I've been reading some of the wikis about the uncontacted peoples of the world and the often repeated attempts to establish contact with a a number of them even after being rebuffed (sometimes violently). Should these peoples have a right to complete privacy and isolation? Or is it unethical to not integrate them into modern civilisation?

Edit: As a corollary question, take for example a completely isolated island in the middle of a vast ocean where an uncontacted tribe resides. Should an offer of contact even be made to them?

  • 2
    In asking, do they have a right to privacy, as opposed to should they have a right to privacy, I think you are asking more of a legal question than an ethical one. There is, after all, a big distinction between one's ethical universe and one's reality. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 3:11
  • 1
    just noting that privacy ties in with sovereignty. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:04
  • Concerning the edit: What do you mean when you say "should"? In the heading, you ask whether or not they have the right. That can be answered with different approaches of practical philosophy. But when you say "should", what kind of answer do you expect? Are you talking about fairness? About economical considerations?
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 12:07
  • @iphigenie I'm talking purely on ethical terms. Should any contact even be made with them? Or conversely, why should we contact them at all? Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 13:06
  • 1
    @iphigenie I can actually see it both ways. When the question is "do they", an implicit follow-up question seems to be "According to which third-party?". When the question is "should they", it seems to be more of a question of personal judgement or philosophy. Perhaps, I should have do in the title and should in the body :) In any event, your answer addresses my intended question admirably. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


If you're asking about the moral aspects of forcing them into society, there are different approaches you could look at:

In general, social contract theories assume that the act of joining society has to be 1) voluntarily 2) out of self-interest 3) based on strict reciprocity. As society makes demands on you, your rights and your behaviour, it seems plausible that you should have to agree to that in advance. We would then conclude that they do have the right to remain outside the society. You can find that thought expressed in the three major social contract theories, namely the Leviathan, Locke's Treatises and Rousseau's Social Contract.

A different example is Kant, who claimed that there's a moral obligation to leave the state of nature and that one may use force to make others join a legal state. There must be a legal relation between all human beings who could interact with one another or have influence on others (which, today, is pretty much everyone). According to Kant, they would not have a right to remain the way they are then, and in fact, I think that's plausible: They demand property and to be left alone. These claims are dealt with legally, and as soon as they are legal persons, they are part of society. Of course the native tribe (e.g.) is a society in itself. The "problem" is that Kant claims that the same applies to communities/states. They, too, need a legal relation to deal with differing interests. You can find some details here or in the first part of Metaphysics of Morals. On the relation between states, have a look at The Perpetual Peace, a very interesting short book.

This are just two examples how your question could be answered, I bet there are other approaches I didn't think of. I wish to add that, whether we agree with these approaches or not, I find them much more satisfying than an answer that is based purely on rational considerations.

  • You mention that they claim property, which is a legal matter. Our legal system allows humans to own land. But this concept isn't true for all cultures. Some cultures may just be happy to live on the land, but don't claim to own land, just as animals can live on land, without having to claim it.
    – Kenshin
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 9:55
  • 1
    @Chris I'm not sure that actually matters. They might not join the dispute, they might not feel part of society. That doesn't mean society doesn't absorb them. Depends on the perspective, I guess.
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 10:03
  • 1
    let us continue this discussion in chat
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 10:07
  • 1
    I don't think the Kantian argument is quite right. Surely the uncontacted tribe is a society, and a legal entity in itself. Each person in this society has moved from a state of nature to live 'legally' with the others in his tribe. We then have a world of societies, each sovereign - presumably social contract theory works out in this world too. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:12
  • 1
    Why the downvote?
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 11:10

Yes they should have a right to privacy. Why should they be forced to be integrated and consequently almost inevitably become dependent on society. Why would we want them to be integrated against their will? Unaccustomed to modern civilization and the skills valued for employment in our society, these people will probably just become dependent on welfare payments, and be later accused of leeching from society. If they want to be left alone, it is in everyone's best interest to respect that.

  • 1
    Thank you. FWIW, though there are examples of contacted tribes who have not done well upon integration, the converse also exist. Setting that aside, take for example a completely isolated island in the middle of a vast ocean where an uncontacted tribe resides. Should an offer of contact even be made to them? Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 13:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .