Directed Panspermia, Wild Animal Suffering, and the Ethics of World-Creation

Gary David O'BRIEN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Directed panspermia is the deliberate seeding of lifeless planets with microbes, in the hopes that, over evolutionary timescales, they will give rise to a complex self-sustaining biosphere on the target planet. Due to the immense distances and timescales involved, human beings are unlikely ever to see the fruits of their labours. Such missions must therefore be justified by appeal to values independent of human wellbeing. In this article, I investigate the values that a directed panspermia mission might promote. Paying special attention to the outcome in which sentient animals evolve, I argue that we have strong reasons to believe the value of a mission would be negative. Research on wild animal suffering has shown that there is a huge amount of suffering among wild animals on Earth. I argue that there are structural features of evolution by natural selection which explain the prevalence of suffering on Earth and make it predictable that suffering would prevail on the target planet too. Finally, using insights from procreative ethics I argue on non-consequentialist grounds that creators have duties to their sentient creations which cannot be met in directed panspermia missions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-102
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Philosophy
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank Guy Kahane, Jeff McMahan, Oscar Horta, and two anonymous referees whose insightful comments improved the article enormously. I'd also like to thank Rhys Borchert and Adam Gibbons for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the article and Claudius Gros and Michael Mautner for taking the time to talk to me about their proposals. Finally, I'd like to thank the K-strategist Una O'Brien for all her support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Applied Philosophy


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