Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moral Theory by Star Trek

In two rather modest pieces of dialogue, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan proves itself to be both far superior to its recent remake (Star Trek: Into Darkness*) and an able commentary on ethical theory.

The film opens with a test scenario that the new crew must tackle. They fail to resolve the situation, which is when Kirk appears on the scene. The captain of the trainees then has this conversation with Kirk:

                                     (fights emotion)
                             I don't believe this was a fair
                             test of my command capabilities.

                             And why not?

                             Because... there was no way to win.

                             A no-win situation is a possibility
                             every commander may face. Has that
                             never occurred to you?

                             ... No, sir. It has not.

                             How we deal with death is at least
                             as important as how we deal with
                             life, wouldn't you say?

                             As I indicated, Admiral, that
                             thought had not occurred to me.

                             Then you have something new to think
                             about. Carry on.

Saavik is not able to leave this rest, however. Later on they continue the conversation in an elevator:
                             I wish to thank you for the high 
                             efficiency rating.

                             You earned it.

                             I did not think so.

                             You're bothered by your performance
                             on the Kobayashi Maru.

                             I failed to resolve the situation.

                             There is no correct resolution.
                             It is a test of character.

Saavik is thinking like a utilitarian, judging her actions by the outcome. Kirk, however, is from the virtue school. What matters to him is not the mechanics of determining a desired outcome but the agent, the person, and the kind of character they display.

Or at least that's what the first half of the movie would like us to believe about Kirk. Star Trek, being the ode to modernity that it is, must eventually squeeze out the virtues in favour of technological resolution to ethical quandaries. Kirk, it turns out, is even more of a utilitarian than Saavik, as he tells her that he cheated on the test in order to turn a no-win situation into a situation that could produce a successful outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment