Report from a Socratic Dialogue on the Concept of Risk

In Kristina Blennow (ed.), Uncertainty and Active Risk management in Agriculture and Forestry. Alnarp, Sweden: SLU. pp. 35-39 (2005)
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The term ’risk’ is used in a wide range of situations, but there is no real consensus of what it means. ‘Risk ‘is often stipulatively defined as “a probability for the occurrence of a negative event” or something similar. This formulation is however not very informative, and it fails to capture many of our intuitions about the concept or risk. One way of trying to find a common definition of a term within a group is to use a Socratic Dialogue (SD). This method is fairly new, and it is rather different from the original Socratic dialogues (at least if we are to judge from how they are described by Plato). The best explanation for the name ought to be that it is inspired by the original Socratic dialogues. The SD in its modern form was originally developed as a tool for enabling laymen to perform rather advanced concept analyses under the supervision of a professional philosopher. The formal goal of the method is to find a common way of perceiving of a particular term, or at least to find out exactly how the members of the group differ in their understandings of the term, and why. The largest gain from the process has in practice turned out to be a higher awareness among the participants of different ways of understanding the term, and the ideas and intuitions behind it. This has turned out to be very useful in educational settings, but the method has also been used with great success both in research, and in e.g. business, public administration and nongovernmental organisations. In the present case, a Socratic dialogue on the concept of risk was performed within the framework of a Ph D-course about risk and uncertainty at the Swedish University of Agriculture in Alnarp, Sweden. The participants on the course where all quite familiar with practical issues relating to risks. Both from the course work, and from their own research.

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Erik Persson
Lund University


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