Research Topic:

The panelists for the 2018 Edinburgh Science Festival event, “Get Your Hands Off Me You Damned Dirty Alien?” (from left): Ben Sachs (host), Sarah Rugheimer, David Wilkinson, Alasdair Cochrane, Mark Coeckelbergh

Since the birth of exoplanet science in 1995, more than 3500 new worlds have been discovered in orbit around distant stars. It is very natural to think that finding other worlds–tantalisingly, perhaps other inhabitants as well–should have deep consequences for humanity’s self-understanding. This motivates many scientists, and is central to the ways in which exoplanet science is communicated to the public. We want to reflect the underlying excitement and awe which exoplanet science inspires, and yet be critical and intellectually demanding, informed both by scientific advances and by conceptual resources which have been developed within philosophy for other purposes.

To that end, we aim to stimulate new collaborative research on philosophical questions raised by exoplanetary science, and to improve the quality of public debate on these issues.



  • “A Message from Afar”. Exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2019. Co-exhibitors: Ben Sachs, Anuj Puri
  • Environmental Ethics and Value in the Age of Exoplanets“. Workshop at St. Andrews on 6/10/18.  Organiser: Ben Sachs. Speakers: Jacob Haqq-Misra, Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh), Ash Watkins (University of St. Andrews), Ben Sachs (University of St. Andrews), Natalya Zavina-James (University of St. Andrews), Tony Milligan (King’s College London), Tim Mulgan (University of Auckland/University of St. Andrews)
  • “Extra-Terrestrial Life and Purpose in the Universe”. Workshop at St. Andrews on 13/10/18. Organiser: Tim Mulgan. Speakers: Jimmy Lenman (Sheffield University), Sophie-Grace Chappell (Open University), David Wilkinson (Durham University), Jonathan Rutledge (University of St. Andrews), Tim Mulgan (Auckland University/University of St. Andrews)
  • “Trust and Sensation in the Public Communication of Exoplanet Science”.  Workshop at St Andrews on 8/1/19.  Organiser: Katherine Hawley. Speakers: Jen Whyntie (BBC World Service, CrowdScience), Duncan Forgan (Physics, University of St Andrews), Martin Dominik (University of St Andrews), Stephen John (University of Cambridge), Mhairi Stewart (University of St Andrews)
  • 2018 Edinburgh Science Festival event, “Get Your Hands Off Me You Damned Dirty Alien”.  Panel discussion hosted by Ben Sachs, featuring Sarah Rugheimer (St. Andrews), David Wilkinson (Durham), Alasdair Cochrane (Sheffield), and Mark Coeckelbergh (DeMontfort and Vienna)


Affiliated Organisations:


  • Royal Society of Edinburgh Arts & Humanities Research Grant titled “Exoplanet Ethics”–Katherine Hawley (PI) with Ben Sachs as co-applicant. £8000 awarded for hosting of four events between April 2018 and April 2019.


  • Katherine Hawley
  • Ben Sachs
  • Tim Mulgan
  • Anuj Puri