The Precautionary Principle

23 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2017

Date Written: November 10, 2017


The vast literature surrounding the precautionary principle (PP) in risk management concerns the principle’s plausibility and applications, either as an entire concept or in particular formulations. Generally, such scholarship offers either clear support or opposition to the PP as an approach to preventing harm. This Essay, however, approaches this topic from an unbiased stance, considering such discussions from a largely neutral position. Rather than merely participating in the debate, it endeavors to develop a general characterization of the PP and the many perspectives thereon, emphasizing the lack of unification in and vagueness of its many definitions and implementations. This Essay presents key arguments for and against the PP, demonstrating that such voices often both build upon and respond to one another.

This Essay suggests that it is chiefly the diversity of approaches and the ambiguity of the various PP definitions that lead to different understandings of the concept, inevitably arousing such fierce debate. Some scholars seek to clarify vague terms based on multiple understandings of the principle’s role, while others recognize heterogeneous applications as intrinsic to the PP’s conceptions and inherent nature. These debates signify the processes of epistemic and normative perfection that the still immature, indefinite principle continues to undergo. As both critics and defenders draw attention to certain overlooked aspects of the concept, the PP continues to be enriched and improved. Thus, this Essay contends that the PP will likely become increasingly thorough and instructive to decision-making processes.

Keywords: precautionary principle, environmental law, risk assessment

JEL Classification: Q58, Q56, Q51, Q15, F18, F64, H23, K32, O44, P18, P28, P48

Suggested Citation

Guo, Yuhan, The Precautionary Principle (November 10, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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