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Ethics and Technology
TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
Ethics and Technology


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LC1 Philosophy of Risk

Mon 4 - 8 Nov 2024

About the topic

Moral philosophy before the mid-Twentieth Century developed under the implicit assumption that outcomes could be treated as determinate. Risks and probabilities, when mentioned, were treated as a side issue. By contrast, our current understanding of agency and causation is probabilistic and uncertain. Ethical discussion has intensified around the causes of risk, such as technology and medical interventions. Moral philosophy and applied ethics have developed new concepts and tools in response, such as expected utility theory and ethical technology assessment. In addition, there is significant attention to the disruptive normative uncertainties surrounding fast-paced societal and technological change. This is an exciting area of philosophical and interdisciplinary research.

This course starts with some basic distinctions and key concepts within the philosophy of risk. It then considers the question of ethical risk acceptability, risk-impositions, and normative uncertainties. We will investigate how and whether existing moral theories are adequate for this evaluation. We then turn to more specific domains where the concept of risk is important, such as the ethics of technology, bioethics, and environmental ethics. Which exact topics we will cover will depend on what guest lecturers participate. The course will also have a professional development component about writing for peer-reviewed journals.

Aim / objective

After taking the seminar, students will be familiar with the most important concepts, distinctions, and normative principles in the philosophical literature on risk, as well as their application in some of the key sub-domains of risk research. For example, students will be familiar with different definitions of risk and uncertainty, the precautionary principle, and how ethical theories can be adapted or expanded to deal with risk and uncertainty. They will be able to formulate good objections and replies to major philosophical viewpoints about risk.


The seminar will take place over the course of one week, with morning and afternoon sessions devoted to different aspects of the topic. There will by presentations by the course coordinator and a number of guest lecturers. There will also be student presentations, discussions of all the topics covered, and joint analysis of the course literature. Students are expected to spend time reading the assigned articles before the seminar begins.


Philip Nickel (TU/e), Sven Nyholm (Utrecht), and others.

Credit points

Study load is the equivalent of 5 ECTS.

Required preparations

The participants are expected to read all the assigned literature, to do assignments, to actively participate in the discussions and to write a paper at the end of the course. A presentation is optional.


The course is free for:

• PhD students who are a member of the 4TU.Ethics Graduate School;
• PhD students who are a member of the OZSW;
• MSc students enrolled in the PSTS master of the University of Twente ();
• Research Master students who are a member of the OZSW.

Other participants pay a tuition fee of 250 euro for the course. Participants from abroad are welcome but are responsible for arranging their travel and accommodation themselves.

Registration/application form

Registration for 2024 has not opened yet.

If registration has been closed because the maximum amount of participants has been reached, you can submit your name to the waiting list by sending an email to Please also indicate whether you are a ReMa student or PhD candidate and whether you are a member of the OZSW or not.


Cancellation and registration policy


More information

For information about the content of the course, please contact Philip J. Nickel at Or check the OZSW website.