Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue

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The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of Benkler & Nissenbaums article on Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue. The article explains the ethical implications of CBPP through its support of CBPP as a tool for promoting the development of societal virtues and the propagation of the same to a larger population through self-determination. The central thesis statement is that socio-technical systems of commons-based peer production offer not only a remarkable medium of production for various kinds of information goods but serve as a context for positive character formation (Benkler & Nissenbaum, 2006). The article purposed to prove why CBPP is a better alternative to the market-based hierarchical forms of production. In light of the evidence presented by Benkler and Nissenbaum, I infer in this paper that CBPP is a sustainable endeavor that provides a good platform for participants to exercise the virtues of autonomy, benevolence, teamwork, and creativity thus it should be reinforced.

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Commons-based Peer Production (CBPP) refers to the social-economic system of production involving collaboration of thousands of people with no hierarchical coordination to generate quality products. Benkler & Nissenbaum (2006) highlight the functional advantages of CBPP which include the creation of fine software, supercomputers, and reliable web-based directories and news sites. Examples of CBPP projects include free software development, analysis of maps to classify Mars craters and the provision of information for web based encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, Kuro5hin and Yahoo. The article also explains the principles of CBPP which include decentralization and low-cost integration to filter off unwanted information to make a finished product at a low cost. Additionally, the article explains the ethical implication of CBPP by promoting the development of virtues. These virtues are classified into four clusters. Cluster I includes autonomy, independence and liberation. Cluster II comprises of creativity, productivity and industry. Cluster III contains benevolence, charity, generosity, and altruism while cluster 4 incudes sociability, camaraderie, friendship, cooperation, civic virtue (Benkler & Nissenbaum, 2006).

The section explaining decentralization as a major difference between CBPP and common market hierarchies is the most illuminating part of the article. I choose to discuss this section as it forms the hallmark of CBPP. According to Benkler & Nissenbaum (2006), What typifies peer production systems is their decentralization (p. 7). This means that the authority and responsibility rests in the hands of the masses and every individual agent faced with an opportunity for action. A firm, on the other hand, is centralized in nature with authority resting in the hands of a manager. Additionally, CBPP uses social cues by appealing to self-discipline as opposed to the use of commands and prices to motivate agents. Such understanding the difference between a firm and CBPP is important for the reader to appreciate the thesis statement of the article and fathom how providing people with opportunities for virtuous behavior through decentralization can promote the same.

The article is very informative on CBPP concept and how it promotes the development of societal ethics. It provides enough evidence to substantiate its thesis statement. It also provides valid examples such as Wikipedia to prove that giving power to the people through decentralization eliminates administrative limitations leading to the acquisition of self-discipline that foster the development of a virtuous society. For example, decentralization in CBPP provides no formal power to limit a discussion thus promoting an open disclosure forum that finally yields to a consensus fostering the development of the sociability, camaraderie, friendship, cooperation, and civic virtue. Also, the lack of a hierarchy promotes volunteerism where individuals are not out to impress bosses thus exercise autonomy, self-reliance and free-spiritedness by making their own decisions. This promotes the virtue of independence and liberation. Therefore, decentralization forms the hallmark for CBPPN as well as the promotion of virtues.

In conclusion, the rise in digitally networked markets has led the emergence of a social economic system referred to as CBPP. Such a system is based on collaboration between people from different backgrounds with a common goal of providing information or goods without relying on the managerial hierarchies for coordination. Benkler & Nissenbaum (2006) article on Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue provides a valid argument for the promotion of CBPP as an alternative to market-based hierarchy managed forms of production. This is because of the enormous functional and ethical benefits realized from CBPP. Functional benefits include the provision innovative software and information sharing platforms. Ethical benefits include the ability of CBPP to foster the acquiring of important moral virtues such as liberation, benevolence, creativity and cooperation. Such values are realized as a result of decentralization in CBPP that gives people the opportunity to acquire them.


Benkler, Y. & Nissenbaum, H. (2006). Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue. J Political Philosophy, 14(4), 394-419.

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