Philosophy Philosophy of Risk
Sven Ove Hansson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0355


Most philosophical studies of risk are closely related to problems in the philosophy of science or in ethics. This corresponds to two major problem areas in more general discussions on risk, namely, how we should assess risks and what risks we should accept. However, the philosophy of risk also has strong connections with several other areas in philosophy, including epistemology, decision theory, political philosophy, and the philosophy of technology.

General Overviews

The word “risk” is used in everyday language in a fairly wide sense, denoting situations in which it is possible but not certain that some undesired event will take place. The term has several more restricted technical meanings, but the scope of this bibliography coincides with the wide everyday meaning. Philosophy of risk got off the ground in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a strong emphasis on the hidden value assumptions in allegedly value-neutral risk assessments, as evidenced in MacLean 1986 and Shrader-Frechette 1991. Its scope of interest has gradually widened, as can be seen from Lewens 2007; Roeser, et al. 2012; and Hansson 2017. The field has no journal of its own. Articles in the philosophy of risk have been published in a wide range of philosophical journals, and also in general risk journals such as Risk Analysis and in particular the Journal of Risk Research.

  • Hansson, Sven Ove. “Risk.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

    An overview of the philosophy of risk, covering most of the topics in this bibliography.

  • Journal of Risk Research. 1998–.

    A risk journal that has a strong emphasis on social science. It is probably the risk journal that has the largest number of contributions by philosophers.

  • Lewens, Tim, ed. Risk: Philosophical Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2007.

    A multi-author collection that has a strong emphasis on perspectives from ethics and political philosophy.

  • MacLean, Douglas, ed. Values at Risk. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1986.

    Contains several of the best contributions from the early phases of the philosophy of risk, particularly on ethical aspects.

  • Risk Analysis. 1981–.

    The most influential risk journal. It has relatively few philosophical articles but provides much of the background in general risk research that philosophers need.

  • Roeser, Sabine, Rafaela Hillerbrand, Per Sandin, and Martin Peterson, eds. Handbook of Risk Theory: Epistemology, Decision Theory, Ethics, and Social Implications of Risk. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2012.

    With about 1,200 pages this handbook has chapters covering most of the major philosophical approaches to risk. It also contains chapters providing theoretical perspectives on risk from other disciplines.

  • Shrader-Frechette, Kristin. Risk and Rationality: Philosophical Foundations for Populist Reforms. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

    Provides in-depth analysis of the philosophical problems in risk evaluations. One of the most important books by one of the most influential researchers in the field.

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