Ethics for an Uninhabited Planet

  • Erik PerssonEmail author
Part of the Space and Society book series (SPSO)


Some authors argue that we have a moral obligation to leave Mars the way it is, even if it does not harbour any life. This claim is usually based on an assumption that Mars has intrinsic value. The problem with this concept is that different authors use it differently. In this chapter, I investigate different ways in which an uninhabited Mars is said to have intrinsic value. First, I investigate whether the planet can have moral standing. I find that this is not a plausible assumption. I then investigate different combinations of objective value and end value. I find that there is no way we can know whether an uninhabited Mars has objective end value and even if it does, this does not seem to imply any moral obligations on us. I then investigate whether an uninhabited Mars can have subjective end value. I conclude that this is very plausible. I also investigate whether an uninhabited Mars can have objective instrumental value in relation to some other, non-Mars related end value. I find also this very plausible. It is also highly plausible, however, that spreading (human or other) life to a presently uninhabited Mars can also have subjective end value, as well as objective instrumental value. I mention shortly two ways of prioritising between these values: (1) The utilitarian method of counting the number of sentient beings who entertain each value and determining the strength of the values to them. (2) Finding a compromise that allows colonisation on parts of the planet while leaving other parts untouched. These methods should be seen as examples, not as an exhaustive list. Also, I do not take a definitive stand in favour of any of the two approaches, though it seems at least prima facie that the second approach may have a better chance of actually leading to a constructive result.



The project was funded by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration through grant NNX14AR81G.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Center of Theological InquiryPrincetonUSA

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