Crises and Disasters: Identifying and Averting Them

Convenors:

Abstract:

AI, climate breakdown, global poverty, state surveillance, torture, terrorism, and (nuclear) war. The list of (possible) very bad practices and/or events in our world is horrifyingly lengthy. Plenty ofmuch-needed and excellent (academic) work has been and continues to be done on each of the above and many other concrete examples. The main aim of this workshop is to bring together scholars and/or practitioners working on these different topics. The method by which this workshop attempts to bridge gaps between (sub-)fields is to take a step back and ask the following question: how do we both identify and avert crises and disasters? To provide working definitions, by ‘crisis’ I understand a situation of ‘(political) gridlock’ or ‘social paralysis’ in light of a certain bad (expected) event. Climate breakdown could be an example of a crisis. Rarely in human history has there been such an overwhelming scientific consensus on an issue, yet a lack of (political) will seems to prevent sufficient action being taken to help humanity steer clear from the worst-case scenario materialising regarding climate breakdown. By contrast, ‘disasters’ I understand to be (unexpected/unforeseen) natural and/or human-induced bad events. AI seems a good example here. Given their almost incomparably greater effectiveness, the temptation to use AI weapons will be hard, if not impossible, to resist for (both state and private) actors. Once AI, through self-learning, would make the jump beyond human intelligence, humans might respond with unprecedented global political unity (unlike with ‘crises’, as defined here) but it might then simply be too late to avoid a, for us likely disastrous, humans vs. machines conflict. One can see that behind these working definitions, there is a presumption that ‘crises’ are more
closely associated with procedural considerations, whereas ‘disasters’ are understood as focused on (possible) outcomes or states of affairs. One may question that presumption. Quite possibly, many would object to either one or both of the above working definitions as such. But I would like you to object to them. I take such disagreement to be the starting point for discussion or the primary question to be addressed: how are we to understand the ideas of ‘crises’ and ‘disasters’?Some further suggested questions to be addressed:

  • Should we distinguish between crises and disasters? Why (not)?Ought we morally to avoid crises and/or disasters by any means necessary? If not, then would an ‘all-things-considered ought’ give a different answer? (cf. Parfit’s considered idea that we sometimes might have sufficient reason to act morally wrongly).Should we reason from a context of crisis and/or disaster to think about what our everyday permissions and/or obligations are? Why (not)?

Of course, alternative suggestions for sub-topics and/or questions to be addressed by interested participants will be both highly appreciated and likely accommodated. In summary, this workshop aims to bring together moral, political, and legal theorists and practitioners interested in crises and disasters, both in the abstract and concrete examples of it.

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