#64 – Munthe on the Precautionary Principle and Existential Risk

Christian Munthe

In this episode I talk to Christian Munthe. Christian is a Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He conducts research and expert consultation on ethics, value and policy issues arising in the intersection of health, science & technology, the environment and society. He is probably best-known for his work on the precautionary principle and its uses in ethical and policy debates. This was the central topic of his 2011 book The Price of Precaution and the Ethics of Risk. We talk about the problems with the practical application of the precautionary principle and how they apply to the debate about existential risk.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and a variety of other podcasting services (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 1:35 – What is the precautionary principle? Where did it come from?
  • 6:08 – The key elements of the precautionary principle
  • 9:35 – Precaution vs. Cost Benefit Analysis
  • 15:40 – The Problem of the Knowledge Gap in Existential Risk
  • 21:52 – How do we fill the knowledge gap?
  • 27:04 – Why can’t we fill the knowledge gap in the existential risk debate?
  • 30:12 – Understanding the Black Hole Challenge
  • 35:22 – Is it a black hole or total decisional paralysis?
  • 39:14 – Why does precautionary reasoning have a ‘price’?
  • 44:18 – Can we develop a normative theory of precautionary reasoning? Is there such a thing as a morally good precautionary reasoner?
  • 52:20 – Are there important practical limits to precautionary reasoning?
  • 1:01:38 – Existential risk and the conservation of value


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