CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE ASSESSMENT OF RISKS: A CRITIQUE OF THE COST-BENEFIT FRAMEWORK

BRIAN JOHN BYRNE, Fordham University

Abstract

A set of practical problems recently has emerged at the confluence of natural science, technology and public policy involving assessing the risks associated with scientific and technological innovation. Such risk assessments transcend standard scientific procedures and are extremely sensitive to the framework in which they are formulated.^ The dominant framework for risk assessment is a version of cost-benefit analysis abstracted from economic theory and promoted as providing a comprehensively rational and value-neutral approach to these problems. Examination of the conceptual foundations of this framework, however, reveals a set of specific value-laden characteristics and a highly restrictive conception of rationality.^ When applied to capital cases where human lives are at risk the cost-benefit framework produces profoundly disturbing moral consequences which are directly attributable to its conceptual apparatus. The attempts to avoid these consequences within the framework exhibit insensitive conceptualization, technical obfuscation and reliance on folk-science.^ Three strategies are explored for constructing a more adequate risk assessment framework. At a meta-framework level, a set of general criteria is suggested for framework selection. Since these criteria are quite weak in capital cases cost-effectiveness analysis is proposed as an interim alternative to the cost-benefit approach. Finally, limitations of the concepts of the human person, the good and rational choice presupposed by the cost-benefit framework are explored to indicate the broad conceptual grounds on which a more adequate framework can be erected. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

BYRNE, BRIAN JOHN, "CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE ASSESSMENT OF RISKS: A CRITIQUE OF THE COST-BENEFIT FRAMEWORK" (1985). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8612856.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8612856

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