The Epistemology of the Precautionary Principle: Two Puzzles Resolved

Erkenntnis 80 (5):1013-1021 (2015)
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In a recent paper in this journal, Carter and Peterson raise two distinctly epistemological puzzles that arise for anyone aspiring to defend the precautionary principle. The first puzzle trades on an application of epistemic contextualism to the precautionary principle; the second puzzle concerns the compatibility of the precautionary principle with the de minimis rule. In this note, I argue that neither puzzle should worry defenders of the precautionary principle. The first puzzle can be shown to be an instance of the familiar but conceptually harmless challenge of adjudicating between relevant interests to reach assessments of threats when applying the precautionary principle. The second puzzle can be shown to rely on a subtle but crucial misrepresentation of the relevant probabilities at play when applying the precautionary principle
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