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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Practical Implications

A major outcome of these critical debates is a recognition that the substantive significance of the precautionary principle rests largely in the specific institutional frameworks, deliberative procedures and analytical methods through which it is implemented.89 In other words, precaution is more important as a process than as a “decision rule.”90 The purpose of this precautionary process is to help address a lack of scientific certainty by expending more effort in “social learning”91 – exploring a wider range of salient knowledges. This is an important point, because much of the ostensible support currently afforded to the principle by governmental bodies – like the European Commission92 – is explicitly predicated on the qualification that precaution is a risk “management” (rather than “assessment”) measure. This point is also relevant to countervailing concerns from bodies such as the US government93 (among others) to the effect that precaution implies a rejection of conventional “science-based” risk assessment. In considering these concerns, the resulting questions focus on the precise nature of the broader and more rigorous appraisal process implied by precaution – and the associated demands on money, attention, time and evidence.

A detailed understanding of these practical implications rests on an appreciation of the relationships between the precautionary principle and conventional “science-based” risk assessment.94 Here, an especially significant contribution ...

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