Upper Intermediate Philosophy: The Philosophy Of Risk – Online

To be alive is to be in the midst of risk. We make decisions all the time regarding what likely outcomes might be, the probability of something happening, and what we value enough to risk doing it or defending it. We can risk all kinds of things disappointment, reputation, time-investment, our health, even our life. Risk raises all kinds of questions that touch on different aspects of philosophy epistemology, philosophy of science, social science, morality and the philosophy of economics (including behavioural economics) amongst them.

Only rarely do we have a firm grasp on probability (think of coin-tossing/dice-throwing: most situations we encounter lack this level of information), and as such we understand that uncertainty is a fact of life. Nevertheless it is possible to have a clearer account of not only the concepts associated with risk among them, probability, outcome, information, error, intentional and unintentional risk exposure, consent, and so on but also to become clearer on the stakes of risk in contemporary life.

In the wake of the pandemic in which the question of risk was posed very directly, globally, nationally and personally, now is a perfect time to get clearer on all aspects of the philosophy of risk.

Who is this course for

This course is at Upper Intermediate level and so would not be suitable for people who are new to studying philosophy. It would be an ideal continuation course for students who have previously studied on our Intermediate level courses and who now want a course that will look at the work of a particular philosopher in some depth. It may also be suitable for people who have had some previous grounding in Philosophy and who now want to study in more depth.

Although you should have some previous experience of studying philosophy it is not expected that you need to have a great deal of familiarity with the philosophy of risk as this is what the course will aim to provide.

What does this course cover

The course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of risk. It will examine the topic from a variety of different philosophical perspectives that will in turn operate as a way into understanding broader philosophical areas and questions.

In this regard over twelve weeks, we will come at the question of risk from different angles: as a question knowledge, as a question of morality, as a question of behaviour, as a question of calculation and so on. Towards the end of the course we will look at more real-life situations of risk and risk-taking, including questions concerning health (and the relation between individual and collective health), and where responsibility for risk lies politically.

Among the authors covered will be: Immanuel Kant, Daniel Kahneman, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, Michel Foucault, Amartya Sen, Ulrich Beck, Deborah Lupton.

By the end of this course you will be able to:
- Explain key concepts in the philosophy of risk, including probability, outcome, error, information, intentional and unintentional risk exposure, consent
- Recognise the are covered by the philosophy of risk, and be able to discuss and debate the strengths and weaknesses of arguments relating to risk
- Relate concepts, ideas an arguments from the philosophy of risk to philosophy more broadly, but also to everyday life.

What will it be like

The course will be run online using Zoom for the live class sessions and either the Moodle page for the course or some other system for the distribution of the electronic resources for the session sitting alongside this. Although there will be some adjustments that need to be made for the online version of this course, we will aim to keep the experience as close as possible to that of a face to face course taught in the Centre.

The course will be an interactive mixture of tutor exposition, class discussion and group/pair work. Videos and clips will be used to supplement some of these class-based activities. There are opportunities for further discussion and reading outside of the class via the course's Moodle website.

We will assess your expectations of the course in the first sessions. Thereafter, you will be able to monitor your progress on the course through participation in class discussion, questions and answers and in-class exercises. At the end of the course, you will be able to measure your progress against the stated outcomes for the course, and through your enhanced ability to think about and discuss the key ideas in the philosophy of risk.

What else do you need to buy or do

The course will be run on Zoom, please make sure you have installed it in advance of your first class on your computer or mobile device. You can sign up for free here:


You will need a microphone (it's fine to use whatever is built into your device) and camera, so we can see you via video. You may also want to use headphones during the session.

You can participate in class sessions through the use of a computer, laptop, tablet or other similar internet enabled device. Please note that if you only have access to a smartphone, you will be able to attend the class sessions and participate in them but you will find it more difficult to benefit from the full range of materials and activities involved in the course if this is your only means of connection.

Make sure you have a small space to work in during the session and that as far as possible that you can keep this space quite and clear of interruption so that you can concentrate on what is happening in the class.

By signing up to the course you are consenting to being on camera. The content of the lesson may occasionally be recorded by the tutor for internal education and training purposes but any such recordings will not be made available to anyone outside of the Mary Ward Centre organisation without us asking you again for further permission to do so.

Please bring a notebook, pen, and an open mind. Reading materials for the course will be provided online via the Mary Ward Centre's Moodle website and as photocopies. Each class will have a small amount of set reading expected outside class, no more than 30 mins per week.

What this course could lead to

Other Advanced level Philosophy courses at the Mary Ward Centre or other similar establishments. Or, other courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences with a strong emphasis on theory and the study of the mind and human behaviour (e.g., Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Anthropology, History). The course will correspond well with the Mary Ward course on Political Philosophy, pitched at the same level, which will take place on the same day and time the following term.

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I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

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Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why choose Mary Ward?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening and weekends to suit your timetable. You can learn face to face at one of our centres (Bloomsbury or Waterloo) or take an online course

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’