Moral emotions and Risk Politics

VIDI-project 2010-2015

Below you find a summary of my project Moral Emotions and Risk Politics (July 1st 2010-June 30th 2015), funded with a prestigeous NWO-VIDI-grant, with which I created my own research group. The project involved 5 years of research for myself, and a PhD-project, conducted by Sofia Kaliarnta, and two postdoc-projects that were conducted by dr. Jessica NihlĂ©n Fahlquist and dr.ir. Nicole Huijts.

This VIDI-project offers a philosophical investigation of how moral emotions can be incorporated into political decision making and communication about risky technologies. Risks arising from technologies raise important ethical issues for people living in the 21st century. Although technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, ICT, and nuclear energy can improve human well-being, they may also convey risks for our well-being due to, for example, accidents and pollution. As a consequence of such side-effects, technologies can trigger emotions, including fear and indignation, which often leads to conflicts between experts and laypeople. How should we deal with such emotions in political decision making about risky technologies? Emotions have often been met with suspicion in political debates about risky technologies, because they are seen as contrary to rational decision making. Indeed emotions can cloud our understanding of quantitative information about risks. However, as I have shown in my VENI-project, moral emotions are necessary in order to judge ethical aspects of technological risks, such as justice, fairness and autonomy. This VIDI-project will build on my VENI-project by extending my ideas to risk politics. 1. I develop a procedural approach for policy making such that emotional responses to technological risks, and the ethical concerns that lie behind them, are taken seriously. 2. A PhD-student investigates the extent to which existing models for political decision making about risks can include moral emotions. 3. The manner in which risks are presented is an important factor in decision making about risks, therefore, a postdoc (dr. Nihlen Fahlquist) developed a theoretical framework on how moral emotions should be included in risk communication. Another postdoc (dr.ir. Huijts) conducted an empirical investigation of moral emotions in risk politics. This VIDI-project has provided recommendations for institutional reforms, enabling morally better political decisions about risky technologies and a better understanding between experts and laypeople, by genuinely incorporating moral emotions into risk politics and risk communication.