Journal of Risk Research 19 (2):164-180 (2016)

Authors
Patrik Baard
University of Oslo
Abstract
Social decision-making involving risks ideally results in obligations to avoid expected harms or keep them within acceptable limits. Ambitious goals aimed at avoiding or greatly reducing risks might not be feasible, forcing the acceptance of higher degrees of risk (i.e. unrealistic levels of risk reduction are revised to comport with beliefs regarding abilities). In this paper, the philosophical princi- ple ‘ought implies can’ is applied to the management of complex risks, exempli- fied by the risks associated with climate change. In its common interpretation, the principle states that we cannot expect an agent to perform something that lies beyond his or her abilities. However, it is here argued that this principle requires setting thresholds for legitimate claims of inabilities that justify the waiving of normative demands. This paper discuss three claims: (1) that caution is required before revising a risk-reducing goal that is perhaps exceedingly ambitious; (2) that claims on abilities are not only descriptive, but also value-laden; and (3) that the function of a goal has to be clarified before risk-reducing goals are revised. Risk-reducing goals that initially seem unrealistic arguably serve performance- enhancing purposes in risk management. Neglecting such goals could lead to choosing less desirable, but certainly feasible, risk-reducing goals.
Keywords ethics of risk  climate change
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