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The EnvironmentPhilosophy, Science, and Ethics$
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William P. Kabasenche, Michael O'Rourke, and Matthew H. Slater

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262017404

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262017404.001.0001

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Precaution Has Its Reasons

Precaution Has Its Reasons

(p.171) 10 Precaution Has Its Reasons
The Environment

Mariam Thalos

The MIT Press

This chapter focuses on finding better ways to conceptualize precaution. Precaution has now become an established principle of environmental governance, although it has not been distinguished from conventional risk assessment. It has been considered by some as the antithesis of risk assessment in the sense that it is done to avoid serious potential harm, without scientific certainty as to the likelihood, magnitude, or causation of that harm. The first and foremost task of this chapter is to show that these concepts are non-overlapping. It also elaborates on the reasons why precaution should be taken seriously, and that, on the flipside, traditional risk assessment, or cost-benefit analysis (CBA), does not take precaution seriously because of its pervasive nature. This fact represents the ascendancy of a decision-making calculus that grew out of twentieth-century British moral theory and culminated in 1944 with the presentation of the doctrine now familiarly known as the theory of expected utility.

Keywords:   precaution, environmental governance, conventional risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis, CBA, British moral theory, theory of expected utility

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