On the Harm of Imposing Risk of Harm

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (4):965-980 (2021)
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Abstract

What is wrong with imposing pure risks, that is, risks that don’t materialize into harm? According to a popular response, imposing pure risks is pro tanto wrong, when and because risk itself is harmful. Call this the Harm View. Defenders of this view make one of the following two claims. On the Constitutive Claim, pure risk imposition is pro tanto wrong when and because risk constitutes diminishing one’s well-being viz. preference-frustration or setting-back their legitimate interest in autonomy. On the Contingent Claim, pure risk imposition is pro tanto wrong when and because risk has harmful consequences for the risk-bearers, such as psychological distress. This paper argues that the Harm View is plausible only on the Contingent Claim, but fails on the Constitutive Claim. In discussing the latter, I argue that both the preference and autonomy account fail to show that risk itself is constitutively harmful and thereby wrong. In discussing the former, I argue that risk itself is contingently harmful and thereby wrong but only in a narrow range of cases. I conclude that while the Harm View can sometimes explain the wrong of imposing risk when risk itself is contingently harmful, it is unsuccessful as a general, exhaustive account of what makes pure imposition wrong.

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Kritika Maheshwari
Delft University of Technology

Citations of this work

Dominating Risk Impositions.Kritika Maheshwari & Sven Nyholm - 2022 - The Journal of Ethics 26 (4):613-637.
Chance, consent, and COVID-19.Ryan Doody - 2023 - In Evandro Barbosa (ed.), Moral Challenges in a Pandemic Age. Routledge. pp. 204-224.

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Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The theory of probability.Hans Reichenbach - 1949 - Berkeley,: University of California Press.
The morality of freedom.J. Raz - 1988 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 178 (1):108-109.
Disadvantage.Jonathan Wolff & Avner de-Shalit - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Desire satisfactionism and hedonism.Chris Heathwood - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 128 (3):539-563.

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