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Risk and the Subjectivity of Preference

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In this paper certain conceptual issues in the study of risk are clarified, namely the role of preference in risk, the differences between risk and risk perception, and to what extent risk is objective, subjective and relative in relation to the harm component of risk. (The level of analysis is kept as basic and non‐technical as possible in order that the paper can be easily understood by readers of all levels of expertise, from a wide range of disciplines.) Risk is partly subjective, in that x may be a risk for P but not for Q , because P considers x a harm and Q does not. But this does not mean that risk is not an objective matter. Given that x is a harm to Q but not to P , it is an objective fact about the world that P risks x by undertaking any action A that may result in x , whereas Q does not. A distinction between risk and risk perception is then drawn, and an explanation is given of the various ways that the risk from x can in principle vary from perception of the risk of x . Some claims about the subjectivity or objectivity of risk assessment in relation to the matter of the subjectivity of preferences are then examined.
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Keywords: Risk analysis; expected utility; harm; objective; preference; subjective

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham, UK

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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