The precautionary principle: A dialectical reconsideration

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 29 (3):301 – 312 (2004)
Abstract
This essay examines an overlooked element of the precautionary principle: a prudent assessment of the long-range or remote catastrophes possibly associated with technological development must include the catastrophes that may take place because of the absence of such technologies. In short, this brief essay attempts to turn the precautionary principle on its head by arguing that, (1) if the long-term survival of any life form is precarious, and if the survival of the current human population is particularly precarious, especially given contemporary urban population densities, and (2) if technological innovation and progress are necessary in order rapidly to adapt humans to meet environmental threats that would otherwise be catastrophic on a large scale (e.g., pandemics of highly lethal diseases), then (3) the development of biomedical technologies in many forms, but in particular including human germ-line genetic engineering, may be required by the precautionary principle, given the prospect of the obliteration of humans in the absence of such enhanced biotechnology. The precautionary principle thus properly understood requires an ethos that should generally support technological innovation, at least in particular areas of biotechnology.
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Daniel Steel (2011). Extrapolation, Uncertainty Factors, and the Precautionary Principle. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (3):356-364.
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