Risk Imposition and Freedom


Abstract: Various authors hold that what is wrong with risk imposition is that being at risk diminishes the opportunities available to an agent. Arguably, even when risk does not result in material or psychological damages, it still represents a setback in terms of some legitimate interests. However, it remains to be specified what those interests are. This article argues that risk imposition represents a diminishment of overall freedom. Freedom will be characterized in empirical terms, as the range of unimpeded actions available to an agent. After briefly outlining the main characteristics of overall freedom as defended by Hillel Steiner and Ian Carter, the article shows that this notion is able to capture many of our intuitions about when and how risk imposition disadvantages an agent, without reference to welfare indicators. The article argues that if this non-welfarist perspective can be defended, then it would be easier to approach a number of applied questions about risk, including the questions of when risk imposition is permissible or legitimate, in which ways risk can be an object of distributive justice and how one can be compensated for being subject to a risk.