Technological risks raise important ethical issues. Although technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, ICT, and nuclear energy can improve human well-being, they may also convey risks 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. Emotions are generally seen to be a disturbing factor in debates about risky technologies as they are taken to be irrational and immune to factual information. In my presentation I will review the psychological literature that seems to support this idea. I will then present an alternative account according to which this is due to a wrong understanding of emotions. Emotions can be a source of practical rationality. Emotions such as fear, sympathy, and compassion help to grasp morally salient features of risky technologies, such as fairness, justice, equity, and autonomy that get overlooked in conventional, technocratic approaches to risk. Emotions should be taken seriously in debates about risky technologies. This will lead to a more balanced debate in which all parties are taken seriously, which increases the chances to be willing to listen to each other and give and take. This is needed in order to come to well-grounded policies on how to deal with risky technologies. I will specifically focus on the example of nuclear energy to illustrate how an alternative approach of emotions can help to improve public discourse.
Prof.dr. Sabine Roeser (1970, Haan, Germany) is professor of ethics at the philosophy Department of TU Delft, Netherlands, where she holds a distinguished Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Chair. Sabine Roeser is head of a research group on Moral Emotions and Risk Politics, funded by the Dutch science foundation NWO. Roeser is former managing director of the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology. Roeser did her PhD in the foundations of ethics in 2002 at the Free University Amsterdam. During the work for her PhD she spent time as a visiting student at the Philosophy Departments of the University of Reading (UK) and of the University of Notre Dame. Sabine Roeser holds degrees in fine arts (BA), political science (MA) and philosophy (MA, PhD). She publishes on risk, ethics and emotions.