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Environmental Ethics

Volume 4, Issue 1, Spring 1982

K. S. Shrader-Frechette
Pages 37-47

Environmental Impact Assessment and the Fallacy of Unfinished Business

Nearly all current attempts at environmental impact analysis and technology assessment fall victim to an ethical and methodological assumption that Keniston termed “the fallacy of unfinished business.” Related to one version of the naturalistic fallacy, this assumption is that technological and environmental problems have only technical, but not social, ethical, or political solutions. After using several impact analyses to illustrate the policy consequences of the fallacy of unfinished business, I suggest how it might be overcome. Next I present three standard arguments, repeatedly used in technology and environmental impact assessments, by those who subscribe to this “fallacy.” I briefty examine the logical, consequentialist, and historical reasons for rejecting all three arguments in favor of this assumption. If my suggestions are correct, then environmental impact analysis is not only a matter of discovering how to finish our technological business, but also a question of learning how to recognize the ethical and epistemological dimensions of our assessment tasks.

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