Conceptualising morally permissible risk imposition without quantified individual risks

Synthese 200 (5):1-22 (2022)
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We frequently engage in activities that impose a risk of serious harm on innocent others in order to realise trivial benefits for ourselves or third parties. Many moral theories tie the evidence-relative permissibility of engaging in such activities to the size of the risk that an individual agent imposes. I argue that we should move away from such a reliance on quantified individual risks when conceptualising morally permissible risk imposition. Under most circumstances of interest, a conscientious reasoner will identify a gap between the factors they deem potentially relevant to the riskiness of an agent’s behaviour, and the factors they are reasonably able to quantify. This then leads a conscientious reasoner to conclude that they cannot, in good faith, come up with a quantitative risk estimate that is genuinely tailored to the agent’s particular situation. Based on this, I argue that principles of morally permissible risk imposition fail to provide us with practical guidance if they ask us to take into account our agent-specific risks in a quantified manner. I also argue that principles of permissible risk imposition which appeal to quantified individual risks implausibly imply that it is frequently indeterminate whether engaging in some risky activity is morally permissible. For both of these reasons, I contend that principles of morally permissible risk imposition should make no reference to quantified individual risks. They should instead acknowledge that any quantitative estimates that an agent might usefully be able to consider will likely not be tailored to the agent’s idiosyncratic situation.



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Susanne Burri
Universität Konstanz

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References found in this work

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame.Thomas Scanlon - 2008 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
In Defence of Objective Bayesianism.Jon Williamson - 2010 - Oxford University Press.

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