George Smith, 23 Lexington Ave. No. 1739, New York, NY 10010. GeoSmith@msn.com
A serious and durable Mars exploration effort-one capable of garnering widespread respect and support needs an intelligible and systematic framework for approaching issues of environmental ethics. This presentation proposes a practical ethical system developed by an unaligned professional, and shows how it works when applied to a particular problem (terraforming).
The first part of the presentation will briefly describe the interconnectedness of space exploration and environmentalism, then move to a critical analysis of contemporary approaches to environmental ethics. Special focuses: the notion of ethical extension; the problem of demarcation; the proliferation of centrisms (anthropocentrism, geocentrism, biocentrism, cosmocentrism, etc.); the preference for general theories of value rather than practical ethical systems; the call for a cosmocentric ethic; the neglected polycentricity of practical ethical systems.
The second part of the presentation will set out the main features of a mainstream, philosophically-justified ethical system that can be characterized as: (a) rule-based, in that it centers on a specific set of general moral rules; (b) rationalistic, in that it does not depend upon concepts that are unanalyzable or transcendent; (c) sentience-oriented, in that it makes the demarcation decision in terms of sentience or consciousness; and (d) empirical, in that it depends upon a balancing of predictable harms and benefits, and tends to push ethical inquiry in the direction of measurable facts.
The third part of the presentation will be an application of the proposed system to a particular scenario: Assume humans have extensively explored and studied Mars, including indigenous microbes found in vents a mile beneath the surface. The outpost has evolved into a permanent colony, and the colonists have developed plans for a long-term terraforming project. Should the plans proceed?
The presentation will conclude with a brief evaluation of the proposed system, from both space-exploration and environmentalist perspectives.