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December 5, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

Rescher 1983–Risk Analysis and Worst-Case Scenario Fixation

These cards can form the backbone of a risk-analysis or impact framing underview for the affirmative.

Rescher 83 [Nicholas Rescher, University of Pittsburgh Professor of Philosophy, “Risk: A Philosophical Introduction to the Theory of Risk Evaluation and Management” 1983].

In our yearning for the risk-free society we may well create a social system that makes risk-taking innovation next to impossible. The critical thing is to have a policy that strikes a proper balance between malfunctions and missed opportunities – a balance whose “propriety” must be geared to a realistic appraisal of the hazards and opportunities at issue. Man is a creature condemned to live in a twilight zone of risk and opportunity. And so we are led back to Aaron Wildavski’s thesis that flight from risk is the greatest risk of all, “because a total avoidance of risks means that society will become paralyzed, deplet[e]ing its resources in preventive action, and denying future generations opportunities and technologies needed for improving the quality of life. By all means let us calculate our risks with painstaking care, and by all means let us manage them with prudent conservatism. But in life as in warfare there is truth in H. H. Frost’s maxim that “every mistake in war is excusable except inactivity and refusal to take risks” (though, obviously, it is needful to discriminate between a good risk and a bad one). The price of absolute security is absolute stultification.


Rescher 83 [Nicholas, Professor of Philosophy at University of Pittsburgh, Risk: A Philosophical Introduction to the Theory of Risk Evaluation and Management, Pg 50]

The “worst possible case fixation” is one of the most damaging modes of unrealism in deliberations about risk in real-life situations. Preoccupation about what might happen “if worst comes to worst” is counterproductive whenever we proceed without recognizing that, often as not, these worst possible outcomes are wildly improbable (and sometimes do not deserve to be viewed as real possibilities at all). The crux in risk deliberations is not the issue of loss “if worst comes to worst” but the potential ac- ceptability of this prospect within the wider framework of the risk situation, where we may well be prepared “to take our chances,” considering the possible advantages that beckon along this route. The worst threat is certainly something to be borne in mind and taken into account, but it is emphatically not a satisfactory index of the overall seriousness or gravity of a situation of hazard.


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