Perceptions and Management of Neuralgic Societal Risks in the 21st Century

The project considers the ways in which the public deals with neuralgic societal risks such as climate change, demographic change and state deficits in the 21st century (“big risks”). It aims to answer overarching questions from the three disciplinary perspectives of practical philosophy, political sociology and financial mathematics, all based at the interdisciplinary research cluster “Transformation of Contemporary Societies” at the University Duisburg-Essen.
Practical philosophy considers the epistemic difficulties of “knowing” risks and offers normative risk assessments and reactions to them. Political sociology studies the intersection between the political and the societal spheres and is equipped to deal with the effects of social and political positions on individual perceptions. Financial mathematics offers tools for the management of quantifiable risks and allows the designing of instruments for diversification and hedging of risks.
Whereas risk is a central concept in economics and business studies, its manifestations in a broader sense are rarely studied from a rigorous multi-disciplinary angle.

In addition to their common research interest, the participating disciplines also pursue individual projects. The focal point of the research project in practical philosophy currently lies on anthropogenic climate change and so-called “paradoxes of collective responsibility”:

To cope with climate change, many people call for states or even global humanity to assume collective responsibility. However, even though it might be clear what needs to be done to avoid the dangers of anthropogenic climate change, it is difficult to see how and when the required collective agent could come into existence. This leads to complicated normative questions: What are the obligations of individuals, single states, businesses etc., who cannot overcome climate risk alone? Should they fulfill the obligations they would have as part of the collective agent, even though this might be futile and weaken their position in the adaptation process, if it becomes necessary? Or should they pursue more self-regarding obligations until the collective agent comes into being – which, paradoxically, might render the emergence of the collective agent even less likely and increase the risks going along with climate change?
The project aims (a) to develop a better understanding of the conditions for the development of desired collective agents and (b) to design strategies for coping with risks like climate change for single agents pointing beyond the paradoxes of responsibility.

In the first year our research focused on the morally relevant properties of climate change. It is widely recognized that climate change exhibits such properties, but authors do not agree on whether they should be conceptualized in terms of justice or another key moral principle. Some authors even hold that none of the established normative theories are adequate either to parse climate change or to motivate action on it, and that, therefore, climate change requires a substantially new approach. A conference on this topic was organized in June 2016, asking “What’s So Disturbing About Climate Change?”.

The emphasis of the the second year is on uncertainty. An essential feature of every risk, uncertainty raises a lot of interesting theoretical and normative questions. The Big Risks-Project organizes a spring school on Uncertainty & Action 8-10 March, 2017.


Ruben Langer, M.A. (Researcher) info

Prof. Dr. Andreas Niederberger (Principal Investigator) info


In cooperation with:

Björn Fischbach (UDE – Researcher) info

Anne-Kathrin Fischer (UDE – Researcher) info

Prof. Dr. Achim Goerres (UDE – Principal Investigator) info

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Kiesel (UDE – Principal Investigator) info


Project duration: 2015-2019


The Project is part of the interdisciplinary research cluster “Transformation of Contemporary Societies” at the University of Duisburg-Essen. It is funded by the FUNK-Foundation.

Project website