The Ethical Relevance of Earth-like Extrasolar Planets

Cockell, Charles S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 28/3 (2006), pages 303-314

The discovery of Earth-sized extrasolar planets orbiting distant stars will merit an expansion of the sphere of entities worthy of moral consideration. Although it will be a long time, if ever, before humans visit these planets, it is nevertheless worthwhile to develop an environmental ethic that encompasses these planets, as this ethic reflects on our view of life on Earth and elsewhere. A particularly significant case would be a planet that displays spectroscopic signatures of life, although the discovery of many lifeless planets might itself intensify the value of life on Earth. A derivation of Schweitzer’s general principle of “reverence for life” and similar frameworks are appropriate ethics with which to view extrasolar planets. The development of an ethical framework for extrasolar planets might provide a means to fashion a deeper and more effective environmental ethic for Earth’s biosphere.