A Prudential Argument for Precaution under Uncertainty and High Risk

Ethics and the Environment 5 (2):175-189 (2000)
Some models of global systems predict catastrophe if certain human activities continue. Unfortunately, these models are less than certain. Despite this uncertainty, some argue for precaution on the grounds that we have an ethical obligation to avoid catastrophe, whatever the practical costs. There is much to say in favor of ethical arguments. Still, some people will remain unmoved by them. Using arguments parallel to those of Pascal and James, I will argue that there are prudential reasons for precaution that should convince those not already persuaded by ethical arguments. This argument for precaution does not presuppose that we are convinced by the uncertain models that predict catastrophe
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