The Ethics of Precaution: Uncertain Environmental Health Threats and Duties of Due Care, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Ethics of Precaution

Uncertain Environmental Health Threats and Duties of Due Care, 1st Edition

By Levente Szentkirályi


240 pages | 17 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9780367193744
pub: 2019-12-20
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There are thousands of substances manufactured in the U.S., to which the public is routinely exposed and for which toxicity data is limited or absent. Some insist that uncertainty about the severity of potential harm justifies implementing precautionary regulations, while others claim that uncertainty justifies the absence of regulations until sufficient evidence confirms a strong probability of severe harm.

In this book, Levente Szentkirályi overcomes this impasse in his defense of precautionary environmental risk regulation by shifting the focus from how to manage uncertainty to what it is we owe each other morally. He argues that actions that create uncertain threats wrongfully gamble with the welfare of those who are exposed, and neglect the reciprocity that our equal moral standing demands. If we take the moral equality and rights of others seriously, we have a duty to exercise due care to strive to prevent putting them in possible harm’s way.

The Ethics of Precaution will be of great interest to researchers, educators, advanced students, and practitioners working in the fields of environmental political theory, ethics of risk, and environmental policy.


"The precautionary principle is proving of unusual significance as new forms of biotechnology and chemical synthesis offer tantalizing contradictions as to any proof of associated harm for all manner of exposed populations now and in the course of the long time. This is even more politically salient as fresh trade agreements are being sought between nations with many differing interpretations of precaution. Levente Szentkirályi offers a brilliant, case study rich, analysis of a new moral position of a reasoned duty of care on all creators of possible risks, both established and still untried. Would that his prescriptions be followed."Tim O’Riordan, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

"In The Ethics of Precaution, Dr. Szentkirályi offers perhaps the most complete and compelling moral philosophical defense available for use of the precautionary principle in environmental, health, and safety regulation. But the book does much more than this: It also engages with law, history, economics, environmental science, and a range of other relevant bodies of expertise to advance its argument. The result is a powerful philosophical case for the precautionary principle and an exemplary work of interdisciplinary scholarship."Douglas Kysar, Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law, Yale University, USA

Table of Contents

Introduction: Paradigm Shift in Risk and the Enduring Necessity of Precaution

1. Precautionary Risk Regulation as a Matter of Right

2. Uncertain Environmental Threats as Objective Wrongs

3. Uncertain But Culpable

4. Obligations of Due Care Under Uncertainty

5. The Feasibility of a Precautionary Standard of Due Care

Conclusion: Demanding Higher Standards of Corporate Responsibility

About the Author

Levente Szentkirályi is a teaching faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he teaches discipline-specific academic writing and problems of social justice. Broadly trained in Political Science and Philosophy, his interdisciplinary research interests bridge normative political theory with environmental policy, and broadly consist in environmental justice, moral responsibility, and the ethics of risk. Dr. Szentkirályi’s appreciation for scholarship that intersects different disciplines has deeply influenced his student-centered pedagogy, and has shaped substantive research interests in teaching and learning in Political Science.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy