When meeting alien civilizations we will be encountering cultures that developed entirely without any contact with us.

Let's say we encountered an alien race and they seemed almost exactly like us. Human rights, free speech, free press, democracy,...

But then they consider personhood to start 6 months after birth and even have restaurants that serve newborn babies.

Or maybe a civilization where bestiality or necrophilia is common even a traditional practice in their society? Maybe people consider necrophilia to be a way of "honoring the dead".

Or what if we run into pedophilic aliens?

How do we respond to that? Do we accept them, do we try to change them? If we try to change them do we gently nudge them or go to war? Do we just avoid them?

And what if they have a whole wealth of technology and resources we could benefit from if we decide to just let it go?

And then what if they don't? But how would we go about applying morality to species completely foreign to this world? Assume we somehow come into contact with a sapient species that is say... completely hive-minded for their survival or something. Compliance, submission, and participation are absolutely necessary not only for the survival of their society, but for their species as a whole.

Freedom is not tolerated. Those who would say otherwise are mentally ill, and are to be put to death for the greater good of the species.

For species completely foreign to this planet, they have developed in vastly different ways. How would it be possible to apply our morality when our societies intermingle? And when there is no possible way to prevent conflict and war after the initial contact, who is right?

I'm interested to see what ideas you can think of

  • This seems to be kind of a compound question. Are you offering these as examples of how an alien culture could potentially have radically different values or do you want answers that address the specific examples you raise? – virmaior Aug 14 '14 at 6:34
  • Little bit of both if you can. Alien culture with the answers of my examples please. – cameron Aug 14 '14 at 7:49

In the fictitious universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive, prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. This conceptual law applies particularly to civilizations which are below a certain threshold of development, preventing starship crews from using their superior technology to impose their own values or ideals on them.

The idea is that if civilizations have developed to the point of Warp drive capabillity, then they would have equivalently mature ethical theories, which loosely translates to; the smarter they are, the more ethical they should be, therefore first contact is warranted. That is, a barbaric civilization wouldnt possess the intellectual sophistication to have a whole wealth of technology and resources we could benefit from, these are generally the fruits of refinement.

  • So if it had the intelligence, then what would happen. – cameron Aug 14 '14 at 16:49

We have many things that are lawful in a country but unlawful in other. In India alcohol is banned in a state, while it is allowed in other. It is obvious that humans will follow their law on their land and aliens will follow their law on their land. This might change only by conquering other.


I've developed my answer this question on basis of my response to a related but different question here: Generalize Article I of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


I believe that:

All life comes into its own as free and equal in dignity, rights and consideration. Such life as is endowed with reason and conscience also must observe this truth in transactions with any other form of life.

As an individual that also places value on non-human life, the restriction to human beings seems relatively arbitrary. Moreover, the usage of brotherhood comes off as a bit chauvinistic. All equal in dignity, we're just also going to ignore the existence of women and non-binary transgender identifying individuals in the next sentence. Starting with these two targets, I worked to modify the statement.

My personal adaptation would shift from usage of human beings to life. Fortunately, for extension purposes, life isn't defined exceptionally well right now, but definitely includes humans. Unfortunately, that opens up what should be a relatively straightforward statement to a certain degree of discussion. Oh well. That's why there's a whole stack exchange to discuss this issue.

Likewise, I append consideration to dignity and rights. This has the purpose, in human systems, of also mandating treatment in excess of the minimum required, and in non-human systems, of acting towards other life in accordance with its specific conditions and needs. That is to say, when I take consideration of other humans, I give of my time and resources to others. When I take consideration of other life, I choose vegan dietary options such as do not harm others and respect eco-systems even at non-zero financial cost.

Moreover, I can conceive of both Homo sapiens that may or may not be captured by the term "human beings" that lack reason or conscience and, for those reasons, should not be held to the same standards as other human beings. Likewise, with the extension beyond human rights, restricting reason and conscience to humans in particular becomes meaningless. For that reason, I developed a special class characterized exclusively by capacity for reason and conscience, and charged it with the implementation of my statement (as no other life would be capable of reading, understanding, and acting on it).

I'm left with something that isn't really a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but, in my opinion, largely subsumes the Declaration, and also address broader and more difficulty issues with its provision for just treatment of non-human life.


But then they consider personhood to start 6 months after birth and even have restaurants that serve newborn babies.

This doesn't seem substantially less arbitrary than birth or conception from a purely theological viewpoint. I always thought that life could arguably considered to begin with the termination of breast-feeding or on first procreation just as easily. Six months seems fairly reasonable here.

I would argue against on the basis of potential social value of six-month-olds. My generalized declaration mandates consideration by rational agents, and this would require procreation in order to sustain and reasoning population for purposes of management. Likewise, eating a six-month-old, despite the six-month-olds debatable level of mental development, would likely be an infinite negative on that agents utility curve, and therefore is exceedingly unlikely to be a possibility if optimizing in global utility (which I consider a reasonable implementation of consideration). I believe this forms a reasonable, open, and non-visceral reaction that could be addressed through dialogue and should violate no cultural rites.

Or maybe a civilization where bestiality or necrophilia is common even a traditional practice in their society? Maybe people consider necrophilia to be a way of "honoring the dead".

Bestiality suffers from problems with consent, but given some degree of technology to allow communication with animals really has no direct reason for restriction. In my limited experience with bestiality law, in general seems to be implemented only after someone (of any species) is hurt for irresponsible practice of bestiality, but we don't ban human sexual intercourse for similar reasons, so I believe this is really a question of technology on consent and animal welfare.

Necrophilia only suffers from global utility loss in spread of disease and personal reservations within the community. If their communities had no reservations with necrophilia I believe there would be no reason to ask them to change their practices, and we should certainly not impose any arbitrary restrictions on them. Likewise, we should open our hearts and minds to this custom - it seems it could easily be rude to not allow them to honor our dead for exclusive reason of our own personal discomfort with the idea.

Or what if we run into pedophilic aliens?

Like bestiality, this suffers from problems with consent, but in addition risks mental damage to future rational managing agents. Bans on pedophilia are something that I would be more comfortable enforcing because the degree of social consequence, but, of course, it worked fairly well for the Greeks.


From a strictly game theory perspective, on first contact I would immediately move for comprehensive preemptive strike. Interstellar civilizations would have very little difficulty in causing limitless destruction to each other, and consequently the only reasonable degree of protection against catastrophic miscommunication or other faux pas would be immediate and complete annihilation of any technological proficient agents.

I do this on basis of equal consideration as I consider this a charge to management - rational agents are the protectors of life first, and specific life second. This is the only guarantee for protection of life (removal of mutual destruction from the possibility table) and while technologically and morally costly, has a finite cost compared with a probabilistically infinite cost, which for any non-zero probability must still be avoided by a risk-neutral agent.

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