Duties to Extraterrestrial Microscopic Organisms

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C.S. Cockell (2005), JBIS, 58, 367-373

Refcode: 2005.58.367
Keywords: Ethics, micro-organisms, teloempathy, extraterrestrial life, planetary protection, Mars

Abstract:
Formulating a normative axiology for the treatment of extraterrestrial microscopic organisms, should they ever be found, requires an extension of environmental ethics to beyond the Earth. Using an ethical framework for the treatment of terrestrial micro-organisms, this paper elaborates a similar ethic for the treatment of extraterrestrial microscopic organisms. An ethic of `teloempathy' allows for the moral considerability of any organism that has `interests', based on rudimentary qualities of conativism, and therefore allows for an identical treatment of all life, related or not related to life on Earth. Although, according to this ethic, individual extraterrestrial microscopic organisms have a good of their own and even `rights', at this level the ethic can only be theoretical, allowing for the inevitable destruction of many individual organisms during the course of human exploratory missions, similarly to the daily destruction of microbes by humans on Earth. A holistic teloempathy, an operative ethic, not only provides a framework for human exploration, but it also has important implications for planetary protection and proposals to implement planetary-scale atmospheric alterations on other bodies. Even prior to the discovery of extraterrestrial life, or the discovery of a complete absence of such life, this exercise yields important insights into the moral philosophy that guides our treatment of terrestrial micro-organisms.

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