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Ewald (2002). The return of Descartes’s malicious demon

Bibliographic details:

Ewald, F. (2002). The return of Descartes’s malicious demon: An outline of a philosophy of precaution. Embracing risk: The changing culture of insurance and responsibility, 273-301.


The new paradigm of security calls forth a new economy of rights and duties. While the language of risk, against a background of scientific expertise, used to be sufficient to describe all types of insecurity, the new paradigm sees uncertainty reappear in the light of even newer science. It bears witness to a deeply disturbed relationship with a science that is consulted less for the knowledge it offers than for the doubt it insinuates. Moral obligations are swallowed up in public ethics, and the principle of responsibility is seen as a reflection of a brand-new notion of precaution. The paradigm of responsibility is a paradigm of insurance—it assumes the logic of loss compensation. The paradigm of solidarity is also a paradigm of insurance, of universal and indeterminate insurance, of social and compulsory insurance. It is not so much concerned with voluntary and contractual forms of compensation as with the institution of pools of all kinds. The paradigm linked to the precautionary principle will undoubtedly remain a paradigm of insurance, but in a new shape that will have to integrate new cultural boundary conditions.