Morality and Risk

Dissertation, University of Southern California (1995)
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Abstract

Uncertainty about the future is a fixed feature of our lives. What does this mean for moral theory? In particular, what should non-consequentialists say about actions which impose risks of harms on others? This is an important question because many questions in applied ethics involve impositions of risks of harm while it is arguable that risk is central to non-consequentialist moral theory. It is puzzling because many features of risks are hard to accommodate in a non-consequentialist moral theory. ;It has been argued that the permissibility of an agent's actions does not depend on her beliefs, or on the beliefs it is be reasonable for her to have. I argue this is false. In particular, the permissibility of her actions depends in part on the risks of harm they impose on others, where the risk is understood in terms of the beliefs it is reasonable for her to have. ;A common kind of non-consequentialist moral theory is that it is permissible to cross another's moral boundary if and only if she consents. But this is false and leads to an unacceptable theory of risk imposition. A wide range of risk impositions are straightforwardly permissible, but the risk imposer is then under a duty to compensate the risk bearer for the risk, an important form of compensation being: receive compensation for the harm if and only if you are harmed. ;Sometimes individuals are harmed as a result of the actions of others. When should the injurers be liable? I offer a series of counterexamples to standard theories of liability, and then construct an alternative theory of liability in which the nature of the initial risk imposition is central to the question of liability. ;Many have thought our theory of rights cannot explain facts about the morality of risk imposition. But if we accept that we have the right that others not impose risks of harm on us, our theory can explain such facts. That gives us good reason to believe we have that right; none of the obvious objections are good objections

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