Terraforming means trying to make Mars capable of supporting lots of life, like Earth.
From Monash philosopher Robert Sparrow at Nautilus:
Enthusiasts often advertise space exploration as an opportunity to be virtuous. “To boldly go”—as they say in Star Trek—is valuable mostly because courage is a virtue. But one can’t have the opportunity to develop virtues without the possibility of demonstrating vices, and terraforming Mars would exhibit two major vicious character traits.
One is insensitivity to beauty. Mars has many features of extraordinary natural beauty. It’s is home to the tallest known volcano on any planet, Olympus Mons, whose cap reaches 13.6 miles high—two and a half times the height of Mount Everest. Mars also has arguably the most spectacular canyon system in the solar system, which stretches to about the length of the United States and has troughs 6 to 7 times deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Martian landscape is a system in flux, sculpted by wind and other complex atmospheric and geophysical cycles. Because terraforming would return liquid water to Mars it would radically transform the landscape, destroying its distinctive beauty.
A failure to respond appropriately to beauty is a vice because it makes living a characteristically human life impossible. One thing that distinguishes us from mere brutes is our appreciation of beauty. A person who can wander through the Grand Canyon without being appropriately moved by its beauty is missing something in their make up as well as in the world. Such a person will also struggle to realize characteristically human goods like the development of skills, such as artistic and musical skills, and relationships, such as love, that are premised on the recognition of aesthetic qualities. Only someone insensitive to beauty would not recognise the destruction of the Martian landscape as a tragedy. More.
A question nags: Wouldn’t the effort be better spent terraforming wrecked environments on Earth? We wouldn’t have to go to work. We could wake up surrounded by it. Thoughts?
Note: Yes, yes, this is Mars morning here. We have neglected the poor old thing for too long. It might be the only place in the galaxy besides Earth that really does have life, no bull.
See also: Life on Mars: New focus on deciding where to look “Become the microbe”? Implicit in the discussion is a key difference between life and non-life: Life forms seek to live. They don’t just sit there as complex, organized structures; they seek to preserve that state. Is that a hallmark of life, should we find an unknown type somewhere?
Was evidence for liquid water on Mars really discovered last year? Doubts surface. On the bright side, we are now, as noted earlier, looking at specific locations and the hypotheses generated are much less “shot in the dark” than they used to be.
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The dream lives:
3 Replies to “Philosopher: No, do not “terraform” Mars. Appreciate beauty.”
He bases the premise of his entire article on a science fiction novel
Ironically, the good philosopher also mentions excessive hubris in his article
As the video you highlighted illustrates, I don’t think the good philosopher, who apparently thinks a science fiction novel has realistic implications, has to worry about us terraforming Mars anytime soon.
The video mentioned many difficult problems. Some significant problems were left out of the video, but one huge problem that was left out of the video was the fact that Mars is to small to hold hydrogen:
Of supplemental note:
Moreover, the terra-forming of the Earth itself, into a planet that was able to support human life, was far more complex, time consuming, process than the good professor seems to realize. In fact, it is evidence for Intelligent Design:
I don’t see what the problem would be. There is nobody on mars to appreciate its beauty. Terraforming it would increase its beauty for the simple fact that there would be people around to appreciate it. Even if the entire planet’s mountains were reduced to plains, it would be an improvement. If all of the vast wonders of landscape were reduced to a techno-dystopia, it would still be more beautiful than it is now simply because of the presence of people to appreciate it.
Now, I appreciate having the discussion now, long before we go there. We should know where we are going, why, and the ethics of doing so. However, the idea that we should leave a dead rock alone so it will stay beautiful to people who will never see it, seems to me a bit wrong.
Of related note to ‘appreciating beauty’: