Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published (Chapter 18) in J.S.J. Schwartz and T. Milligan (eds.), The Ethics of Space Exploration, Space and Society, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39827-3_18


Copyright © Frans G. von der Dunk 2016


In order to properly address the legal issues posed by a proper detection of extra-terrestrial life (not just a mere serious possibility, as with the recent discovery of actual water on Mars), because of its extraordinary character it is necessary to briefly revisit the foundations of ‘the law’ as a social construct, and explore its relationship to ‘ethics’ as another social construct. The type of ‘law’ being discussed here is, of course, man-made, and made to deal with human activities, including human reactions to (other) events. Human-made law has for example been defined as “the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision”.1 Further to such a general definition, human-made law is, essentially, meant to achieve two, sometimes cooperating, sometimes contradicting aims. As most people would readily acknowledge, law is first supposed to establish some semblance of justice. What ‘justice’ is, is at least partially subjective and culturally determined, and moreover shifting over time. In order to properly adapt thereto, law also has its own inherent system for change—procedures for creating new treaties overriding old ones at the international level, procedures for creating new legislation overriding old legislation on the national level by parliamentary (or other) procedures. ...

In sum, depending upon the level of intelligence and advancement of extra-terrestrial life, the foundations of the law will suffice, be thoroughly shaken in a need for a compromise, or found to be totally irrelevant in relation to such extra-terrestrial life—and perhaps elsewhere, too…