With COVID-19 comes a heightened sense of everyday risk. How should a society manage, distribute, and conceive of it?
As we cope with the lengthening effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, considerations of everyday risk have been more pressing, and inescapable. In the past, everyone engaged in some degree of risky behaviour, from mundane realities like taking a shower or getting into a car to purposely thrill-seeking activities like rock-climbing or BASE jumping. Many activities that seemed high-risk, such as flying, were claimed basically safe. But risk was, and always has been, a fact of life. With new focus on the risks of even leaving the safety of our homes, it’s time for a deeper consideration of risk itself. How do we manage and distribute risks? How do we predict uncertain outcomes? If risk can never be completely eliminated, can it perhaps be controlled? At the heart of these questions—which govern everything from waking up each day to the abstract mathematics of actuarial science—lie philosophical issues of life, death, and danger. Mortality is the event-horizon of daily risk. How should we conceive of it?
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After some years of graduate education in Britain and the United States, Mark Kingwell found he had inadvertently perfected a form of idling for which he could get paid. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, and has written for publications ranging from Adbusters and the New York Times to the Journal of Philosophy and Auto Racing Digest. Among his twelve books of political and cultural theory are the national best-sellers Better Living (1998), The World We Want (2000), and Concrete Reveries. In order to secure financing for their continued indulgence he has also written about his various hobbies, including fishing, baseball, cocktails, and contemporary art.
Published: September 2021
“Timely.” — Margaret Atwood
“Mark Kingwell is a beautiful writer, a lucid thinker and a patient teacher … His insights are intellectual anchors in a fast-changing world.” — Naomi Klein
“Kingwell offers a slender, thoughtful, sometimes meandering disquisition on risk that “is inflected (or infected) by the virus, but not precisely about the virus—except as it grants new urgency to old questions of risk and politics. A host of cultural allusions—from Shakespeare to the Simpsons, Isaiah Berlin to Irving Berlin, Voltaire, Pascal, and Derrida—along with salient academic studies inspire Kingwell to examine the many contradictory ways that humans handle risk … An entertaining gloss on an enduring conundrum.” — Kirkus Reviews
“On Risk is equal parts page turner and timely treatise.” — Open Book