New technologies are characterized by various forms of incertitude that challenge both scientific expertise and regulatory action. In this paper, we argue that these incertitudes place experts in irreducible double bind situations, which may end in paralysis. Double binds emerge when primary injunctions are contradicted by secondary injunctions at a different logical level, which affects the interpretation of the primary injunction. Adequately addressing the challenges posed by new technologies requires phronesis, or pragmatic, context-dependent and action-oriented knowledge grounded in value deliberation. Using endocrine disruptors and carbon nanotubes as empirical examples, we argue that in relation to new technologies involving various kinds of incertitude, being phronimos-the person who can do phronesis-involves synthetically and simultaneously enacting parts of the three interrelated domains of knowledge, ethics and institutions, also across different logical levels. The special kind of experience-based phronesic skill that required in the regulatory appraisal of new technologies is thus fundamentally related to the human capacity of pattern recognition. Finally, we argue that being aware of and making full use of practical wisdom thus conceptualized enables a new operationalization of the precautionary principle.
- Double bind
- New technologies