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The Open Question Argument Applied: Against Naturalistic Reductions of Risk and Safety
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Philosophy History of Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-14331OAI: diva2:332236
QC 20100803Available from: 2010-08-03 Created: 2010-08-03 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Thick Concepts in Practice: Normative Aspects of Risk and Safety
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Thick Concepts in Practice: Normative Aspects of Risk and Safety
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.
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1650-8831
thick concepts, non-naturalism, open question argument, risk analysis, safety, epistemic uncertainty, values in risk assessment, safety engineering
National Category
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-10421 (URN)978-91-7415-303-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-05-25, F3, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
QC 20100803Available from: 2009-05-13 Created: 2009-05-13 Last updated: 2010-08-03Bibliographically approved

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