Respect for the world: Universal ethics and the morality of terraforming

Abstract
This dissertation aims to develop an ethical system that can properly frame such questions as the morality of large-scale efforts to transform inanimate parts of nature, for example, proposals to terraform Mars. Such an ethics diverges from traditional approaches to ethics because it expands the class of entities regarded as morally considerable to include inanimate entities. I approach the task by building on the environmental ethical theory of Paul W. Taylor, as developed in his 1986 book Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics. I discuss various criticisms of Taylor and propose two extensions to his theory: an expansion of the scope of moral considerability to include all concrete material objects and the introduction of the concept of variable moral significance (the notion that all entities have inherent worth but some have more than others). Using Taylor’s modified and extended theory as a foundation, I develop something I call universal ethics. This is an ethical framework whose key elements are a fundamental ethical attitude of respect for the world and a principle of minimal harm. Universal ethics regards all concrete material entities, whether living or not, and whether natural or artefactual, as inherently valuable, and therefore as entitled to the respect of moral agents. I offer a defence of this ethical framework and discuss a number of practical applications, including criticism of proposals for the terraforming of Mars. I conclude that terraforming Mars or any other celestial body at this point in our history would be morally wrong. I also suggest that universal ethics provides an ethical foundation for efforts to protect Antarctica, and that it has implications for our relations to other inanimate parts of our world, including artefacts
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