Reasons and Caution in Moral Deliberation
Katie Steele (Australian National University)

June 13, 2023, 4:30pm - 6:30pm
Global Priorities Institute, Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University

Tsuzuki Lecture Theatre
St Anne's College
Oxford OX2 6HS
United Kingdom

This event is available both online and in-person

Topic areas


The Parfit Memorial Lecture is an annual distinguished lecture series established by the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) in memory of Professor Derek Parfit. The aim is to encourage research among academic philosophers on topics related to global priorities research - using evidence and reason to figure out the most effective ways to improve the world. This year, we are delighted to have Katie Steele deliver the Parfit Memorial Lecture. The Parfit Memorial lecture is organised in conjunction with the Atkinson Memorial Lecture.


Many think moral decisions should err on the safe side: that caution provides a moral reason for choice. Under what reading(s) of ‘caution’ is that convincing? If ‘caution’ stands for describing and valuing the consequences of actions in the morally right way, then it provides a moral reason for choice, but trivially so.  What about a more distinct version of ‘caution’– to do with decision making under uncertainty? The prime candidate is risk aversion. I argue, however, that risk aversion in the various ways it is ordinarily understood is not a convincing moral reason for choice. This has important implications for personal deliberations and public debate. I develop an alternative way to understand ‘caution’ under uncertainty as a moral reason for choice. It depends on there being an aspirational benchmark or reference point which rightly transforms the relative expected gains and losses of our actions.

About the speaker

Katie Steele studied mathematics at the University of Queensland (BSc 1999). She later pursued an MA in philosophy at the University of Queensland (MA 2003), followed by a PhD in philosophy at the University of Sydney (PhD 2007). Katie was subsequently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis at the University of Sydney. She then took up a position in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics and remained there from 2008 to 2016, when she joined the School of Philosophy at the ANU. Katie presently holds a 4-year ANU Futures Scheme grant and is a co-investigator on the 'Ethics and Risk' ARC Discovery Project as well as a co-investigator on the 'Climate Change and Future Generations' grant based at the Institute for Futures Studies, Stockholm.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




June 12, 2023, 5:00pm BST

External Site

Who is attending?

No one has said they will attend yet.

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.

RSVPing on PhilEvents is not sufficient to register for this event.