The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series

The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series
30 April 2019, 5.30pm - 7.15pm
Room 102 (the Seminar Room) in 19 Gordon Square (UCL)

Morally Permissible Risk Imposition and Duties of Care

Susanne Burri (LSE)


Most existing accounts of morally permissible risk imposition appeal to the size of the risk that an individual agent imposes to distinguish between permissible and impermissible risk imposition. In this paper, I argue that this approach is misguided. The size of the risk that an individual agent imposes is neither a sufficiently well-defined feature of actions to render them right or wrong, nor is it able to provide practical guidance to reasonable and well-intentioned agents. To quantify the risks that an agent imposes, we need to make use of an interpretation of probability to establish how likely it is that different possible outcomes will occur. I argue that on any plausible interpretation of probability, there will frequently be many different and potentially widely divergent probability estimates that an agent might plausibly arrive at if she consults some body of evidence, and there may be no particular estimate that the agent has reason to regard as privileged. I propose an alternative account of morally permissible risk imposition according to which engaging in a risk-imposing activity is permissible if, and only if, an agent abides by sufficient duties of care, where “sufficient” is spelled out in a way that does not rely on quantified individual risks.

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’. The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers. This year the series is convened by Robert Simpson (UCL) and Joe Horton (UCL). The seminar generally meets on alternate Tuesdays from 5.30 to 7.15pm in the spring and summer terms. Talks are normally 50 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.  


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