Reading Response Guidelines

A Reading Responses (RR) is an opportunity for students to individually reflect on what we read in class. Understanding, questioning, and writing about texts is part of the work of a philosopher. RRs are also opportunities for students to prepare to talk about texts in class. A thoughtful RR translates to a prepared and robust classroom discussion.

Each RR should be one full page, as best you can. You should also try to do the following three things: (1) understand the author’s perspective, (2) support your interpretation of this perspective, and (3) engage with it with your own experience and opinions. This follows a straightforward three-paragraph structure.

First paragraph:

What is the author’s perspective when considering the text as a whole? You should try to restate the text into your own words, but this is different from merely restating each paragraph from beginning to end. How would you explain this perspective to a reasonably intelligent friend? How about a parent, who thinks taking philosophy classes is a waste of time? When doing this, it’s important to keep in mind something called the principle of charity. This is the idea that we should try to make as much sense of another’s argument as we can before we criticize it. When a charitable listener hears something that doesn’t make sense to them, they work to figure out how the other person might have arrived at that idea.

Second paragraph:

What evidence from the text supports your interpretation of the author’s perspective? How did you arrive at this particular interpretation of the text? Here you’re quoting specific sentences and relating them to your interpretation in the first paragraph. Please provide page numbers so others can more easily follow your thinking.

Third paragraph:

What do you think about what the author is saying? You can respond in any number of ways. You might argue that the author’s reasons they give don’t support their conclusion. You might provide additional examples or counterexamples, tell a story, refer to another relevant text, ask questions, or reframe the discussion to suggest another way to see the problem.

Explanation & Answer length: 3 Paragraphs Response1 attachmentsSlide 1 of 1

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viewpoint viewpoint The ethics of uncertainty In the light of possible dangers, research becomes a moral duty Christof Tannert, Horst-Dietrich Elvers & Burkhard Jandrig U ncertainty touches most aspects of life, especially when we make decisions that have consequences that we cannot predict. Leaving the house without an umbrella carries a risk because it could start to rain; investing in the stock market carries the risk of losing money. It is therefore natural that, whenever we make decisions with unpredictable outcomes, we weigh up the possible results and their risks and benefits. Of course, some decisions carry more severe risks than getting wet or losing money; the decision to approve a new drug or to ban certain chemicals in products can have far-reaching consequences for health, the environ­ment, society and economies. In such cases, where the lives of others are at stake, decision-making and the handling of uncertainties have important ethical dimensions. A prudent strategy to deal with this ethical challenge is to diminish uncertainty by acquiring knowledge of the issue. When it comes to decisions that affect people’s lives and health—the regulation of potentially harmful substances or diagnostic tests to predict an individual’s propensity to develop a severe disease—carrying out research to diminish uncertainty and, consequentially, risks can become an ethical duty. If this is not possible—because decision-makers cannot wait for the relevant research or the gaps in our knowledge are not accessible to scientific investigation—the precautionary principle is increasingly advocated and used as an alternative strategy to make decisions in light of uncertainties. However, the application of the precautionary principle itself can create dangers (Wiedemann & Schütz, 2005) that have to be weighed against the benefits of adopting it—so-called iatrogenic risks (Wiener, 1998)—and therefore also has a serious ethical dimension that needs to be considered. 89 2 EMBO reports VOL 8 | NO 10 | 2007 In this viewpoint, we investigate the role of uncertainty in the field of practical ethics. This is a relatively new issue on the ethical research agenda, which began in the early twentieth century when scientists started to evaluate economic judgements and decisions from an ethical perspective (Knight, 1921; Luntley, 2003). However, the concept of uncertainty has been around for a much longer time; starting with Socrates and Plato, philosophers doubted whether scientific knowledge, no matter how elaborate, sufficiently reflected reality (Kant, 1783, 1787; Pörksen, 2002). They realized that the more we gain insight into the mysteries of nature, the more we become aware of the limits of our knowledge about how ‘things as such’ are (Kant, 1783; Prauss, 1989). These limitations to our understanding also make it impossible to foresee future events or the effects and implications of decisions with certainty. A ny scientist knows that knowledge is never complete and that research can do no more than produce estimates of what we think is happening. Science, at least in part, is not about facts but about odds. Yet accepting and realizing this principal uncertainty is a conceptual challenge, and it is within this framework that we must make decisions of a moral nature. In his book Risk Society, Ulrich Beck concludes that “[r]isk calculations are the phenotype of the resurrection of ethics […] in economics, natural sciences and tech­nical disciplines” (Beck, 1992). Uncertainty itself has no ethical quality—it is an inherent attribute of a situation. However, in a potentially dangerous situation, uncertainty can trigger ethically adjusted behaviour that aims to avoid dangers and diminishes risks. To explain how ethics are relevant to uncertainty in such cases, we can draw a schematic map of various forms of uncertainty, beginning with a distinction between our knowledge and ignorance of the probabilities of adverse impacts. When it comes to decisions that affect people’s lives and health […] carrying out research to diminish uncertainty and, consequentially, risks can become an ethical duty Our schematic approach, the ‘igloo of uncertainty’ (Fig 1), which was partly inspired by Faber and co-workers (1992), mainly distinguishes between open and closed forms of both ignorance and know­ ledge. Within that framework, dangers are defined in terms of the possible outcomes of a given situation. To understand the potential adverse effects of a decision, we therefore require an approximation of the quality of dangers in any given event. Consequently, a rational approach is to give an estimate of the probability that the respective event will happen, and to assess the hazard and the possible impact of the event. Classical risk assessment then takes the product of probability and the expected hazard dimension to obtain a quantitative measure of risk. However, decision-making often depends both on mathematical calculations and on moral considerations or other convictions, which risk assessment does not address. For example, regulations about the use of genetically modified crops in agriculture or stem-cell research are clearly governed by ethical and societal considerations in addition to quantitative risk assessments. ©2007 European Molecular Biology Organization science & society v iew p oi n t In this regard, it is important to distinguish between dangers and risks. A danger has a prescribed quality and a defined probability, and can therefore be avoided or counter­ acted. For example, car accidents that caused severe or deadly injuries prompted regulation for the mandatory installation and use of safety belts. By contrast, a risk can either be accepted by, or imposed on, a person. Driving without a safety belt is a self-accepted risk, while selling cars with faulty safety belts imposes a risk on unsuspecting buyers. This is the decisive difference between danger and risk: a danger is present regardless of choice, whereas a risk is either optionally accepted or imposed (Luhmann, 1993; Bora, 2006). When we know that a certain situation or decision will involve dangers and risks, it is a proactive and morally justifiable activity to reduce gaps in our know­ ledge. However, although such gaps can be successfully diminished by research, ignorance presents a greater challenge. If the cause of ignorance is a lack of know­ ledge, which cannot be reduced owing to stochastics and the randomness of the matter under study, and/or the structure of our cognitive apparatus, it is called closed ignorance or ‘nescience’—an absence of knowledge (Gross, 2007). Closed ignorance also results from rejecting or ignoring available know­ledge, which we refer to as the ‘Galileo effect’—inspired by the cardinal in Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo Galilei, who refused to look through a telescope in order not to accept the knowledge that the planets revolve around the sun. Not surprisingly, the Galileo effect is itself a risk factor and increases danger, although it can be overcome. A change in attitude would transform closed ignorance into open ignorance, which can, at least in part, be addressed by learning or by research. Science, at least in part, seems to be not about facts but about odds A prerequisite for turning danger into risk, either by accepting it or by being subjected to it, is acquiring knowledge about the danger, its nature and its probability. In this context, we can distinguish between closed and open knowledge with respect to risk—analogous to closed and open ignorance with respect to danger. In this case, closed knowledge means comprehensive knowledge or the certainty that Possible future events with known adverse outcomes Probabilities known KNOWLEDGE Closed KNOWLEDGE I know

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