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The Peer ETI Slice

Just institutions will frame our ethical deliberation if we conclude that ETI are our peers in rational intelligence. We might begin by invoking the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, sometimes referred to as the ethic of reciprocity, can be found among the ancients in the Code of Hammurabi and in many of the world’s religions. In Confucius’ Analectswe find: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” A Hindu variant is found in the Mahabharata: “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self” (Wikipedia).

In the West, the Golden Rule has grown into the modern concept of human dignity. Jesus sowed a seed: NRS Matthew 7:12 "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” One branch of the resulting growth is Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative. For Kant, the formal principle from which all moral duties are derived is this: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I also will that my maxim should become a universal one” (Kant, 70; Narveson, 248). In sum, we should treat peers as equal to ourselves; and we should care for their welfare just as we would care for our own.

Jesus’ Golden Rule and Kant’s Categorical Imperative have greatly influenced the value system of the Enlightenment and, hence, the modern culture of which we are a part. If we find that ETI resemble us enough to be considered our peers, then we might invoke the value system of the Enlightenment - that is, we might invoke the Golden Rule and impute dignity to our space neighbors. Our moral disposition would be to approach our new neighbors with operative values such as equality, liberty, dignity, justice, and mutuality. We would strive to establish just institutions.

When it comes to dealing with ETI as individuals, we would impute dignity to them - that is, we would treat each as a moral end and not merely as a means. “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end,” wrote Kant (Kant, 96). In a more contemporary and theological medium, we might say: “human dignity is the inherent worth or value of a human person from which no one or nothing may detract” (Alan Falconer in Childress and Macquarrie, 278). Might we impute dignity to ETI? Might we treat them with dignity? Might “dignity” become the label for identifying our responsibility?

The imputation of dignity toward ETI should be accompanied by a denial of our own right unilaterally to exploit them. We might encourage the development of bilateral commerce, of course; but we should do so presuming the equality and liberty of our trading partners. We might also restrict our intrusion into their ecosphere. We might adapt for ETI the Race and Randolph principle aimed at ETNL: “respect the extraterrestrial ecosystem and do not substantively or irreparably alter it (or its evolutionary trajectory).” In sum, the ethical principles we invoke to deal with peer ETI might draw upon our Enlightenment values. We could formulate principles applicable to ETI which we now invoke to maintain terrestrial justice and peace.

 Printer-friendly | Contributed by: Ted Peters

Go to Genetics Topic Index

The Peer ETI Slice

Cutting the Ethical Pie for Engaging ETI: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
The Inferior ETI Slice
Hostile? Peaceful? Salvific?
The Superior ETI Slice


Ted Peters
Dr. Ted Peters

See also:

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms
Will ET End Religion?
Are We Alone?
The Relation of Science & Religion