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date: 05 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The normative bases for two fundamentally different approaches to environmental decision making are examined. First, orthodox “risk assessment.” In the conditions of (partial) uncertainty or ignorance prevailing in many environmental decisions, it is argued that CBA and similar forms of risk assessment should not be used in isolation. Second, the precautionary principle. Two conditions—broadly speaking, “uncertainty” and “particular threats”—seem especially relevant to determining the applicability of the precautionary principle. Gardiner’s “Rawlsian Core Precautionary Principle” is examined in detail. It features both conditions; an incommensurabilist interpretation of the latter is adopted. In short, precaution is justified in decision contexts involving both uncertainty and incommensurability. Since both uncertainty and incommensurability are matters of degree, there are intermediate cases to consider. The analysis argues that with “more” uncertainty, “less” incommensurability is required to justify precaution, and vice versa.

Keywords: risk assessment, uncertainty, precautionary principle, Rawls, Bayesian, incommensurability

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