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Social Sciences - Applied Ethics & Social Responsibility | The Price of Precaution and the Ethics of Risk

The Price of Precaution and the Ethics of Risk

Munthe, Christian

2011, XII, 192 p.

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  • Presents a novel analysis of the scholarly and scientific debate about the precautionary principle
  • Sets out a comprehensive  overview of the basic theoretical starting points for a sound ethics of risk.
  •  Presents and argues in favor of an innovative ethical theory about the imposition of risks
  • Discusses the practical implications of the resulting theory of the morality
  • Analyses the political implications
Since a couple of decades, the notion of a precautionary principle plays a central and increasingly influential role in international as well as national policy and regulation regarding the environment and the use of technology. Urging society to take action in the face of potential risks of human activities in these areas, the recent focus on climate change has further sharpened the importance of this idea. However, the idea of a precautionary principle has also been problematised and criticised by scientists, scholars and policy activists, and been accused of almost every intellectual sin imaginable: unclarity, impracticality, arbitrariness and moral as well as political unsoundness. In that light, the very idea of precaution as an ideal for policy making rather comes out as a dead end. On the basis of these contrasting starting points, Christian Munthe undertakes an innovative, in-depth philosophical analysis of what the idea of a precautionary principle is and should be about. A novel theory of the ethics of imposing risks is developed and used as a foundation for defending the idea of precaution in environmental and technological policy making against its critics, while at the same time avoiding a number of identified flaws. The theory is shown to have far-reaching consequences for areas such as bio-, information- and nuclear technology, and global environmental policy in areas such as climate change. The author argues that, while the price we pay for precaution must not be too high, we have to be prepared to pay it in order to act ethically defensible. A number of practical suggestions for precautionary regulation and policy making are made on the basis of this, and some challenges to basic ethical theory as well as consumerist societies, the global political order and liberal democracy are identified.

Content Level » Research

Keywords » applied ethics - bioethics - biopolitics - biotechnology - climate change - consumerism - cosmopolitanism - decision making - decision theory - energy policy - environmental ethics - environmental law - ethics - ethics of risk - ethics of technology - law - moral philosophy - nuclear power - philosophy of risk - philosophy of technology - political philosophy - pollution, precaution - precaution - precautionary principle - rationality - risk analysis - risk management - risk policy - sustainable development - technology policy

Related subjects » Applied Ethics & Social Responsibility - Environmental Sciences - Epistemology & Philosophy of Science - Political Science

Table of contents 

1 Introduction.-
1.1 Background.-
1.1.1 Diversity and Unclarity.-
1.1.2 The Price of Precaution.-
1.1.3 Precaution, Risk Analysis and Models of Rationality.-
1.1.4 The Ideal of the Desirability of Precaution.-
1.2 Aim,Plan and Basis.-
1.2.1 Plan of the Book.-
1.2.2 The Requirement of Precaution.-
1.2.3 Degrees of Precaution.-
References.-
2 Dimensions of Precaution.-
2.1 Values, Levels and Time-Horizons.-
2.1.1 Values.-
2.1.2 Levels and Time-Horizons.-
2.2 May Bring Great Harm.-
2.2.1 De MinimisRisk and the Need for a Limit.-
2.2.2 The Argument from Decision Costs.-
2.3 Show.-
2.3.1 Proof-Standards.-
2.3.2 Decisional Paralysis.-
2.3.3 The Holistic Nature of Precaution.-
2.3.4 Conservatism and Arbitrariness.-
2.4 Risk.-
2.4.1 Likelihoods, Values or Combinations?.-
2.4.2 Quantities, Qualities and Levels of Precision.-
2.4.3 Objective or Subjective?.-
2.5 Too Serious.-
2.6 SummingUp.-
References.-
Contents.-
3 Precaution and Rationality.-
3.1 Rational Action – the Standard View.-
3.1.1 Efficiency, Value Neutrality and Calculated
Risk Taking.-
3.1.2 Enlightment Critique and the Charge of
Instrumental Rationality.-
3.2 Rational Precaution.-
3.2.1 Ignorance, Precaution and the Maximin Rule.-
3.2.2 Limitations of Plausibility, Applicability and Status.-
3.3 From Rationality to Morality.-
3.3.1 Rawls’ Appeal to Responsibility.-
3.3.2 Moral Opinions About Risk Impositions.-
3.3.3 Moral Dilemmas of Precaution.-
References.-
4 Ethics and Risks.-
4.1 Traditional Criteria of Rightness.-
4.1.1 TheDiversity ofNormativeEthic.-
4.1.2 Factualism and the Silence on Risks.-
4.1.3 Autonomy and Justice.-
4.1.4 The Two Level Approach.-
4.2 The Virtue of Precaution.-
4.3 Abandoning Factualism.-
4.3.1 The Forbidden Risks Approach.-
4.3.2 Trading Off Risks and Harms 1: Apples and Oranges.-
4.3.3 Trading Off Risks and Harms 2: Improving
Practical Guidance.-
4.3.4 Trading Off Risks and Harms 3: The Knowability Argument.-
4.3.5 Trading Off Risks and Harms 4: Back to Square One
References.-
5 The Morality of Imposing Risks.-
5.1 Basic Structure.-
5.2 The Problem of Guidance.-
5.3 Basic Intuitions About Responsibility.-
5.3.1 Absolutes or Degrees?.-
5.3.2 What About Intentions?.-
5.3.3 Assessing and Comparing Degrees of Responsibility.-
5.3.4 Avoiding Indeterminacy – Possibility and Desirability.-
5.4 Areas of Precaution.-
5.4.1 Beyond Risk Neutrality.-
5.4.2 The Quality of Available Evidence.-
5.5 The Weight of Evil.-
5.5.1 Conceptual Preliminaries.-
5.5.2 Five Approaches.-
5.5.3 The Case Against Rigidity.-
5.5.4 Rigidity of Aggregation and the Notion of Rights.-
5.5.5 Simple Progressiveness.-
5.5.6 The Case for Relative Progressiveness.-
5.6 Problems with Relative Progressiveness.-
5.6.1 What Implications for other Normative Issues?.-
5.6.2 The Lack of Numerical Exactness.-
5.6.3 What Size of the Weight?.-
5.6.4 Pure or Mixed Relative Progressiveness?.-
5.6.5 What Makes for an Acceptable Mix of Risks
and Chances?.-
5.7 SummingUp.-
References.-
6 Practical Applications.-
6.1 General Cases.-
6.1.1 Consumerism.-
6.1.2 Why Individual Motivation Should Not Be the Target.-
6.1.3 Precaution as a Collective Good and the Need
for a Politics of Power.-
6.2 Hard Cases.-
6.2.1 Climate Change and Pollution.-
6.2.2 Nuclear Power and Energy Production.-
6.2.3 Biotechnology.-
6.3 Policy.-
6.3.1 Do We Really Need a PP?.-
6.3.2 Principlism vs. Proceduralism.-
6.3.3 De Minimis Revisited.- 6.3.4 Justifying the Proof Requirement of Justifiable
Policy Claim.-
6.3.5 Justifying the Burden of Proof Requirement.-
6.3.6 Conservatism Revisited.-
6.4 Big Questions.-
6.4.1 The Enlightment Ideals Revisited.-
6.4.2 The Remaining Challenge of Values.-
6.4.3 The Case for Cosmopolitan Precaution.-
6.4.4 Unrealistic and Dangerous?.-
6.4.5 A Challenge for Liberal Democracy?.-
References.

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