The role of emotions in judging the moral acceptability of risks

by Prof.dr. Sabine Roeser

This paper argues that we need emotions in order to make a rational decision as to the moral acceptability of technological risks. Empirical research has shown that people rely on emotions in making judgments concerning risks. However, this does not as yet answer the following normative question and the main question of this paper: do we need emotions in order to be able to judge whether a risk is 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, rationalists would argue that the emotions of the public should be ignored because they are irrational. On the other hand, subjectivists would argue that even though emotions are irrational, they should be a part of the decision making process because they show us our preferences. In contrast to both of these approaches, this paper defends a cognitive theory of emotions according to which emotions are necessary to make a rational practical decision.

Emotions are an indispensable normative guide in judging the moral acceptability of technological risks. Read more >