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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The ethical implications of a subjective model of risk asssessment in product safety cases MacDonald, Christopher John


A number of authors from diverse fields have criticized, in recent years, the epistemic assumption that risk can be objectively determined. The impossibility of objectively identifying and quantifying risks poses obvious difficulties for those seeking to make reasonable decisions regarding risk. More interestingly from the point of view of moral philosophy, however, it becomes difficult to determine whether our activities subject others to unreasonable levels of risk. Product safety provides an interesting context within which to examine the implications of a subjective theory of risk assessment. It is a field which involves multiple stakeholder groups with a wide variety of interests and obligations. In this thesis, I first discuss criticisms which authors from several fields have levelled against the claim that risk assessment can be done objectively. I then examine the implications which a subjective model of risk assessment might have for interactions among stakeholders in product safety cases. I suggest that accepting such a model has a wide variety of implications, including among others discrediting models of hypothetical consent, limiting the value of certain criteria suggested by economists for decision making under uncertainty, and suggesting new standards for honesty in product labelling.

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