David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Societal decisions regarding the possible granting of permission for industrial and power plants, waste disposals, traffic routes and other facilities implementing modern science and technology (here simply called technology-decisions) often provoke debates regarding the risks involved. A main theme in these debates concerns the magnitudes of these risks and whether or not they are worth taking to reach some aim. This is also a main theme in traditional risk-analysis and critical discussions of risk-management. However, sometimes the fact that some people do not want to be exposed to the risks in question has been suggested as an independent argument, i.e. regardless of the magnitudes of these risks. A well known phenomenon in this respect on the local and national level is what has been labelled "not in my backyard" (NIMBY), but the argument also has been used on an international level. In accordance, the view that unwanted risks are less acceptable than wanted or indifferent ones (regardless of their magnitudes) has been proposed as being highly relevant for technology-decisions. The paper explores to what extent there are good reasons for accepting such a proposal. The main part of the paper is devoted to an examination of the extent to which the view that unwanted risks are less acceptable than wanted ones can be supported by, on the one hand, welfare-based ethical theories underlying standard models for risk-analysis, such as utilitarianism, and, on the other, a moral requirement to respect the autonomy of individual persons. Also, the very concept of an unwanted risk is explored and some peculiarities are noted. It is argued that no categorical impermissibility of exposing people to unwanted risks can be supported. However, there are still good reasons for policy-makers to consider the degree to which risks are unwanted as a factor in technology-decisions that is relevant independently of the welfare-gains at stake. In particular, policy-makers should avoid paternalism in risk-management, i.e..
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