Varieties of Risk

AHRC sponsored research project

Workshop on Transformative Experience and Risk

On May 4th-5th 2023 we hold the fifth and last workshop of our Varieties of Risk Project on Transformative Experience and Risk


4th May @ 3.04 Campus Central, University of Stirling

9.15 – 10.45 Farbod Ahklaghi: Love, Transformation, and the Fragility of Value

11 – 12.30 Claire Field: Rationality, Recklessness, and Transformative Experience

12.30 Lunch and Coffee

1.30 – 3 Richard Pettigrew: Paul meets Buchak: how transformative experiences raise problems for risk-sensitive rational choice

3.15 – 4.45 Daniel Villiger: Scrutinising the Concept of Transformative Experience

5th May @ 3.04 Campus Central

9.15 – 10.45 Petronella Randell: Risk, familiarity and transformative experiences

11 – 12.30 Laurie Paul: Value by acquaintance

12.30 Lunch

13.30 Walk and Talk around Campus


Farbod Ahklaghi Love, Transformation, and the Fragility of Value

I present and explore a puzzle concerning what we owe to those we romantically love who face transformative choices. If one’s romantic partner faces a transformative choice, when, if ever, is it morally permissible to try to stop them from making that choice? The puzzle arises from thetension between two plausible thoughts. First, that we owe those we stand in special relationships to a (defeasible) duty of non-interference in their transformative choice-making, on the basis of a right to revelatory autonomy grounded in the value of self-authorship. Second, that we stand in relationships of romantic love for reasons that concern the object of our love. The puzzle, then, is this: whilst it looks like we have good reasons to not try to stop one’s beloved from making a choice that may change who they are, if that transformative choice puts features in virtue of which we love them at risk of changing, then we may also have good reasons to object to such changes to try to sustain the love in question. If so, then either one of these views is false or one of these reasons so identified outweighs the other in such cases. I argue that the solution to this puzzle comes not from rejecting either of these views, but in recognising a structural feature of interpersonal value: what I call the risky fragility of interpersonal value. Even if one’s beloved has a right to revelatory autonomy, and that we love for reasons, to best realise love and interpersonal values associated with it, sometimes – to respect their right to revelatory autonomy and to love well – we must willingly put ourselves in a position to, at minimum, be changed and see our beloved changed, and, at most, to lose it all.

Claire Field Rationality, Recklessness, and Transformative Experience

There has been much recent debate about whether decisions that would be personally and/or epistemically transformative can be made rationally from the first personal perspective. An important background assumption in this debate is that a rational decision from the first personal perspective is one that, as Standard Expected Utility Theory requires, maximizes expected utility. However, I argue here that Standard Expected Utility Theory does not offer the complete story of what rational choice involves; rational agents should also have beliefs conforming to their evidence, coherent attitudes, and avoid recklessness. I show how these additional aspects of rationality sometimes pull against maximising expected utility in various specific cases, and these are not limited to those involving transformative decisions. I argue that in order to meet the wider demands of rationality rational agents must sometimes refrain from maximising expected utility. If this is right, it suggests a new avenue for arguing that transformative decisions can be made rationally - if they can be made in response to evidence, coherently, and/or as part of an attempt to avoid recklessness.

Richard Pettigrew Paul meets Buchak: how transformative experiences raise problems for risk-sensitive rational choice

Abstract: In Transformative Experience, L. A. Paul issues traditional decision theory with a challenge: when some of the options you might choose might lead you to have a transformative experience, whether epistemic or personal, decision theory cannot represent your choice and cannot govern how you should make it. In Choosing for Changing Selves, I argued that expected utility theory can meet that challenge. But now I think expected utility theory isn't the correct theory of rational choice—rather, it's something close to risk-weighted expected utility theory, which is spelled out and defended by Lara Buchak in Risk and Rationality. Since that theory is more permissive than expected utility theory, you might expect that the solutions to Paul's puzzles that I proposed on behalf of the latter will carry over. But, as I will argue in this talk, the opposite is true. The possibility of transformative experiences poses substantial problems for those of us who wish to incorporate risk into rational choice.

Daniel Villiger Scrutinising the Concept of Transformative Experience

Transformative experience has become a widely discussed concept in academic philosophy and beyond. But until now, several essential aspects of the transformative experience framework have not been clearly defined or examined. This presentation analyses four fundamental questions: (1) What makes an experience transformative? (2) How do we know whether an experience is transformative? (3) How frequent are transformative options? (4) What makes life choices difficult? The analysis reveals that transformative options are often only potentially transformative, introducing risk into the concept of transformative experience. Furthermore, transformative choices are much more common than thought, as they also include everyday risky choices. As I will show, this suggests that it is not the transformative nature of life choices per se that makes them difficult but the probable momentousness and irreversibility of their consequences.

Petronella Randell Risk, familiarity and transformative experiences

On the standard Paulian definition of epistemically transformative experiences (ETE), we can’t know what an ETE is like before we have it. ETEs are new kinds of experiences and, importantly, can’t be imagined. Contra Paul, some philosophers (Sharadin, 2015; Wilkenfeld, 2016; Ismael, 2019; Kind, 2020; Cath, 2022; Daoust, forthcoming) have argued that transformative experiences can be imagined. A neglected consequence of this argument is that if transformative experiences can be imagined, then it is unclear how they could be epistemically transformative. What do they teach us if we can imagine what they’re like in advance? I will argue not only that imaginable experiences can be transformative, but that experiences of a kind which an agent is experientially acquainted with can also be transformative. This latter kind of transformative experiences, which I will call familiar transformative experiences, are transformative not because the agent learns what a new kind of experience is like—by definition, they are not new kinds of experiences—but because the transformativeness of the experience is brought out by features of the agent experiencing them. I will focus on the nature of risky transformative experiences and how taking risks can bring about personal and epistemic transformation, even if the experience belongs to a kind that is familiar to an agent.

Laurie Paul Value by acquaintance

I argue that the distinctive relationship between knowledge-that and knowledge-how, recognized by anti-intellectualists and intellectualists alike, implies an analogously distinctive relationship between knowing that something has value and knowing how it has value. Recognizing the importance of knowing how to value has implications for a number of philosophical contexts where valuing plays a role, such as those involving moral testimony, moral expertise, aesthetic judgments, epistemic injustice, testimonial injustice, and many kinds of decision making. In the last part of the paper I will begin to explore these implications with some examples.