I find philosophical value and discussion in the Star Trek franchise throughout its many installments. Below is a series of clips which explore a variety of philosophical quandaries for one to ponder. Clips may be useful for both the seasoned and the rookie to philosophy.
This short clip from The Next Generation is a prime example of the depth that this show can reach. In this singular clip, many philosophical topics are pondered: philosophy of time, determinism v. free will, causation, ethics, knowledge, and even a brief reference to Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical.
Two “shapeshifters” discuss how they are related through their “great link.” A short, but thought-provoking examination of The Problem of the One and the Many.
In perhaps Trek‘s most famous and emotional moment, the logical Vulcan, Spock, sacrifices himself for the survival of his Enterprise crew mates. In the end, he quotes his famous ethical utterance “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Consider the deontological implications here.
The crew of the Enterprise are often visited by their annoying nemesis, Q. Q, a godlike being, toys with the Enterprise on their human limitations. Here are two clips which examine human potentiality.
Belief in gods is rarely explicitly discussed on Star Trek, although it is indirectly addressed in many instances. Here, the Enterprise has involved itself with a rational culture who has disposed itself of supernatural belief. Captain Picard is now seen as a deity to this culture. He not only rebukes this false belief, but blatantly asserts that belief in the supernatural is absurd; the abandonment of such belief is advancement and achievement.
The following clip is full of philosophical interest. The Enterprise’s second officer is an android named Data. He is defended by Picard at a hearing on whether he should be considered a sentient being who is capable of making free choices. The clip examines not only issues in the ever-increasing philosophy of technology, but also brings forth ethical questions on how races should be treated. It also ends with an ontological dilemma of whether androids, or even humans, have souls.
This clip examines medical ethics such as medical research on patients. It is relevant for contemporary issues of stem cell research, amongst others. Further, the scene involves a vivid portrait of possible disposable nature of ethical guidelines when it benefits the agents involved.
This very brief clip involves an ethical situation where Picard is ordered to move an entire colony against their will for diplomatic issues. Picard objects, questioning when wrongness becomes serious enough to warrant the cessation of action.
In perhaps one of the most profound ethical dilemmas in the 700+ episodes of Star Trek, this scene examines the dilemma of a culture’s ritualistic suicide of the elderly as a way of life. Here, two cultural norms clash (showing the difficulty of moral relativism) and personal interests cause significant questions on the moral value of such practices.
This scene involves the Enterprise’s blind chief engineer as he and his crew try to save a planet of genetically engineered people from their planet’s destruction. A pertinent discussion of ethics:
Star Trek has only a few direct monologues and this is arguably the finest. Captain Sisko has lied and cheated his way into getting the Federation a new ally in a dire wartime situation. The entire episode is worth watching as a man who is stringent on ethics breaks many of his codes to serve his alliance. And he can, apparently, live with it.
A lengthy scene involving the Prime Directive and the consequences of it. Note the deontological themes, especially in relation to Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
The following examines proper legal proceedings, especially in light of those of other cultures.