives with 'membership shares'.

Title: Are Multinational Companies Responsible for Working Conditions in Their Supply Chains? From Intuition to Argument
Author: Sonja Dänzer
Page: 175-194

Abstract: Although many people seem to share the intuition that multinational companies (MNEs) carry a responsibility for the working conditions in their supply chains, the justification offered for this assumption is usually rather unclear. This article explores a promising strategy for grounding the relevant intuition and for rendering its content more precise. It applies the criteria of David Miller's connection theory of remedial responsibility to different forms of supply chain governance as characterized by the Global Value Chains (GVC) framework. The analysis suggests that the criteria for identifying MNEs as remedially responsible for bad working conditions in their direct suppliers are fulfilled in many cases, even though differentiations are required with regard to the different supply chain governance structures. MNEs thus have a duty to make sure currently bad working conditions in their suppliers are changed for the better. Moreover, since production in supply chains for structural reasons continuously generates remedial responsibility of MNEs for bad working conditions in their suppliers, it puts the prospective responsibility on them to make sure that their suppliers offer acceptable working conditions. Further, it is suggested that the remedial responsibility of MNEs might require them to make financial compensation to victims of bad working conditions and in grave cases initiate or support programs to mitigate disastrous effects suffered by them.

Title: Comment on Sonja Dänzer: Structural Injustice in Global Production Networks: Shared Responsibility for Working Conditions
Author: Mark Starmanns
Page: 195-212

Abstract: This commentary's claim is that Dänzer's argument does not sufficiently take into account the complexities of the global production of goods, the current corporate responsibility practices and the problems of attributing responsibility to single actors. I argue in favour of a shared responsibility and briefly present a discursive approach for attributing MNE's share of responsibility in global supply chains, which requires obligatory transparency.

Title: From Niche to Mass Markets: Rival Strategies in Promoting Fair Trade Organic Commodity Chains
Author: Winfried Ruigrok
Page: 213-233

Abstract: This article examines rival strategies employed by public, private and civil society actors to promote fair trade organic commodity chains. The article analyses the case of fair trade organic cotton as a produce that is on the brink of reaching a mass market, and compares this with patterns of the more widely documented fair trade organic fruit case. It is shown how variations in commodity chain configurations and interfaces reflect different stakeholder positions and interests, as well as development philosophies. The case of fair trade organic cotton chains illustrates how stakeholder involvement may speed up learning and thus facilitate mass-market entry. Finally, it is argued that rival commodity chain configurations make it difficult to agree upon common fair trade organic cotton certification strategies.

Title: Recognition, Cooperation and the Moral Presuppositions of Capitalist Organization of Work
Author: Hermann Kocyba
Page: 235-259

Abstract: Starting from the current debate on work and recognition, the article describes how shifts within the cultural frames of work, the transformation of hierarchies into internal markets and the development of a service economy lead to problems which can take the form of a 'paradox of recognition'. This paradox cannot be dissolved simply by a conceptual distinction between equal respect for persons and qualifying esteem of performance and efficiency, at least as long as we are interested in a matching of empirical analysis and normative critique. The normative claims for visibility and transparency of work are described as a paradigmatic case for the entanglement of questions of respect and esteem. With respect to recent developments within critical theory, the article argues that the idea of immanent critique needs further elaboration in order to accentuate the relation between normative critique and functional analysis.

Title: Comment on Hermann Kocyba: The Regime of Esteem, or Recognition as Affirmation
Author: Christoph Henning
Page: 261-269

Abstract: This comment on Kocyba's article discusses both his economic and moral assumptions, arguing that the shift from industrial capitalism towards a 'new spirit' of more autonomous forms of work is not captured by Kocyba's comparison between producing things alone and creating services together. Consequently, the main problem is not, as Kocyba believes, the determination of an individual's share in the (intangible) product, but the competitive mindset of this new spirit, which has many undesired consequences. Concerning the 'moral presuppositions' it is argued that the questionable self-restriction to 'immanent norms' induces a strong affirmative tendency which is at odds with Kocyba's critical aspirations. The idea that critical theory can only refer to norms which are already institutionalized needs to be dropped in order to revive the critical dimension. It is argued that Kocyba is already half way there and needs to make this break more explicit.

Title: Contractarian Compliance and the 'Sense of Justice': A Behavioral Conformity Model and Its Experimental Support
Author: Lorenzo Sacconi / Marco Faillo / Stefania Ottone
Page: 273-310

Abstract: The social contract approach to the study if institutions aims at providing a solution to the problem of compliance with rational agreements in situations characterized by a conflict between individual rationality and social optimality. After a short discussion of some attempts to deal with this problem from a rational choice perspective, we focus on John Rawls's idea of 'sense of justice' and its application to the explanation of the stability of a well-ordered society. We show how the relevant features of Rawls's theory can be captured by a behavioral game theory model of beliefs-dependent dispositions to comply, and we present the results of two experimental studies that provide support to the theory.

Title: Comment on Lorenzo Sacconi, Marco Faillo and Stefania Ottone: Contractarian Compliance, Welfarist Justice, and Conformist Utility
Author: David Copp
Page: 311-323

Abstract: This comment addresses two issues that arise in Sacconi/Faillo/Ottone's essay. The first is the problem of compliance as it arises in social contract theory. The second is the problem of avoiding an incoherence that arises in the formulation of welfarist principles of distributive justice if these principles are taken to be concerned with the distribution of welfare without restriction. Sacconi, Faillo, and Ottone define an interesting class of principles that govern only the distribution of 'material utility', which they distinguish from 'conformist utility'. Sacconi, Faillo, and Ottone are primarily concerned, however, to argue that there is a need to revise 'the utility maximization model of a rational economic man'. I discuss this claim briefly, in concluding the paper.

Title: Equity and Efficiency in Multi-Worker Firms: Insights from Experimental Economics
Author: Johannes Abeler / Steffen Altmann / Sebastian J. Goerg / Sebastian Kube / Matthias Wibral
Page: 325-347

Abstract: In this article, we discuss recent evidence from experimental economics on the impact of social preferences on workplace behavior. We focus on situations in which a single employer interacts with multiple employees. Traditionally, equity and efficiency have been seen as opposing aims in such work environments: individual pay-for-performance wage schemes maximize efficiency but might lead to inequitable outcomes. We present findings from laboratory experiments that show under which circumstances partially incomplete contracts can create equitable work environments while at the same time reaching surprisingly efficient outcomes.

Title: Reciprocity in Economic Games
Author: Julian Culp / Heiner Schumacher
Page: 349-364

Abstract: The evidence of laboratory experiments of behavioral economists shows that individuals behave reciprocally. These data put into question the pure self-interest thesis of human motivation of the homo oeconomicus model and call for alternative models. Focusing on the explanation of reciprocal behavior in Trust Games, this article proposes two directions that economists and other social scientists might want to consider in order to establish a more solid foundation for economic theory. First, it presents models that economic theorists developed to explain the laboratory evidence of reciprocal behavior. It highlights that all of these models subscribe to the Humean view that desires are at the source of any human motivation and suggests an alternative Kantian model where reasons have the capacity to motivate human action. Second, it emphasizes that a supplementary examination of the social background conditions would illuminate the analysis of the findings because of the connection between the 'local' and society-wide demands of reciprocity.