Risk & Uncertainty

This panel is interested in investigating the ethics of risk and uncertainty. Often we do not have full information about the possible consequences of public policies or our actions as individuals. How does this influence what we ought to do?

Risk and uncertainty may be empirical or moral. Empirical risk obtains when one knows the probability that a particular event or outcome will occur or come about. Empirical uncertainty obtains when one lacks knowledge or justified beliefs about empirical facts, for example, when one lacks full probabilistic information about the likelihood of possible events, or full information about which events which have already occurred. Moral uncertainty obtains when one is uncertain about what morality requires, even when all of the empirical facts are known and one can act with full empirical information.

We welcome contributions aimed at addressing one or more of the following questions (or related ones).

Justice, Risk and Uncertainty

Uncertainty and Justice for Future Generations: How does the presence of uncertainty affect our duties to future generations? Can accounts of climate justice adequately accommodate uncertainty about future climate impacts?

Empirical Uncertainty and Justice: How does the presence of empirical uncertainty affect justice, or constrain how we can permissibly reduce injustice? For example, (1) how does empirical uncertainty about the choices people have made present an obstacle to deciding how to allocate just shares? (2) How does empirical uncertainty about the efficacy or feasibility of ways to reduce injustice affect how we ought to decide which policies to choose, or individual choices to make?

Moral Uncertainty and Justice: How does the presence of moral uncertainty about the requirements of justice constrain how we ought to act? For example, (1) How does moral uncertainty about the correct principles of distributive justice (egalitarian, prioritarian, sufficientarian, or otherwise), or the correct currency of distributive justice (resources, welfare, or otherwise), affect what we ought to do? (2) How does moral uncertainty about which distributions are more or less just than another affect what we ought to do? (3) How does moral uncertainty about which choices people are morally responsible for affect theories of distributive justice which take into account individual responsibility and choices?

Ethics, Risk and Uncertainty 

Social Risk: what is the moral status of policies that impose a small risk of harm on many people, such that it is highly likely that at least one unidentified individual would be harmed? To what extent can and should efforts be made to reduce exposure to global risks?

Risk and Harm: when, if ever, is it permissible to discount harms by their improbability? Does a risk imposition of harm itself possess moral significance? How is risky harm imposition constrained by proportionality?

Uncertainty and Fairness: Does the presence of uncertainty affect distributive fairness? Similarly, how do theories such as egalitarianism and prioritarianism handle distributive cases involving risk and/or uncertainty?

Please submit an abstract of up to 500 words to Chris Marshall (c.j.marshall@lse.ac.uk) and Tom Rowe (t.rowe@lse.ac.uk) by 27th of May.

50 minutes will be given to each paper, with presentations of roughly 30 minutes and 20 minutes for questions. We will ask speakers to pre-circulate their papers.