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Respect for the World: Universal Ethics and the Morality of Terraforming

This dissertation aims to develop an ethical system that can properly frame such questions as the morality of large-scale efforts to transform inanimate parts of nature, for example, proposals to terraform Mars. Such an ethics diverges from traditional approaches to ethics because it expands the class of entities regarded as morally considerable to include inanimate entities. I approach the task by building on the environmental ethical theory of Paul W. Taylor, as developed in his 1986 book Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics. I discuss various criticisms of Taylor and propose two extensions to his theory: an expansion of the scope of moral considerability to include all concrete material objects and the introduction of the concept of variable moral significance (the notion that all entities have inherent worth but some have more than others). Using Taylor’s modified and extended theory as a foundation, I develop something I call universal ethics. This is an ethical framework whose key elements are a fundamental ethical attitude of respect for the world and a principle of minimal harm. Universal ethics regards all concrete material entities, whether living or not, and whether natural or artefactual, as inherently valuable, and therefore as entitled to the respect of moral agents. I offer a defence of this ethical framework and discuss a number of practical applications, including criticism of proposals for the terraforming of Mars. I conclude that terraforming Mars or any other celestial body at this point in our history would be morally wrong. I also suggest that universal ethics provides an ethical foundation for efforts to protect Antarctica, and that it has implications for our relations to other inanimate parts of our world, including artefacts.

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
1 Introduction For a number of years, I have been reading and thinking about the subject of terraforming – massively re-engineering an entire planet, such as Mars, to make it more earth-like. Terraforming can be defined as “a process of planetary engineering, specifically directed at enhancing the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to support life. The ultimate in terraforming would be to create an uncontained planetary biosphere emulating all the functions of the biosphere of the Earth – one that would be fully habitable for human beings” (Fogg, 1995, pp. 89-90). The subject has formed either the central theme or the background to science- fiction stories with extra-terrestrial settings since at least 1930, with the publication of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (Fogg, 1995, p. 13). The word “terraforming” itself was coined by Jack Williamson, writing as Will Stewart, in his 1942 novelette Collision Orbit (Fogg, 1995, p. 16). Other science fiction works 1 dealing with terraforming include Farmer in the Sky (Robert Heinlein, 1950) which is set within the framework of efforts to terraform the Jovian satellite Ganymede, the “trilogy” Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2001a, 2001b, 2001c), and the work Genesis: An Epic Poem by Frederick Turner (1988), both Robinson’s and Turner’s works being descriptive of the terraforming of Mars. In recent years, the idea has also received attention in the scientific and engineering literature 2 , including Sagan (1973), McKay (1982), Fogg (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995), and McKay, Toon & Kasting (1991). Terraforming is eco-engineering on a massive, planetary scale. One starts with a dead, cold, dry planet which lacks an atmosphere (such as Mars) and takes measures to produce and retain a breathable atmosphere, to produce liquid water, and to raise the ambient temperature to a level suitable for human beings. Plants, animals and human beings will all be able to grow and survive there and eventually the planet can become self-sufficient and fully colonized by human beings. The question arises as to whether terraforming projects would be ethical. The question comes into particularly sharp focus in relation to the planet Mars, where it is proposed to melt the polar caps and the permafrost to produce liquid surface water, in the 1 Fogg (2003) non-exhaustively lists works of fiction dealing with terraforming and includes another 8 works additional to those cited above. 2 Fogg (2003) lists non-fictional works dealing with terraforming and identifies 9 books, 113 technical papers and 36 articles.

International thesis/dissertation

Autore: Paul Francis York Contatta »

Composta da 209 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 425 click dal 24/07/2006.


Consultata integralmente 2 volte.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.