Varieties of Risk

AHRC sponsored research project

Workshop on Varieties of Risk and Risk Imposition

On 8th-9th September we hold the first workshop of our Varieties of Risk Project. The first day will feature papers on different notions of risk, the second day will feature papers on the issue of risk imposition.

The conference will be online and you can register by emailing us to receive the Zoom link.


Wednesday 8th September (BST)

2-3 Philip Ebert & Nikolaj Pedersen “Pluralism about Risk”

3.15-4.15  Georgi Gardiner “Possibility Shifting, Error Slicing, and Rendering Relevant: On Moral Encroachment, Corroborating Evidence and a New Kind of Testimonial Injustice”

4.30-5.30 Duncan Pritchard “The Modal Account of Risk, Redux”

5.45- 6.16 Roundtable

Thursday 9th September (BST)

2-3 Madeleine Hayenhjelm "Different Moral Kinds of Risks and the Case of Germline Gene Editing as a Source of Risk."

3.15-4.15  Maria Paola Ferretti "Probabilities and the Injustice of Risk Imposition"

4.30-5.30 Chad Lee-Stronach "The Principle of Permissible Good"

5.45- 6.15 Roundtable


Philip Ebert & Nikolaj Pedersen “Pluralism about Risk”: In this paper we motivate the idea of risk pluralism and then present, drawing on the existing literature about pluralism in logic and pluralism about truth, an overview of the different forms that pluralism about risk could take. We offer a scorecard of the pros and cons of the different forms of pluralism and highlight some of the possible obstacles for each form of pluralism.

Georgi Gadiner “Possibility Shifting, Error Slicing, and Rendering Relevant: On Moral Encroachment, Corroborating Evidence and a New Kind of Testimonial Injustice”: I first sketch the relevant alternatives framework and contrast it with the more familiar “quantifiable balance” conception of epistemic support. The relevant alternatives framework holds that claim p is established to an epistemic standard, L, only if the evidence eliminates the L-relevant error possibilities. On the “quantifiable balance” model, epistemic support is a matter of probability given the evidence, and epistemic standards—such as legal standards of proof—correspond to numerical evidential probability thresholds. I explain two advantages of the relevant alternatives framework. Firstly, the quantifiable balance model is unable to capture the important distinction between ‘threshold-shifting’ and ‘alternative-shifting’ effects. Pragmatic encroachment holds that when error costs are high, more evidence is required to know. If the demand is simply for more evidence, without specification of which particular error possibilities are newly relevant, then this exemplifies threshold-shifting. But now consider moral encroachment, the view that moral features can render some beliefs unjustified. I argue that this mechanism cannot be understood as an increase in overall threshold. Instead, particular error possibilities are rendered relevant by moral factors. Regardless of whether one endorses these encroachment views, the distinction is important. Secondly, the relevant alternatives framework better explains the epistemic ignificance of corroborating evidence. The value of secondary evidence is not fully captured by an increase in probability. I close by articulating and briefly addressing a question, which I call the ‘constructivist question’: If an error possibility is often treated as relevant or true, can this by itself render the error possibility relevant? If many people express concern that rape accusers lie for financial gain, for example, does the error possibility thereby become relevant? Answering ‘no’ endorses epistemic hubris and dogmatically ignoring evidence. Answering ‘yes’ suggests a novel kind of testimonial injustice.

Duncan Pritchard “The Modal Account of Risk, Redux:” This paper offers an articulation and defence of the modal account of risk in light of a range of objections that have been proposed against this view in the recent literature. It is argued that these objections all trade on a failure to distinguish between the modal nature of risk more generally, and the application of this modal account to particular decision-making contexts, such as legal contexts, where one must rely on a restricted body of information. It is argued that once the modal account of risk is properly understood as involving information-relative judgements about the modal closeness of the target risk event, the objections to the view are neutralized.

Madeline Hayenhjelm "Different Moral Kinds of Risks and the Case of Germline Gene Editing as a Source of Risk": The concept of ‘risk’ is used in multiple, and sometimes in overlapping, ways, all of which can be useful in different contexts. From a moral point of view, the kind of notion we use will impact what we hold fixed and what we can explore. For instance, departing from ‘risk’ understood as probability holds the outcome part relatively fixed but can be used to explore dimensions of responsibility and liability. In the context of emerging and potentially revolutionary kinds of technology, many of the potential outcomes are not yet known and those known we may not be able to assess the probability for. Instead, we might want to hold the source of risk fixed and explore the complexity and plurality of various kinds of possible outcomes. Can such outcomes be sorted and divided into different kinds in ways that are morally informative? Can the kinds of outcomes by themselves give moral guidance on what is wise and unwise to do, on what is more and what is less morally permissible, and on what is more or what is less risky to do from a moral point of view? The debate on germline gene editing provides some interesting examples here of very different kinds of risks that seem to point to very different kinds of moral concerns and to very different kinds of moral advice and different measures on what would be sufficiently cautious.

Maria Paola Ferretti "Probabilities and the Injustice of Risk Imposition": As Stephen Perry argues, the moral significance of risk imposition is in an important sense derivative of the probable outcome-harm. However, how the probability of a negative outcome should figure in the normative evaluation of instances of risk imposition is a matter of debate. I will discuss some difficulties in understanding the wrong of risk imposition by reference to the expected outcome-harm only. I will argue that one important sense in which risk imposition is wrong is its impact on the freedom of the victim. Defending this view will require –among other things- to explain how the probability of harm may affect one’s freedom.

Chad Lee-Stronach "The Principle of Permissible Good": When it comes to morally assessing risky situations, it can seem like Consequentialism is the only game in town. Indeed, under plausible interpretations of Harsanyi’s (1955) celebrated utility aggregation theorem, it seems that Consequentialism is provably true: the social evaluation of risky situations turns out to be nothing more than the sum of the utilities of the individuals, where these utilities measure how good a situation is for that individual. In this talk, I explain how Non-Consequentialists can, as it were, hijack Harsanyi’s theorem to evaluate risky social situations in terms of both what is right and what is good for individuals. The key move involves amending its central principle, the Principle of Personal Good (Broome 1995), to include Non-Consequentialist considerations in the social evaluation of individual good. I argue that this amended principle, which I call the Principle of Permissible Good, allows for more plausible evaluations of risky social situations, particularly in cases involving rights, structural injustice, and the question of when, if ever, we should sacrifice the lives of some for the trivial benefits of others.