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March 16, 2020 / Congau

The Morality of Risk

Drunk driving is decidedly bad because you risk injuring and killing. But sober driving is also risky since you may cause an accident even then. True, the risk is smaller, but it is by no means eliminated, so why is not all driving considered bad? We would expect there to be a fundamental difference between moral and immoral acts, but here there’s merely a question of degree. At a certain point the risk is considered too high and we deem it immoral to take it. But when? Who is to say? What is the acceptable standard?

When the risk is unnecessary, when the possible loss is too terrible compared to the possible gain, and above all when the probability of a disaster is too high, then it’s immoral to do it. A walk in the park is not necessary and the possibility of getting hit by a falling airplane while in that park would be too terrible to justify today’s need for fresh air, but the probability of that happening is minuscule.

The probability of getting into an accident when driving drunk is significantly higher than when sober, but you are still likely to be fine. In some few cases drunk driving may therefore be excused; say if you suddenly had to drive someone to the hospital.

There are no absolutes here, and that confuses people. We seem to need rules as shortcuts to morality instead of having to come up with a calculated risk assessment every time we move. We have managed to formulate a rule against drunk driving, while driving when sleepy, sick or absent minded is not considered that immoral simply because it’s more difficult to formulate a rule about it.

We simplify, but morality remains difficult. How much risk is it morally acceptable to take? It’s risky to say that for sure.

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