The Ethics of Outer Space: A Consequentialist Perspective

  • Seth D. Baum
Part of the Space and Society book series (SPSO)


Outer space is of major interest to consequentialist ethics for two basic reasons. First, the vast expanses of outer space offer opportunities for achieving vastly more good or bad consequences than can be achieved on Earth alone. If consequences are valued equally regardless of where they occur then achieving good consequences in space is of paramount importance. For human civilization, this can mean the building of space colonies or even the macroengineering of structures like Dyson swarms. However, as a practical matter for contemporary decision making, there should be less effort directed towards space colonization and more effort towards preventing civilization-ending catastrophes. Preventing the latter will ensure that future generations of humans will then have the opportunity to colonize space. The second reason why space should be seen as having a major importance for consequentialist ethics is the possibility that humanity may encounter an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization. This possibility poses difficult questions concerning which consequences should be pursued, given that any extraterrestrials who are in a position to make contact with us are also likely to be significantly more advanced than humanity. If they are indeed more advanced, then better consequences might accrue if humanity defers or even commits some form of civilizational suicide in order to make more space for their expansion. This possibility may also lead humans to rethink our own relation to less advanced other species on Earth.


Consequentialism Ethics Extraterrestrials Outer space Space colonization 



Jacob Haqq-Misra, Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, and Tony Barrett provided helpful suggestions for the development of this paper. The editors provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft. Any errors or shortcomings are the author’s alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Catastrophic Risk InstituteSeattleUSA

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