Summary: This clip is titled, "A Precautionary Tale," and is part 6 from the series, Argument: A Field Guide. The clip offers an animated discussion of what is called the precautionary principle, which refers to the idea that agents (e.g., people, corporations, governments) should be cautious, even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully understood. This can be a guiding principle for ethical action, as when a government errors on the side of caution by legislating a reduction of CO2 emissions, even if a minority of scientists still refute anthropogenic climate change. Agents cannot wait for certainty because absolute certainty is logically impossible. Agents must act with some uncertainty; they must take risks, and they do this by relying on theory. So the next time someone dismisses your sociological theory as opinion and demands "facts," remind your accuser that theory isn't mere conjecture. Theory is typically a well-tested set of rules. It's based on logic. It is supported by repeated observation, and it has been used to make accurate predictions. Note that the agents described in sociological theories often wind up responding to those theories in some way, which makes repeated observation and prediction difficult in sociology. However, this is only an added layer of complexity and is not an indication that sociological theory is only as useful as the latest conspiracy "theory" posted on YouTube.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist