I'd Rather Drive Than Fly: Risk, Ability, and the Generality Problem
Dr Jesús Navarro (University of Seville, Faculty of Philosophy)
It is well known that the risk of dying in a car trip is much higher than in a flight. However, people seem to be far more worried about safety when they take a flight than when they drive their car. If all other motivations were equal (duration, comfort, etc.), then people would rather drive than take a flight. This is usually understood in the literature as a breach in our rationality: a bias to be explained by different mechanisms, such as the illusion of control, the overconfidence effect, unrealistic optimism... My goal in this paper though is to show that a preference for driving instead of flying (when oneself is the driver, but not the pilot) could be rational even if based on strict reasons of safety, and even if one assumes that one’s own driving capacities may not be above the average. The claim is supported by two different arguments. The first one is based on the very idea of ability, as a property agents have that diminishes their risk of failing when performing some activity. In that respect I will tell two kinds of risk apart: the risk of misfortune (something bad could happen) and the risk of failure (one may fail to do what one aims at, in such a way that one is responsible for this outcome). The second argument is an application of the so-called “generality problem” of reliabilism. My point here is that the choices that one makes when one drives (which one does not have when one flies, unless one is the pilot) make a difference in the assessment of reliability because those choices make different types of trip salient when considering one’s token trip.
How to Bridge the Gap between Social Acceptance and Ethical Acceptability: A Rawlsian Approach
Dr Behnam Taebi (Delft University of Technology, Section for Ethics and Philosophy of Technology)
New technology brings great benefits, but it can also create new and significant risks. When evaluating those risks in policy-making, there is a tendency to focus on the social acceptance. I will argue that concentrating solely on social acceptance threatens to obscure several important moral issues, especially when it comes to technologies with international and intergenerational risks. Good governance of risky technology must involve addressing both social acceptance and ethical acceptability, because it is only in conjunction that these two concepts gain serious relevance for policy-making. Conceptually, it is helpful to combine these notions, because they are mostly complementary; social acceptance studies are often in need of an ethical addendum, while existing ethical analysis would very much benefit from including stakeholders’ opinions. One method for bridging this gap is the Rawlsian Wide Reflective Equilibrium (WRE), which aims to establish a coherence among the three levels of ethical theory, guiding principles and stakeholders’ considered moral judgments. Establishing a complete coherence between the three levels is the ideal (perhaps often unfeasible) solution while we are seeking for the best approximation of that ideal. More precisely, we want to investigate if an acceptable approximation of the ideal or a reasonable overlapping consensus is achievable. When there is no consensus, this endeavor could lay bare the reasons of dissensus both with regard to social acceptance and to fundamental moral questions. Moreover, while the WRE cannot give a decisive answer to moral dilemmas, including stakeholders’ judgement in moral dilemmas could help us formulate an informed response to such dilemmas.
Affective Imagination in Recidivism Risk Assessment
Dr Lauren Ware (University of Stirling, Division of Law and Philosophy)
Ancient Roman courts routinely employed a tool known as fictio civitatis—the fiction of citizenship—which asked authorities to imagine ruling on the criminal behaviour of "aliens" as if they were Roman citizens. The imagination of counterfactual situations can perform a number of useful functions in legal reasoning, as Maksymilian Del Mar has recently argued. But how can we cultivate a legal imagination that is both vivid (appropriately wide-ranging) and virtuous (appropriately accurate)? In this paper, I examine the nature and value of affective imagination in assessing recidivism risks. To begin, I sketch the recent surge of interest in using risk assessment strategies in criminal sentencing, focussing on one particularly worrying strategy: evidence-based sentencing. I then analyse what a counterfactual theory of risk can contribute to mitigating some of the potentially harmful outcomes of evidence-based sentencing, drawing out the role of emotion in counterfactual imagination. I conclude with some concrete recommendations for how the construction of legal environments might be made reliably successful in promoting the kind of affective imagination that enables informed deliberation about recidivism risk.
The Emotional Politics of Risk in Child Protection
Dr Jo Warner (University of Kent, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research)
In this paper I focus on two linked themes relating to 'rethinking risk' in child protection social work. The paper is based largely on the documentary analysis of official documents, press reports, and political speech. In the first theme I explore how counterfactual emotions—chiefly regret, disappointment, and anger—are activated in official documents such as serious case reviews and inquiries into the deaths of children from abuse. Such mechanisms of inquiry are concerned with the powerful idea of 'what might have been': 'If only social workers had done this, or not done that, the child would not have died. How could they have missed it?' The reports offer the (false) reassurance that the terrible events could easily have been prevented had 'common sense' been applied by social workers. I argue this is an important dimension of the zero tolerance for risk that still prevails in health and social care practice. The second, closely related, theme of the paper is the association of risk in child protection with certain families—particularly so-called underclass families. Emotions such as disgust that attach to these families figure greatly in the assessment of them as being particularly high-risk, and underpin the political discourse that decision-making about risk in child protection is common sense. To conclude, I develop the idea that the emotional politics of child protection reflect absolute rather than relative notions of risk and these are linked to deep-rooted cultural responses to child deaths that are infinitising in their effects. Most importantly, and paradoxically, these responses have a negative impact on services and their capacity to protect children.
Epistemic Ecology: Managing Epistemic Risks in Information Environments
Dr Lee Whittington (University of Edinburgh, IASH)
Humans are responsible for the construction of, and increasingly spend their time in, information environments. As with any engineering project, the creation of these environments comes with risks, both to the agents inhabiting these environments (including us, and artificial agents) and the environment itself. The ontology of these information environments makes them particularly susceptible to epistemic risks, such as the risk of creating and perpetuating misinformation and disinformation, and the habituation of poor epistemic practices among agents (both biological and artificial) in these environments. This talk will look at how recent work in epistemology and the philosophy of risk can be used to better equip designers and engineers of these environments to manage these risks. In particular, I will argue that our best hope in the design of these environments is to adopt and apply an understanding of risk that accounts for the ease in which a negative event could occur, rather than appealing to statistical frequency.