Conference ‘Moral Emotions about Risky Technologies’

However, this does not as yet answer the following normative question and the main question of this conference: do we need emotions in order to be able to judge whether a technology and its concomitant risks are morally acceptable? This question has direct practical implications: should engineers, scientists and policy makers involved in developing risk regulation take the emotions of the public seriously or not?

In answer to these questions, Kantians would argue that the emotions of the public should be ignored because they are subjective and irrational. On the other hand, Humeans would argue that even though emotions are subjective and irrational (or a-rational), they should be a part of the decision making process since they show us our preferences.

Most moral philosophers think that we have to choose between the two horns of the Hume-Kant-dilemma: either take emotions seriously but forfeit claims to rationality and objectivity, or reject emotions as being a threat to rationality and objectivity. In a similar vein, empirical psychologists rely on Dual Process Theory and argue that emotions about risks are heuristics but biases that have to be corrected by rational and analytic procedures (e.g. Slovic et al. 2004, Loewenstein et al. 2001; Sunstein 2005).

However, based on recent theories of emotions, we can reject this dichotomy between emotions and rationality as a false dilemma. According to recent developments in neurobiology, psychology and the philosophy of emotions, emotions and rationality are not mutually exclusive, but rather, in order to be practically rational, we need to have emotions (for example, de Sousa 1987, Solomon 1993, Damasio 1994, Little 1995, Goldie 2000, Nussbaum 2001, Halpern 2001, Roberts 2003). This can lead to an alternative view about the role of emotions in risk assessment: emotions can be a normative guide in making judgments about morally acceptable risks (Roeser 2006).

Aim of the conference:

Despite the fact that there is a lot of empirical research about emotions about risky technologies, as to now there is almost no philosophical research done in which moral emotions about risky technologies are studied. The aim of this conference is to set the stage for research into moral emotions about risky technologies, by bringing together scholars who study moral emotions and/or ethical aspects of risk and asking them to reflect on the issue of moral emotions about risky technologies.


Speakers and program:

*Robert Solomon was supposed to be one of the speakers at the conference, but he sadly passed away on January 2nd 2007. This conference will be held in his memory.

More information about the program.

Conference organisation:

Conference management: {encode=”” title=”Henneke Filiz-Piekhaar”}
Conference chair: Dr. Sabine Roeser – Assistant Professor

For more information, please get in touch with us through:
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Platform for Ethics and Technology TUDelft
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research
Royal Netherlands Academy for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences