Holbrook, J. Britt and Adam Briggle. 2013. “Knowing and acting: The precautionary and proactionary principles in relation to policy making.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (5): 15-37.
This essay explores the relationship between knowledge (in the form of scientific risk assessment) and action (in the form of technological innovation) as they come together in policy, which itself is both a kind of knowing and acting. It first illustrates the dilemma of timely action in the face of uncertain unintended consequences. It then introduces the precautionary and proactionary principles as different alignments of knowledge and action within the policymaking process. The essay next considers a cynical and a hopeful reading of the role of these principles in public policy debates. We argue that the two principles, despite initial appearances, are not all that different when it comes to formulating public policy. We also suggest that principles in general can be used either to guide our actions, or to determine them for us. We argue that allowing principles to predetermine our actions undermines the sense of autonomy necessary for true action.
Keywords: Precautionary Principle; Proactionary Principle; Policy; Decision Procedure
Knowledge kills action. (Nietzsche)
1. Knowing and acting
How are knowledge and action related? This question is asked less often than another: When do we know enough to justify taking action? In the context of making science and technology policy, the question assumes yet a different form: When do we have sufficient scientific risk assessments about a new technological activity to warrant promoting that activity and embedding it in society? In this paper, we explore how the relation between knowledge and action should be structured in policymaking. Continue Reading…