Cosmocentric Intrinsic Value (1 Viewer)

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In the early 1990’s, space scientists Richard Haynes and Christopher McKay identified a lacuna within environmental ethics while investigating the ethics of terraforming Mars. According, biocentric ethics, spreading the seeds of life to lifeless worlds is by default permissible, and arguably obligatory. Their main source was Eugene Hargrove’s (1986) landmark anthology Beyond Spaceship Earth, whose authors discussed the ethical implications of space exploration. However, none of the authors in Beyond Spaceship Earth argued that nonliving worlds were directly morally considerable. For example, Holmes Rolston, III, argued that lifeless worlds that do not systemically contribute to the intrinsic value of life nevertheless possess a formed integrity that calls for ideals of attitude, but not direct moral duties. Yet the intuitive and religiously sanctioned principle of the sanctity of existence indeed calls for direct moral duties to a lifeless Mars. Haynes and McKay suggested that this lacuna within environmental ethics could be filled by a cosmocentric ethic that would recognize the intrinsic value of Mars even if Mars proved to be lifeless. The metaethical question is whether there is cosmocentric intrinsic value.

I believe that Rolston’s biocentric intrinsic value may be reconstructed and transformed into cosmocentric intrinsic value. According to Rolston, the functional organization and behavior of living organisms is evidence for biological intrinsic valuing, and that genetic programs are the efficient cause of such functional organization. However, Richard Lewontin and others have argued that there are several reasons for believing that genetic programs will never turn out to be useful explanatory posits within biology. Nevertheless, Rolston’s evidence for biological intrinsic valuing remains untouched and must be accounted for.

According to the selected effect theory of functional organization, a thing’s function is just what it was selected for by natural selection. Therefore, we can easily account for functional organization within biology by simply appealing to the natural selection of physical structures and behaviors, and eliminate ontologically onerous and epistemologically otiose genetic programs.

In addition, as early as 1864, George Perkins Marsh in Man and Nature claimed that the weathering of granite was a form of natural selection in the nonliving domain. More recently, the Rice University team that discovered buckminsterfullerene (C60, a.k.a., “buckyballs”) clearly realized that the formation of C60 was the result of a selective process; this realization allowed them to do a proper functional analysis of C60, enabling them to quickly zero-in on the soccerball structure, the discovery for which they received the Nobel prize. Such examples may be multiplied. In general, natural selection is a pervasive force that shapes physical nature at scales that range from the level of a proton to galactic superclusters, and perhaps even the universe itself.

Natural selection of physical systems entails that they are functionally organized—if they were not, they would fall apart and be selected against. Consequently, consistency demands that we recognize the noninstrumental, nonextrinsic, morally considerable, biological-like intrinsic values of “mere” physical systems. Thus, weak anthropocentric Rolstonian formed integrities that call for ideals of attitude are supplemented by cosmocentric Rolstonian intrinsic values that imply moral duties.
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