Uncertainty 3

Procedure of the lecture

Every special invited expert will give a 3-hour course. Each course is starting with an introductory lecture. The following part is structured by their individual taste. The chosen formats are e.g. lecture, seminar style and group-discussion. In order to get a fruitful spring school, you can take a look at the suggested reading lists.

Dominic Roser Why be cautious?

Many of us share the intuition that we should be cautious in the face of risk and uncertainty. Is this intuition based on an irrational fear of the unknown? Or are there good reasons for this attitude? In this session, we will define "cautiousness" similarly to how economists define risk aversion. Based on this concept, we will then examine a number of rationales for cautiousness and evaluate their strength. The rationales include diminishing marginal utility, rights, and the risk-uncertainty distinction.

Suggested readings

Sunstein, C. R. (2007). The catastrophic harm precautionary principle. Issues in Legal Scholarship, 6(3).

Optional readings

Hayenhjelm, M., & Wolff, J. (2012). The moral problem of risk impositions: A survey of the literature. European Journal of Philosophy, 20(S1).
Gardiner, S. M. (2006). A core precautionary principle. Journal of Political Philosophy, 14(1), 33-60.
Manson, N. A. (2002). Formulating the precautionary principle. Environmental Ethics, 24(3), 263-274.
Hansson, S. O. (2004). Philosophical perspectives on risk. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, 8(1), 10-35.
McCarthy, D. (1997). Rights, explanation, and risks. Ethics, 107(2), 205-225.

Barbara Vis Choosing through losing? The psychology behind political decision making

Under which conditions do different types of political actors – governments, political parties or individual politicians – take or avoid decisions that are risky for them? Why, for example, do some governments take the risky decision to reform for instance the welfare state or to intervene militarily, while others do not? How can we explain the puzzling variation in risk attitudes of governments (and other political actors)? This is one of the central questions in my research.

Traditional theories in political science focusing for instance on the political color of a government or its institutional environment are very poor at explaining the variation in risk attitudes across political actors. Prospect theory – a behavioral theory of choice under risk and uncertainty developed by the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky –, conversely, can help to solve this puzzle. Prospect theory predicts that people take risk averse decisions when facing positive prospects, while they take risk-accepting decisions when confronting negative prospects. In this talk, I will discuss current research that demonstrates that this what we may label “choosing though losing” also holds for political actors. By discussing the psychology behind political decision making, I aim to foster participants’ knowledge and understanding political decision making under risk.

Suggested readings

Linde, Jona & Barbara Vis (2017a), 'Do Politicians Take Risky Decisions Like the Rest of Us? An Experimental Test of Prospect Theory under MPs', Political Psychology, 38(1): 101-117. Online Appendix

Mercer, Jonathan (2005), 'Prospect Theory and Political Science', Annual Review of Political Science, 8: 1-21.

Vis, Barbara (2011), 'Prospect Theory and Political Decision-making', Political Studies Review, 9(3): 334-343.

Additional readings

Linde, Jona & Barbara Vis (2017b), 'The Uncertainty of Welfare Retrenchment's Electoral Consequences', DaWS Working Paper Series, 2017-1.

Schumacher, Gijs, Marc van der Wardt, Barbara Vis & Michael Baggesen Klitgaard (2015), 'How Aspiration to Office Conditions the Impact of Government Participation on Party Platform Change', American Journal of Political Science, 59(4): 1040-1054.

Supplementary Information Replication material
Blog on the article in English

Vis, Barbara (2009), Governments and Unpopular Social Policy Reform: Biting the Bullet or Steering Clear?, European Journal of Political Research, 48(1): 31-57.

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