A Critical Review of the Precautionary Principle

By Catherine Larrere


Reflecting on the philosophical roots of the precautionary principle, this paper shows that two of its roots can be found in Hans Jonas’ Responsibility Principle: first, the idea of an (ethical) mastery of our (technical) mastery of nature, and second, the catastrophe threat and the adoption of the worst-case scenario. However, these ideas were first considered separately and then transformed. The idea of the mastery of our mastery was politically reinterpreted as a means of including citizens in technological choices. Jean-Pierre Dupuy has revisited the catastrophe idea in an attempt to give it a rationalist interpretation. Only by understanding the idea of nature as a complex notion can one overcome the limitations of each of these interpretations.


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