2This principle is intended to legitimate actions that go beyond the existing law in order to correct or punish criminal behavior. The outcry pertains to this display of extra severity, to this punitive attitude erected into a law above the law. The tumult has passed over, but forgotten about, “precaution” itself. Its circumstances and targets have been occluded; we do not know what it is really about, because of this verbal quarrel, which covers and conceals that which gives birth to these dangerous practices. 
3A “precautionary principle” was mentioned for the first time in 1984, when the North Sea  began to suffer from the release of toxic waste from the coasts, from certain countries in particular: legislation, both national and international (the “law of the sea”), does not allow for penalties against practices affecting such a little, circumscribed “environment” as a sea surrounded by a multitude of neighboring countries, so that a collective decision (the coastal nations constituting a “de facto government”) had to posit a legitimacy for their decisions in new terms, in emerging terms, and thus, in a sense, in made-up terms. Everything depended on the nomothesia of the coasts in question, the inventors of a law who at the same time invented the source of the corresponding law and shaped their vocabulary to this end.
4The formula found (“precautionary principle” or “precautionary approach”) is open to many kinds of query. This is the case when the authors speak of “proof,” of “scientific certainty,”  and urge that we “not wait for proof of harmful effects before taking action,” as if in the field of action, the domain of contingency, we were literally waiting for proof, which would require a rigorous procedure of elimination, a hypothetico-deductive approach, a laboratory protocol, and so forth.
5It has already been admitted that we place science at the command of a protective approach, which requires flair, the sense of when to seize the moment (kairos), making decisions quickly, working as a team, and so forth. These are two universes that are foreign to one another but are conflated here through semantic carelessness.
6Indeed, with precaution as well as with effective action, it is a matter of anticipating, of grasping an antagonist quickly. This does not involve a slow and objective procedure for statistical generalizations emerging from the scientific community about the agony of the living sea communities in the face of quantified pollution.
7What does “precaution” mean, translated into simple language, the language by which we understand the meaning of words? A reminder of the great literary references, in the sense of a body of founding texts: those of Aristotle, Augustine, Martin Heidegger, Hans Jonas, is required, after a quick analysis of the term in question.
8Etymology: the pre of “precaution” comes not from the Latin ante, meaning chronologically “before,” but prae, meaning spatially in front of, in the presence of, or better, in view of. The caution of “precaution” retains a literal meaning in English, because cavere means “to pay attention to,” to be wary of. A danger is “there” in the form of a present hazard; it is not “already there,” acting and harming, but it exists in the future and the conditional, as a threat, a potential harm to be avoided, therefore a “not-yet-there.”
9Cavere, the verb from which precaution is derived, means “to fear,” as in the inscription Cave canem, which prescribes wary behavior.
10The danger first presents itself, not to the overwhelmed “senses” (uncontrollable shaking and fainting), but to the mind, as a representation of a negative possibility to be avoided; it is to be feared, apprehended, suspected, and acted on accordingly, thus necessarily to be anticipated. We do not take the time to examine the teeth of the dog that will bite us; we retreat, take a detour.
11This concept of precaution, following the method prescribed by Jacques Derrida in his lectures (the “a priori semantic deduction”), means the following for our conduct: in the presence of a danger or a risk of harm, we should act so as to take account of the risk, in view of what we know or guess, and in proportion to its potential for harm. This idea of the “proportionate” forms one element in the composition of the principle under consideration. Danger is associated with the concept of an emergency: acting “before” the threat takes on concrete form, before it manifests itself. To act is precaution itself, which is “taken,” in a “cautious” way, which involves a degree of ignorance as to what, how, or when, with this approach envisaging various possibilities. The space of risky actions has been felicitously renamed “complexity;”  we will not go so far as to place these actions in the category of the “knowable,” nor will we take a step back, this being stated to address the rhetorical and sophistical efforts of the “scientific community” that gets annoyed by anything that sounds to them like an accusation of impotency leveled at science.
12This charge is in fact well founded, because “science” does not exempt them from acting, nor from acting in the dark; it remains humans’ “living behavior,” as vulnerable and risky as any other behavior that presupposes the condition for living of being able to die. Science is erected on a base of helplessness, not control, as Husserl  reminded us in his famous 1934 lecture, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, the shorter version of the Krisis.
13The deduction of precaution therefore indicates its implication in action, in a situation of vulnerability, in the face of a looming danger that we guess at rather than knowing about, and that indicates emergency measures are required to avoid it.
14This much is what the language itself tells us, but literature has analyzed it in the form of an examination of situations in which someone takes a serious risk, and where others echo this concern. It is not precaution but that which motivates it, fear, that is first subjected to profound scrutiny in the text of Aristotle’s Rhetoric,  supplemented by that of the Poetics.  Aristotle conducts this investigation in more of an aesthetic than a practical spirit, since fear is shared, and since artistic creation (tragedy) and oratory are specifically concerned with sharing the great human emotions by making their motives intelligible.
15Thus Aristotle made an inventory of all the anxious representations capable of arousing fears that we are not sure are well founded, without them being unreasonable or irrational, as we tend to hastily conclude. To be afraid that the man or woman who has been offended shall take revenge when he or she has an opportunity to do so, that this person who has the opportunity may do harm to me, that this person who has already done so, or who has expressed the intention to do so, either to others or to me, and so forth, constitutes a threat to me, my prosperity, my reputation, my life. .. what part of this is absurd? Aristotle goes so far as to implicate in these fears not only consideration of the threat, its magnitude, and its imminence, but also the sense that we have of our own vulnerability, and thus of an estimated balance of power between ourselves and the danger, which gives the fear its magnitude. This sense of ourselves is the very spring of the drama, the secret of the aesthetic passions aroused by the tragedy, since it is obviously in pity, the subject of so many acrimonious quarrels (for example, in “Nietzsche Contra Wagner” ), that the spectators find the pain that makes them weep (the crucial point of Schopenhauer’s interpretation in The World as Will and Representation).
16Precaution comes naturally from that feeling of being threatened in proportion to the weakness of one’s own power, as well as to the power of what challenges it. Precaution arises from this very awareness and from the estimation of what we can withstand without suffering harm, or else of what must be prevented or avoided by fight or flight, or by any other expedient.
17The use of Aristotle’s texts surely helps us to resolve certain difficulties or misunderstandings that affect the current debate, notably: (1) the question of courage and (2) that of “fear for.”
18To treat fear ipso facto entails a controversy over virtues or values, since fear is equated with a vice, which has its opposite in the virtue of courage. Precaution, then, as acting on fear, takes on a negative value, that of a vice: cowardice. To face and take the risk would be courage; to flee from it, to avoid the fear by acting cautiously, would be cowardice, and these simplifications have not even been made, so that clarification is never reached. Yet the Aristotelian tradition offers these clarifications, as it deals with fear in relation to courage in the Nicomachean Ethics.  It is a matter of deciding whether courage is a virtue, and which, how, and, above all, when! A casuistry accompanies the effort to define it; it involves a set of questions and distinctions, notably that which attempts to fix the “right time” to exhibit courage. The rash trumpet their claim to be brave when the event is far enough away so as not to expose them, but they do not stick to it in the event itself, which alone can reveal the virtue sought. They deny fear, taking it for cowardice, but they feel it, and they betray it when the threat manifests itself and they must confront it. 
19The brave person does not measure the danger and prepare for it without feeling fear, because this is human; no one escapes it, since it is the awareness of vulnerability. But its distinctive feature is that it stands firm in the face of trials when necessary, and it acts in accordance with an idea of what noble people must do, despite the emotions that grip them. The condition of time points the acquired disposition in yet another direction, since courage is an acquired virtue that is only maintained by not avoiding trials but facing them, if necessary, making it a “way of life.” This is the point where those who attack the precautionary principle feel difficulty, because precaution avoids danger, if successful, while maintaining it would have the virtue of training, of edification.
20Such a line of argument would be, in fact, a mixture of puerility and sophistry; the second point highlights it. The Aristotelian concept of education in the virtue of courage by repeatedly facing dangerous trials is aristocratic, distinguishing the well-born and well-bred man,  while regarding the precautionary principle, in the contemporary context, we speak of unintended and disastrous events—not only natural disasters, but especially those “technological risks” arising from negligence. It would be shameful to subject defenseless, helpless people to them. Any idea of education through risk taking, here, is not only absent but absurd. “Taking risks” is the guiding idea of someone like François Ewald, who criticizes the ideal of social protection in the name of an entrepreneurial spirit that is treated as “courage,” thereby mixing heterogeneous registers of deeds, of statistics, of virtues.
21In the aforementioned texts of Aristotle, we find a major corrective to these amalgams in the idea of a “fear for one’s own” as a possibility of fear. The assimilation of things that inspire fear to those that inspire pity points us in the right direction: pity, indeed, is a fear felt for the misfortunes of others,  a fear that the very definition of fear makes possible: “A pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of some destructive or painful evil in the future.”  This introductory definition does not imply that the evils feared do not affect us personally; the cause is an idea, not an immediately experienced emotion, even if passions do accompany, for example, acts of courage.  The idea of an evil threatening others, relatives or strangers (see the discussion of tragedy), gives rise to a fear by proxy that is not only pity, but also projected action: the will to come to another’s aid.
22If Aristotle did not develop his thoughts about this “fear for others,” he nevertheless provided the template for tracing the lines of an anthropology of finitude that Christian thought has since thoroughly explored. From this perspective, it is not so much fear as precaution itself, its dimension of taking action, which is conceived as cura (Sorge), care.
23That precaution is, in relation to the fear, a taking action, follows from the fact that fear is merely the idea of a threatened evil accompanied by emotion, and thus not a measure taken to avert the danger, while precaution is this measure. More generally, at the heart of a vulnerability, experienced as a misfortune, a person can either flee in search of diversions (an inauthentic solution) or assume the risks of a mortal life, vita mortalis.
24Precaution in this way owes more to the problematic nature of care than of fear, even though the two are closely linked. It is care which is the great new ethics of modern times, despite the misunderstanding arising from the triumph of “scientific thinking” (or from its fear of thinking).
25Here, the Heidegger of Being and Time is a guide.  He wants to register care and hope, side by side, within a more primordial “care” that defines us in all cases and that is the living human being. He finds a formulation of this in Herder, who relates the story of the birth of man made from the soil. His very existence is care, before he becomes conscious of the alternative of confident hope or anxious doubt. Being-in-the-world is care; it makes us “care.” The proof of this is that it is in the face of this primary reality that constitutes us as human beings, in the face of our being “in the world” without having thought or wanted it, that some retreat and flee to live only in the routine “of” everyday cares. The apprehension that comes from this forgetful routine of life “in the world” and the unavoidable responsibility that is to take it on as it is, for better or worse—that is the true primordial care, which this time no longer has to do with fearing particular events, but with the event as such (Geschehen), that is, what happens to and befalls us. Since the world is already there, since its being does not await our existence, we inherit it before we can even think about it, weighing the pros and cons, and it is this heavy immediacy of the inheritance, this “pre-occupation” of the terrain of existence, that gives us over to the care for being and the diffuse understanding, the senseless sense, that being exists. In terms of his existential analytic, care is a “pre-ontological understanding of Being,” and it is in order to analyze it and unpack it that Heidegger returns to the theme of care from the perspective of a profound investigation of the everyday life that so profoundly lacks it. 
26His care (Sorge) cannot be confused with the cura of the ancients and the fathers of the Church. It is not even cura in the strong and supramoral sense, that is to say leadership and practical taking charge, since all must inherit it. Cura was, for those governing a domain or a state, the responsibility for making decisions, a kind of reign. The Latin curae takes up the Greek sense of kurion, the eminent things of paramount importance, the kuriotata, the most serious. Grave is the role of decision makers who are subordinate to them, since they bear the burden alone. The cura is opposed to the relative and statutory carelessness of those who must endure a life without responsibilities, since they are not free. Only those charged with cura, practical responsibility, are free and decide for themselves and others. When Heidegger makes Sorge a synonym for existence, the existential par excellence, he leaves behind this dual regime and unequal sharing of burdens, entrusting each, wherever they may be, with the care of the world. He therefore removes from this world the element of discrimination that relieves the vast number of care, reserving it—a dubious distinction—for the most eminent among them. The difference left behind is that some remain in the inauthentic element of carelessness that inheres in a busy life, while other, rarer types are awake to care with regard to what is ownmost (eigentlich), as this always concerns the “possibilities” that each existence carries in being thrown into the world before acquiring its temporary essence. But if existing itself is care, no one is excluded from it by birth or race; no one is born incurably a “slave.” Heidegger democratizes care.
27Care is an awakening: you can live asleep, but this somnolence does not do away with life; it conceals, neutralizes, and falsifies it. Between this fog and that awakening, that vigilance, there is the difference of falsity and truth. Although it is in no way to his discredit, Heidegger does not invent anything here; he follows a nontheological inspiration already present in Kant and Nietzsche.
28Kant himself followed Rousseau, whose denunciation of a world where being busy had taken the place of being free had strongly impressed him. In the later writings (“The End of All Things,”  “On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials In Theodicy” ), he assails the narrow, self-serving lifestyle of those who pursue only individual pleasure, which they take as a rule of practice, when the end of reason is to provide rules for a conduct of duty. Kant charges each of us with keeping this vigilant guard. The principle of such a guardianship is not prudence, nor even virtue in the sense of “living well.” It is the preservation of a privilege which man would do without but which makes him be: the power to legislate based on what he should be and what the creation in his hands should become. By way of a speculative fable, the “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective” had already posited that, in depriving man alone of the instincts necessary for animal life and giving him reason alone as dowry, the creator of nature had entrusted him with the “care” for completing creation itself, making him both a creator in his turn and, at the same time, responsible for the harm that could result from his reasonable practice falling under the guidance of sensitive interests. In this fog, only one thing serves as a compass and a guide: it is not mere “reason,” it is the conscience and its inalienable, though often distorted or muffled, voice.
29This unequivocal praise for the privilege of the human being as a creative creature is the awakening and observance of the criteria for the truth of existence. Care is attention, vigilance, conscientiousness, not a mere efficiency of management. The question is one of ends and not that of the arrangement of means. The man who does not care about them and leaves them up to chance lives wrongly and exists falsely. We find a remarkable echo of this in Nietzsche, who deepens the vein of this thought of existence as truth or as lie, even if he denies that Kant has a real concept of the value of life and even regards him as a eudaemonist. Nietzsche makes a sensational statement in chapter 5 of his second Untimely Meditation against the “keepers of history,” these “educated” people who constantly bury in a vain erudition what the present holds as seeds of new possibilities:
[This] race of eunuchs. .. is to stand guard over history. .. to take care that history does not make any personality “free,” that is to say truthful towards itself, truthful towards others, in both word and deed. It is only through such truthfulness that the distress, the inner misery, of modern man will come to light, and that. .. [we] will be able to combine to implant a culture which corresponds to real needs and does not, as present-day universal education teaches it to do, deceive itself as to these needs and thereby become a walking lie. 
31A responsibility, it is true, that is incumbent on knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, in a highly technological society that draws on theoretical and applied science for the means to its ends, as Descartes anticipated in the famous program of his Discourse on Method. Not because science has to know the “ends,” but because it has the “means” to make a nature with unknown ends serve ends known by men, ends that the sensible man fixes by virtue of his “needs,” however poorly identified and defined. It is on this point that Nietzsche attacks the “race of eunuchs:” here, the historians pay for any ethics with pure scientific or scholarly knowledge. There are no human “needs,” no instincts, no nature, no necessity; if nature were ever converted into a toolkit to serve such a fiction taking the place of truth nor, above all, of veracity, whoever speaks thus lies. And it is to oneself that one would be lying.
32Here Heidegger takes up Nietzsche’s proposal, giving it a scope that is both unrecognizable and hyperbolic; in so doing, he rediscovers the Augustinian vein condemning not so much “care” itself, cura, but its offspring, curiosity.  It is, at the same time, Aristotle himself who becomes the target of this critique of theoretical ethics in general. Curiosity and astonishment followed by research into causes and principles makes nature into a puzzle to be deciphered for “disinterested” ends, overlapping with the field of the technical arts while going beyond their scope. Aristotle’s Metaphysics firmly fixed man to “nature” by declaring from the outset that “all men naturally have an impulse to get knowledge,” linking this to the pleasures of the eye.  Augustine puts this sense organ, and the senses as such, on trial in his portrait of the three kinds of libido, since curiosity is libido sciendi, appetite or desire to know. In Chapter 34 of Book 10, he examines the “the pleasure of the eyes” as the supreme temptation to the lust of the flesh: corporeal light “works by a seductive and dangerous sweetness to season the life of those who blindly love the world.” As to the artisans, they do not draw from true beauty “a principle for the right use of beautiful things.” But the “lust of the eyes” has even worse effects on the human soul: like “curiosity,” this “diseased craving” pushes us to “study the operations of nature which lie beyond our grasp, when there is no advantage in knowing and the investigators simply desire knowledge for its own sake!” 
33Heidegger admits that it is from Augustine that he takes the motif for this part of Being and Time that identifies care as both the understanding and misunderstanding of existence. A kind of interest in the “things” of the world attaches us to them while detaching us from our true relationship to the world, which is existence itself. This is the paradox of “everyday life,” which resembles both the theoretical life, since it extends and extrapolates from practical interests, and swells curiosity into an ontology of the res, if not into a theology of creation as artifact. All of this is “representation,” Vorstellung and even Gestell, a generic term including all practico-theoretical interest in the visible world, and equivalent to “technology.”
34The real primordial “care” that makes us human is the antithesis of this detached and busy curiosity which for Nietzsche was the essence of the “race of eunuchs.” We cannot abstract ourselves from the world and complacently admire it or tinker arbitrarily with it, when it needs our care and our vigilance to truly “be.”
35Going beyond technology = metaphysics, then, appears as an abandonment of curiosity in order to return to the world, to existence. The strength of this counterappeal is so great that we might imagine that to follow this secular denunciation to the letter would be to undo the knot that ties us to a “technological world.” This would be quite wrong! Thinking it through, if we certainly must renew the problematic of “care,” we encounter a difficulty which is that the technological world certainly needs people who are careful, but also who possess competence or “expertise,” whom good will alone would condemn to inertia or, worse, to permanent errors. Turning away from curiosity is no longer an option, as the original reasons for doing so have lost their apologetic source in an age when we no longer believe in anything but humanity. Has the moment finally come when human beings take responsibility for a world the being of which depends on them alone? Rather than reviving outdated theological themes and preaching techno-scientific abstinence when the problem is no longer posed in this way, might we take seriously the real power of knowledge that only betrays the human destiny of those who seek an alibi everywhere? “Care” has two sides, a “vain” curiosity and a radical commitment; so be it! Let us commit ourselves radically, let us give ourselves over to legitimate curiosity, to imagination, to mature and reasoned debate! The “difference” between the moderns and Augustine is that contemporary people are determined to be in the world, of this world, as indeed the City of God was nothing more than a terrestrial city made responsible. Let us weigh the pros and cons, let us face up to the technological realities, such as nuclear and biological technologies, in the context not of a sterile, unrealistic “all or nothing,” but of what we seriously intend to do!
36A generalized sense of precaution comes from this: right now, in its character of emergency, it pertains to the fact that in the respect that we have not measured the ills that are the counterparts to the intended “good” we have taken risks. Planning for technological results without unsustainable or excessive consequences, carefully projecting the near-term and long-term outcomes, would really be to act in a precautionary manner, and would not lead us into the collateral dispute over “principle,” which we could have done without!
See Jean de Kervasdoué, Les Prêcheurs de l’apocalypse (Paris: Plon, 2007): “To be prudent, to analyze risks in order to try to avoid them, is sage advice, but to make precaution into a principle is a drama. It is no longer a matter of attempting to analyze likely developments given the information available, it is a matter of imagining the unreal, the unthinkable, on the grounds that the damage caused might be significant.”
On the opportunity to multiply principles, see José Ortega y Gasset, The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory, trans. Mildred Adams (New York: Norton, 1971).
At the first meeting of the countries bordering the North Sea, held in Bremen in 1984, it was announced that “coastal states and the EEC must not wait for proof of harmful effects before taking action.” Then, three years later in London (1987), the same countries state that “if the state of knowledge is insufficient, a strict limitation on emissions of pollutants at source should be imposed for safety reasons.” See Ronnie Harding and Elizabeth Fisher, eds., Perspectives on the Precautionary Principle (Annandale, Australia: Federation Press, 1999).
Harding and Fisher, Perspectives on the Precautionary Principle, 300.
Francisco Varela, in Réda Benkirane, La Complexité, vertiges et promesses (Paris: Le Pommier, 2002).
Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970).
Aristotle, Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts, ed. W. D. Ross (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2010).
Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Gerald F. Else (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967).
Friedrich W. Nietzsche, “Nietzsche contra Wagner,” in Friedrich W. Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. Judith Norman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 263–282.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999), 3.9 and following.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3.7.8–9: “The attitude to frightening things that the brave person really has is the attitude that the rash person wants to appear to have; hence he imitates the brave person where he can. That is why most of them are rash cowards; for, rash though they are on these [occasions for imitation], they do not stand firm against anything frightening” (emphasis added).
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3.7.13: “Bravery. .. chooses and stands firm because that is fine or because anything else is shameful.”
Aristotle, Rhetoric, 70.
Aristotle, Rhetoric, 69.
See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3.2.3.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). On care, see Heidegger, Being and Time, 243–244. See also the discussion in Ann Van Sevenant, Philosophie de la sollicitude (Paris: Vrin, 2001), 17.
Heidegger, Being and Time, 227.
Immanuel Kant, “The End of All Things,” in Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 217–231.
Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” in Toward Perpetual Peace: And Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History, ed. Pauline Kleingeld, trans. David L. Colclasure (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 3–16.
Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” in Untimely Meditations, ed. Daniel Breazeale, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 84–85.
Heidegger, Being and Time, 214–216.
Aristotle, Metaphysics: Newly Translated As a Postscript to Natural Science, with an Analytical Index of Technical Terms, trans. Richard Hope (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), 3.
Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 209–211.