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The Ethics of Star Trek Paperback – November 27, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"One reason why Star Trek has endured... is that most of the stories... are indeed moral fables," say Barad, professor of philosophy at Indiana University, and Robertson, author of The Fugitive Recaptured. Using episodes from the four Star Trek TV series, they travel through various universes of ethical theory: in chapters with titles like "Kirk Finds the Golden Mean" and "Kirk and Kira Battle Evil: Christian Ethics," the authors offer useful and evenhanded introductions to the ethical theories of Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and contemporary ethicist Tom Regan (known mostly for his writings on animal rights). For instance, Plato argued that the four virtues of temperance, courage, wisdom and justice would be the hallmarks of the ideal republic. Barad and Robertson contend that Spock and Kirk exhibit courage in an episode called "The Savage Curtain" when they fight off shadows of four of history's most evil creatures to prove that good is mightier than evil. "The Original Series most clearly reflects Aristotelian virtue;" the authors contend, The Next Generation exemplifies "the ethics of duty... Deep Space Nine, existentialism; and Voyager, Platonic virtue." Their effort to popularize a difficult subject occasionally results in egregious misreadings. Nietzsche, for instance, did not base his philosophy on the concept that "might makes right," as he abhorred every system of subjugation and suggested that we are all continually engaged in overcoming such systems. Overall, philosophically inclined Trekkies will want to beam this book up to their shelves, but it is hard to imagine that this book will boldly go where no other introduction to ethics has goneDamong the broadest range of students and general readers. (Dec. 1)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Revised ed. edition (November 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060933267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060933265
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has watched a lot of Star Trek, I find myself constantly noticing that the "normal" rules often don't quite apply in the various shows. Captain Kirk was always violating the Prime Directive. Starfleet Academy gave Kirk a commendation for breaking into the computer to change the programming of an "impossible" assignment (looks like cheating to me). Spock was always sacrificing himself for the good of the many (or the one, in the case of Captain Pike). Captain Janeway often risked the whole ship to try to help one crew member. On Deep Space Nine, the Federation is involved in maintaining an alien religion. Other cultures get a lot of respect, but the ones that are like the Nazis are opposed. If you are like me, you often feel upside-down, inside-out, and topsy-turvey all at the same time in these stories. What is the right thing to do in the 24th century?
Professor Barad teaches Ethics at Indiana State and has a course on the philosophy of Star Trek. That attracted me to the book right there. I never took a philosophy course when I was in college that sounded nearly that interesting. We studied Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Kierkegaard, and symbolic logic. Well, you'll be pleased to know that this volume has plenty of Star Trek, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Kierkegaard. But you'll also be relieved to know that at least the symbolic logic is missing!
The purpose of this book (its Prime Directive) is to "stimulate greater awareness of the many ethical issues and concerns in daily life.
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Format: Hardcover
I used to watch Star Trek, which I believe is an asset when reading this book. But you don't have to be a true aficionado of Star Trek in all its permutations to benefit from -- and enjoy -- this unusual approach to the fascinating subject of ethics. That's because, at the start of each chapter, authors Barad and Robertson describe various individual shows in enough (but never too much) detail so that you can picture the scenes and participate fully in the lively conversation. What's right and what's not? Whose view of ethics was applied by the makers of the show, and which SHOULD be applied in each convoluted instance, Aristotle's or Kant's, Sartre's or the Christians?
The tone of the writing is always fresh and conversational, without oversimplifying the topic. Is Spock sometimes "too logical," or is Kirk sometimes too swayed by emotion? How can we tell? By the final results -- the universe is saved yet again -- or by what they hoped would happen? I found myself drawn in again and again, able to follow the thread of what is, after all, a high level discussion. Highly recommended for the casual reader interested in how we determine what to do in living a "good" life. I'd love to see this used in high schools and colleges to introduce people to these age-old but always fresh ideas in a compelling way.
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Format: Paperback
The purpose of this book is not to examine the treatment of ethical dilemmas in the Star Trek oeuvre, nor indeed to use various Trek episodes to exemplify ethical theories. Instead, it's to determine the ethical framework upon which Trek is based, and even to apply that framework as the basis for an ideal human society. This is troubling, because to emulate Star Trek is not to emulate the United Federation of Planets, an admittedly noble institution, but a group of Hollywood writers and producers. The Federation was created as an ideal society - by definition - by Gene Roddenberry, therefore to conclude that its ethical foundations are optimal is kind of like discovering that circles are round. The episodes of Trek cannot provide adequate real-world examples of ethical theories precisely because they're fictitious: The writers decide whether they want the characters to behave ethically or not. Since the writers (and the times) keep changing, the ethical basis of the various series and episodes is not consistent. For example, in one TNG episode the Klingon society is portrayed as valuing actions and results over motives, but in a later DS9 episode exactly the opposite is stated.
That said, the book nevertheless provides an interesting discussion of all the major ethics philosophies, throughout human history, and uses specific situations from the first four Trek series and the first nine movies to illustrate the critical issues involved. Unfortunately, the discussions are somewhat simplistic, as if Barad felt she had to "talk down" to her audience. The Trek audience, however, is possibly the pop-cultural segment least in need of patronage, and I wish Paramount would realize that.
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Format: Hardcover
A number of books using popular TV shows, such as "The Simpsons" and "Seinfeld," have been used by philosophers in recent years to demonstrate philosophical and ethical principles. I'm biased, as I enjoy the "Star Trek" series more than these other shows, but nonetheless believe "The Ethics of Star Trek" is one of the best entries in this growing field.
Barad does an excellent job in demonstrating how well Star Trek can be used to illustrate ethics. Thus, Aristotle's "Golden Mean" was represented by the logical Mr. Spock, the emotional Dr. McCoy and the in-between Capt. Kirk who listened to both sides. Kant's unbending system of "categorical imperatives" is demonstrated by Capt. Picard's unwavering ... principles.
I didn't give this book five stars because Barad has biases, not based on Star Trek, but in philosophy. First, she rejects "cultural relativism" early on, even though a casual watcher of the series will recognize that this viewpoint is both important and necessary in all the shows. Second, she relies entirely on European philosophy. Although American pragmatist William James is mentioned in a TNG quote at the beginning, and pragmatism better describes Deep Space Nine than existentialism, she ignores this philosophy in her book.
Above all, I think Barad goes a little too far in suggesting that the ethics in all four of the series she examines (the original Star Trek, TNG, DS9 and Voyager) can be "synthesized" much as Thomas Aquinas synthesized Aristotle and Roman Catholicism. Each series had its own, individual characters with different motives and different situations. While Star Trek poses many ethical problems, there's no one ethos any more than there is only one writer. Barad can be commended for using Star Trek to teach ethics in an enjoyable fashion, but the shows themselves are not philosophy lessons.
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