Is the Precautionary Principle really incoherent?

Thomas Boyer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)
    152 Downloads (Pure)


    The Precautionary Principle has been an increasingly important principle in international treaties since the 1980's. Through varying formulations, it states that when an activity can lead to a catastrophe for human health or the environment, measures should be taken to prevent it even if the cause-and-effect relationship is not fully established scientifically. The Precautionary Principle has been critically discussed from many sides. This paper concentrates on a theoretical argument by Peterson (2006) according to which the Precautionary Principle is incoherent with other desiderata of rational decision-making, and thus cannot be used as a decision rule that selects an action among several ones. I claim here that Peterson's argument fails to establish the incoherence of the Precautionary Principle, by attacking three of its premises. I argue (i) that Peterson's treatment of uncertainties lacks generality, (ii) that his Archimedian condition is problematic for incommensurability reasons, and (iii) that his explication of the Precautionary Principle is not adequate. This leads me to conjecture that the Precautionary Principle can be envisaged as a coherent decision rule, again.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2026-2034
    JournalRisk Analysis
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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