The ethics of outer space: A consequentialist perspective

Outer space offers vast opportunities to do good by humanity or by extraterrestrial civilizations.

Seth D. Baum, 2016. The ethics of outer space: A consequentialist perspective. In James S.J. Schwartz and Tony Milligan (editors), The Ethics of Space Exploration. Berlin: Springer, pages 109-123.

Pre-print: Click here to view a full pre-print of the article (pdf).

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 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.

Created 24 Mar 2016 * Updated 29 Jul 2016