Friday, April 19, 2013

#109 / Cautious As We Go

How would you like to read an article about the epistemology of uncertainty in science and law? Here's the full title, with a link: Before and beyond the precautionary principle: Epistemology of uncertainty in science and law. Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, the link will only to get you to the abstract. Then, you'll have to rent or purchase the full text. 

For my purposes, the abstract has been enough to spur my thinking. I just love the word "epistemology," which means, "the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity." In more common parlance, "epistemology" is all about "what we (can) know, and how we can know it." Start pondering that question and you do begin to understand that "uncertainty" is pretty much the name of the game where the limits of our knowledge is the topic. According to Werner Heisenberg, in fact, an "uncertainty principle" underlies all our knowledge about everything, specifically including what we understand to be the fundamental atomic reality that has generated the Universe we happen to inhabit.

Given that "uncertainty" is fundamental to our knowledge of the world, maybe we ought to be "cautious" about taking actions that could affect it. That is the essence of the "precautionary principle," which I think is a good way to organize our efforts to create a human world.

If I am right that our world, the world we most immediately inhabit, is fundamentally dependent on the World of Nature, upon which all life ultimately depends, wouldn't it make sense not to do things that might undermine the ability of the natural world to sustain life, until we are sure we know what we are doing? That does seem wise. 

It's what Dr. Mariachiara Tallacchini suggests in her article, too! 

When the "big words" of philosophy and science come to the same conclusion as what we might call "common sense," we probably ought to pay attention.

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