The Ethics of Star Trek

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9780060195304: The Ethics of Star Trek

Lwaxana Troi decides to please her Kostolain husband-to-be by wearing a traditional wedding gown at their service, even though her own orthodox Betazoid tradition requires her to go nude. At the last minute, she changes her mind and arrives at the ceremony wearing nothing but a smile. Her fiancé is shocked -- so shocked that he cancels the wedding.

If you were Lwaxana Troi, what would you have done? Is honoring your own tradition more important than respecting someone else's?

Though the world of Star Trek is clearly set in the future, its attitudes, politics, and culture have always reflected the mores of today. Perhaps that's why this phenomenal series has kept us fascinated, challenged, and inspired -- as well as entertained -- for nearly thirty-five years. From the original adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to the present-day saga of Voyager, Star Trek reminds us that even in the brave new world of the twenty-fourth century, the deepest questions of morality must still be answered. The fundamental principles that have always guided our heroes are indeed powerful enough to provide direction in our own lives.

But what exactly are the ethics of Star Trek? Where do they come from? Are these principles always the same from series to series? What do they mean for us today?

Using episodes from all four Star Trek series, as well as examples from Plato, Aristotle, Sartre, and other great philosophers of the past, The Ethics of Star Trek explores the answers to these and other important ethical questions:

  • Why is good stronger than evil?
  • If the Prime Directive is so inviolable, why does Kirk always seem to break it?
  • Would Nietzsche have made a good starship captain?
  • What's more important, the intentions behind our actions or the results we get?
  • Does absolute power really corrupt absolutely? What would you do with the power of Q?
  • How would Kant's insistence on autonomous altruism have affected the Federation's dealings with the Borg?
  • Are rational beings the only life-forms entitles to our respect?
  • What would it mean if, deep down, everyone really were a Ferengi?

Join Dr. Judith Barad and Ed Robertson as they take the complex, intriguing, and often confusing subject of ethics and make it practical, understandable, and accessible -- for this century and beyond!

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Review:

At first glance, this blend of philosophical ethics and Star Trek may look like an outlandish Trekkie fantasy. In fact, it is a fascinating use of popular culture to engender sophisticated discussions of ethical theory. Obviously, The Ethics of Star Trek will be most interesting and accessible to fans of the show. But one need not be a guru in the cabala of Star Trek to appreciate and understand the witty instruction in ethics found in this volume. Authors Judith Barad--who is a professor of philosophy at Indiana State University--and Ed Robertson have crafted a charming introduction to ethical theory. As the authors point out, "One reason why Star Trek has endured from one generation to the next is that most of the stories themselves are indeed moral fables." And moral fables, particularly popular ones, are an excellent springboard into the deeper waters of philosophical ethics.

The book covers much more ground than is typically traveled in Ethics 101 courses. In the first of five sections, Barad and Robertson deal with the importance of religion and culture, as well as logic, in ethical reasoning. They go on to successively tackle virtue ethics, hedonism, Stoicism, Christian ethics, social contract theory, duty ethics, utilitarianism, and existential ethics--all in reference to the moral dilemmas enlivened by Star Trek. And while the topics' treatments are somewhat cursory, they are written with a conversational prose that beckons the reader to further study. Perhaps Jean-Luc Picard puts it best in the book's epigraph, "There is no greater challenge than the study of philosophy."

About the Author:

Judith Barad, Ph.D., is chairperson and professor of philosophy at indiana State University, where she teaches ethics courses and acourse on the philosophy of Star Trek. She is the author of several scholarly articles as well as two books. A Chicago native, she shares her Terre Haute, Indiana, home with her husband, daughter, and grandson.

Ed Robertson writes extensively about popular culture. He has written three books on classic television and has appeared on more than sixty-five radio and television shows as an expert guest in this area. He lives in San Francisco.

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