Research Seminar

Christian Munthe: The Price of Precaution

Date: 8 April 2015
Time: 15:15–17:15

Christian Munthe, Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Gothenburg and comments by Olle Häggström, Professor of Mathematical Statistics at Chalmers.

"The Price of Precaution: Evaluating Actions Actualised by Extreme and Extremely Unclear Risks"

The ethical assessment of extreme risk, or uncertainty scenarios present peculiar and important decision problems from both a theoretical, a practical and a pragmatic policy making standpoint. As human beings get better and better at systematically imagining what might occur given some actions or policies, more and more such assessments are actualised, e.g. with regard to environmental, computer, bio-, military and nano-technology, as well as "natural" hazards, where as yet non-existent technology might provide mitigation of otherwise unavoidable massive harms. At the same time, resources are limited, human time is scarce and ethical theory basically impotent of guiding tenets as to how the management of uncertain outcomes and actions are to be assessed in normative terms.

For instance, as I write this, the Large Hadron Collider team at the CERN lab outside Geneva are making last preparation for the "beam injection" experiment, for which at least two prominent physicists have issued stern #end of the world" warnings. How should this be managed, and why? Depending on the answer, what does that imply for the implementation of, e.g. uncertain actions to counter the potential harms of climate change, the eventuality that a meteorite might hit Earth, or that our own technology shaped to manage this dangerous world of our's pulls the rug out from under our feet? (here we have everything from antimicrobial resistance to rebelling synbio AI's on the menu). Especially if we consider less distant needs, for which there exist quite workable solutions, if only the funds for their implementation are released – such as the quarter of a million children dying of starvation every month. At the same time, some of the futurustic fears may not themselves be worthy our dread – at least not if we think disciplined and ethically ablout it. The talk will dig into this mass of issues, with a particular concentration on the ethics of exploring distant (albeit potent) dangers and salvation, using the concept of the price of precaution, developed by myself in some recent writings.

Munthe, C (2011). The Price of Precaution and the Ethics of Risk. Springer SBM.

OBS! This seminar will be held at 3.15– ca 5.15 PM. We also invited a commentator for this seminar, Olle Häggström, Professor of Mathematical Statistics at Chalmers.

Read more about Christian Munthe

Read more about Olle Häggström who will publish the book Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity this spring.

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