Risk and Responsibility

  • Ibo van de Poel
  • Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist


When a risk materializes, it is common to ask the question: who is responsible for the risk being taken? Despite this intimate connection between risk and responsibility, remarkably little has been written on the exact relation between the notions of risk and responsibility. This contribution sets out to explore the relation between risk and responsibility on basis of the somewhat dispersed literature on the topic and it sketches directions for future research. It deals with three more specific topics. First we explore the conceptual connections between risk and responsibility by discussing different conceptions of risk and responsibility and their relationships. Second, we discuss responsibility for risk, paying attention to four more specific activities with respect to risks: risk reduction, risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication. Finally, we explore the problem of many hands (PMH), that is, the problem of attributing responsibility when large numbers of people are involved in an activity. We argue that the PMH has especially become prominent today due to the increased collective nature of actions and due to the fact that our actions often do not involve direct harm but rather risks, that is, the possibility of harm. We illustrate the PMH for climate change and discuss three possible ways of dealing with it: (1) responsibility-as-virtue, (2) a procedure for distributing responsibility, and (3) institutional design.


Moral Responsibility Risk Communication Institutional Design Collective Responsibility Acceptable Risk 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Delft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden

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