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Stephen Fry once quipped that "most of human history and art can be expressed in Star Trek plots." So much about story-telling is presenting different philosophies in various contexts and describing what could happen. In many ways, Star Trek is an exploration of humanity in a different context than we have now.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was generally considered a humanist. As such, his stories explored human values and concerns, especially from an "outsider's" perspective. Star Trek provides many opportunities to objectively explore humanity by non-humans through characters like Spock, Data, Seven of Nine, and Odo. They provide us a perspective on the seeming dichotomy or tension between emotions and logic. For example, there are many scenes that suggest a "middle ground" is sometimes the best course of action (e.g., McCoy representing emotion, Spock representing logic, and Captain Kirk being the facilitator and arbitrator of both). Human ideologies of "perfection" and collectivism are also explored through the villainous Borg, an entity portrayed as consuming those qualities which arguably make us human (e.g., individualism, erroneous, different). Utilitarianism is also discussed as Spock speaks about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the one. Star Trek rejects religion and the supernatural.

star trek motivational poster - star trek girls bringing nerds out of their basement for over 40 years

It makes sense that philosophy and space travel should meet-up. After all, both are about exploring the unknown, seeking out answers to the meaning of life, and overall becoming wise. According to The Ethics of Star Trek, "The moral foundation of the original series is found to be "a hybrid of Aristotelian virtue and prima facie duty principles" which simultaneously respects Spock's "Stoic utilitarianism." The series' three principal characters, Captain Kirk, Spock and McCoy, are seen as representing Plato's threefold nature of the soul - spirit, reason and irrational desires, respectively." The author argues that the ethics of The Next Generation reflect more Kantian principles, while Deep Space 9 moves toward existentialism and Voyager seems to be a mix of them all.

Philosophical questions abound in the series. For example, to question the morality of spreading democracy, imperialism, and colonialism, you have Starfleet's guiding principle for the United Federation of Planets called the Prime Directive described as:

"As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation."

Star Trek envisions a version of utopia: a world without hunger, greed, disease, or poverty, where every child can read, where diversity and tolerance is the norm, and where we all live in brotherhood. No more petty governments or visionless leaders. Money is no longer used or the driving force of happiness, and it's associated greed is gone. (Perhaps that's where the Zeitgeist movement got the idea.) The desire for such a world is so powerful that universities have actually created courses about the series such as Phil-180: Philosophy & Star Trek.

Star Trek teaches us not to fear the unknown but, instead, to explore it and make our own destinies. Are we capable of deciding our own destinies? Would you want to live in a Star Trek future? Has watching Star Trek helped you think more deeply about humanity? How similarly does your philosophy mirror those explored in the series? What's your take on Spock's desire to control all emotions in favor of logic?

Transcript of 13. The Star Trek Philosophy (from a lecture given by Gene Roddenberry in New York City (May 1976), which is found on the Bonus CD (Inside Star Trek with Gene Roddenberry) of the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition of Star Trek):

I think, probably, the most often asked question about the show is why the Star Trek phenomenon? And this is, incidentally, not just a fan or a Trekkie question. It is now being asked by communications experts, by sociologists, educators, and others. There've already been a couple of master theses written on this and there are a couple of doctorates presently at work.

And it could be an important question because, you can ask, "how can a simple space opera with blinking lights and zap-guns and a hobgoblin with pointy ears reach out and touch the hearts and minds of literally millions of people and become a cult in some cases?" Obviously, what this means is that television has incredible power. They're saying that if a Star Trek can do this then, perhaps, another carefully calculated show could move people in other directions. What's to keep selfish interests from creating other cults for selfish purposes? Industrial cartels, political parties, governments.

Ultimate power in this world, as you know, has always been one simple thing: the control and manipulation of minds. Fortunately, in the attempt, however, to manipulate people through any so called "Star Trek formula" is doomed to failure, and I'll tell you why in just a moment.

First of all, our show did not reach and affect all these people because it was deep and great literature. Star Trek was not Ibsen or Shakespeare. To get a prime time show, network show, on the air and to keep it there, you must attract and hold a minimum of eighteen million people every week. You have to do that in order to woo people away from Gomer Pyle, Bonanza, Beverly Hillbillies, and so on. And we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict, and so on.

But once we got on the air, and within the limits of those action-adventure limits, we did not accept the myth that the television audience has an infantile mind. We had an idea, and we had a premise... [applause] thank you... and we still believe that. As a matter of fact, we decided to risk the whole show on that premise. We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world's petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond those petty beliefs that have, for so long, kept mankind divided. [applause]

So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing, is really not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television too.

The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mold, where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there. And I think that this is what people responded to.

The result of that was that seven years after being dropped by the network, of saying those things, there are now more people watching it than ever before. And if you ascribe those things to any mystic or scriptural brilliance in Star Trek, you miss the entire point. For Star Trek proves, as faulty as individual episodes could be, is that the much-maligned common man and common woman has an enormous hunger for brotherhood. They are ready for the twenty-third century now, and they are light-years ahead of their petty governments and their visionless leaders.

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Under the definition of brilliance, it should state "see Roddenberry." What he says here is just wonderful.

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