Skip to main content

Common origins and the ethics of planetary seeding

  • Tony Milligan (a1)

Faced with a choice between attempting to seed another world with terrestrially-sourced microbes (with which we would have a shared origin) and microbes sourced from elsewhere within the solar system (whose origins might therefore differ), would we have any non-instrumental ethical reason to favour the terrestrial microbes? What follows will argue that in relation to the goals of promoting life similar to our own, or even simply microbial life, we might conceivably make such an appeal and do so in a defensible manner. However, in no case would such a consideration operate as a silencer for rival considerations (such as likelihood of success, enhancing diversity or historical justice). The thought experiment serves to highlight the diversity of considerations which are in play in ethical deliberation about matters of astrobiology and the role of practical wisdom rather than trumping considerations.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Ariew, A. (2007). Teleology. In The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, ed. Hull, D.L. & Ruse, M., pp. 160181. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Attfield, R. (1981). The good of trees. J. Value Inq. 15, 3554.
Cicovacki, P. (2012). The Restoration of Albert Schweitzer's Ethical Vision. Continuum, London.
Cockell, C.S. (2005). The value of microorganisms. Environ. Ethics 27, 375390.
Cockell, C.S. (2007). Originism: ethics and extraterrestrial life. J. Br. Interplanet. Soc. 60, 147153.
Cockell, C.S. (2011). Ethics and Extraterrestrial Life. In Humans in Outer Space: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Landfester, U., Remuss, N.-L., Schrogl, K.-U. & Worms, J.-C., pp. 80101. Springer, Wien.
Cockell, C.S. & Jones, H.L. (2009). Advancing the case for microbial conservation. Oryx 43, 520526.
Dancy, J. (1985). The role of imaginary cases in ethics. Pac. Philos. Quart. 66, 141153.
Genta, G. & Rycroft, M. (2003). Space, the Final Frontier? Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Mautner, M. (2009). Life-centered ethics, and the human future in space. Bioethics 23, 433440.
McKay, C.P. (2013). Astrobiology and society: the long view. In Encountering Life in the Universe: Ethical and Social Implications of Astrobiology, ed. Impey, C., Spitz, A.H. & Stoeger, W., pp. 158166. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Milligan, T. (2007). Lockean puzzles. J. Phil. Educ. 41, 351361.
Milligan, T. (2015). Nobody Owns the Moon: The Ethics of Space Exploitation. McFarland, Jefferson, NC.
Persson, E. (2014). What does it take to establish that a world is uninhabited prior to exploitation? A question of ethics as well as science. Challenges 5, 224238.
Rolston, H. (1986). The preservation of natural value in the solar system. In Environmental Ethics and the Solar System, ed. Hargrove, E.C., pp. 140182. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.
Rosenberg, A. & McShea, D.W. (2008). The Philosophy of Biology. Routledge, New York.
Rummel, J.D., Race, M.S. & Horneck, G. (2012). Ethical considerations for planetary protection in space exploration. Astrobiology 12, 10171023.
Sessions, G. (1995). Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Shambhala, Boston.
Smith, B. (2002). Analogy in moral deliberation: the role of imagination and theory in ethics. J. Med. Ethics 28, 244248.
Smith, K.C. (2009). The trouble with intrinsic value: an ethical primer for astrobiology. In Exploring the Origin, Extent, and Future of Life: Philosophical, Ethical, and Theological Perspectives, ed. Bertka, C., pp. 261280. Cambridge University Press.
Smith, K.C. (2014). Manifest complexity: a foundational ethic for astrobiology. Space Policy 30, 209214.
Sorensen, R. (1992). Thought Experiments. Oxford University Press.
Sylvan, R. (1973). Is there a need for a new, an environmental ethic? In Environmental Ethics: An Anthology, ed. Light, A. & Rolston, H. III, pp. 4752. Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2003.
Thomson, J.J. (1971). A defense of abortion. Philos. Public Aff. 1, 4766.
Velleman, J.D. (2009). How We Get Along. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 60 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 370 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 16th September 2016 - 23rd April 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.