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Thick Concepts in Practice: Normative Aspects of Risk and Safety
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology. (Filosofi)
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The thesis aims at analyzing the concepts of risk and safety as well as the class of concepts to which they belong, thick concepts, focusing in particular on the normative aspects involved.

Essay I analyzes thick concepts, i.e. concepts such as cruelty and kindness that seem to combine descriptive and evaluative features. The traditional account, in which thick concepts are analyzed as the conjunction of a factual description and an evaluation, is criticized. Instead, it is argued that the descriptive and evaluative aspects must be understood as a whole. Furthermore, it is argued that the two main worries evoked against non-naturalism – that non-naturalism cannot account for disagreement and that it is not genuinely explanatory – can be met.

Essay II investigates the utilization of the Kripke/Putnam causal theory of reference in relation to the Open Question Argument. It is argued that the Open Question Argument suitably interpreted provides prima facie evidence against the claim that moral kinds are natural kinds, and that the causal theory, as interpreted by leading naturalist defenders, actually underscores this conclusion.

Essay III utilizes the interpretation of the Open Question Argument argued for in the previous essay in order to argue against naturalistic reduction of risk, i.e. reduction of risk into natural concepts such as probability and harm. Three different normative aspects of risk and safety are put forward – epistemic uncertainty, distributive normativity and border normativity – and it is argued that these normative aspects cannot be reduced to a natural measure.

Essay IV provides a conceptual analysis of safety in the context of societal decision-making, and argues for a notion that explicitly includes epistemic uncertainty, the degree to which we are uncertain of our knowledge of the situation at hand. Some formal versions of a comparative safety concept are also proposed.

Essay V puts forward a normative critique against a common argument, viz. the claim that the public should follow the experts’ advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have the best knowledge of the risk involved. The importance of safety in risk acceptance together with considerations from epistemic uncertainty makes the claim incorrect even after including plausible limitations to exclude ‘external’ considerations. Furthermore, it is shown that the scope of the objection covers risk assessment as well as risk management.

Essay VI provides a systematized account of safety engineering practices that clarifies their relation to the goal of safety engineering, namely to increase safety. A list of 24 principles referred to in the literature of safety engineering is provided, divided into four major categories. It is argued that important aspects of these methods can be better understood with the help of the distinction between risk and uncertainty, in addition to the common distinction between risk and probability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 2009. , viii, 26 p.
Series
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1650-8831
Keyword [en]
thick concepts, non-naturalism, open question argument, risk analysis, safety, epistemic uncertainty, values in risk assessment, safety engineering
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-10421ISBN: 978-91-7415-303-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-10421DiVA: diva2:217069
Public defence
2009-05-25, F3, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2009-05-13 Created: 2009-05-13 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Thick Concepts and Practice: Strengthening the Non-Naturalist Case
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Thick Concepts and Practice: Strengthening the Non-Naturalist Case
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Philosophy History of Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14329 (URN)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved
2. Moral kinds, Natural Kinds and the Open Question Argument
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Moral kinds, Natural Kinds and the Open Question Argument
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Philosophy History of Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14330 (URN)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved
3. The Open Question Argument Applied: Against Naturalistic Reductions of Risk and Safety
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Open Question Argument Applied: Against Naturalistic Reductions of Risk and Safety
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Philosophy History of Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14331 (URN)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved
4. Should we follow the experts’ advice? Epistemic uncertainty, consequence dominance and the knowledge asymmetry of safety
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Should we follow the experts’ advice? Epistemic uncertainty, consequence dominance and the knowledge asymmetry of safety
2009 (English)In: International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, ISSN 1466-8297, E-ISSN 1741-5241, Vol. 11, no 3/4, 219-236 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

It is a common opinion in risk research that the public is irrational in its acceptance of risks. Many activities that are claimed by experts to be safe are not deemed to be safe by the public, and vice versa. The aim of this article is to put forward a normative critique against a common argument, viz. the claim that the public should follow the experts' advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have the best knowledge of the risk involved. Even after making plausible limitations to exclude 'external' considerations, the claim remains incorrect. The importance of safety in risk acceptance, together with the phenomenon of epistemic uncertainty, highlights the vital concern: not whether the expert knowledge of the risk is the best one available, but whether that knowledge is good enough. This introduces an 'internal', yet extra-scientific, value component, invalidating the claim. The scope of the objection covers not only risk management but also risk assessment.

Keyword
epistemic uncertainty; epistemic values; risk perception; safety; risk assessment; consequence dominance; knowledge asymmetry; expert advice; experts; public acceptance; irrationality; risk management.
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14333 (URN)10.1504/IJRAM.2009.023154 (DOI)2-s2.0-60349109194 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved
5. Principles of engineering safety: Risk and uncertainty reduction
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Principles of engineering safety: Risk and uncertainty reduction
2008 (English)In: Reliability Engineering & System Safety, ISSN 0951-8320, E-ISSN 1879-0836, Vol. 93, no 6, 798-805 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article provides a systematised account of safety engineering practices that clarifies their relation to the goal of safety engineering, namely to increase safety. We list 24 principles referred to in the literature of safety engineering, dividing them into four major categories: Inherently safe design, Safety reserves, Safe fail and Procedural safeguards. It emerges from this systematisation that important aspects of these methods can be better understood with the help of the distinction between risk and uncertainty.

Keyword
safety, risk, uncertainty, probabilistic risk analysis, safety engineering, probabilistic safety analysis, Inherently safe design, safety factors, Safe fail
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14335 (URN)10.1016/j.ress.2007.03.031 (DOI)000255103300003 ()2-s2.0-39749101321 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved
6. Safety is more than the antonym of risk
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Safety is more than the antonym of risk
2006 (English)In: Journal of Applied Philosophy, ISSN 0264-3758, E-ISSN 1468-5930, Vol. 23, no 4, 419-432 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Even though much research has been devoted to studies of safety, the concept of safety is in itself under-theorised, especially concerning its relation to epistemic uncertainty. In this paper we propose a conceptual analysis of safety. The paper explores the distinc-tion between absolute and relative safety, as well as that between objective and subjective safety. Four potential dimensions of safety are discussed, viz. harm, probability, epistemic uncertainty, and control. The first three of these are used in the proposed definition of safety, whereas it is argued that control should not be included in a reasonable definition of safety. It is shown that strictly speaking, an objective safety concept is not attainable. Instead, an intersubjective concept is proposed that brings us as close as possible to an objective concept.

National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14332 (URN)10.1111/j.1468-5930.2006.00345.x (DOI)000209004700003 ()
Note

QC 20100803

Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2017-12-12Bibliographically approved

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