Texas Supreme Court Cites The Wisdom Of Spock On Star Trek

from the leonard-nimoy-to-the-rescue dept

NSILMike points us to an amusing bit of news concerning a recent ruling in the Texas Supreme Court, where the court cited Star Trek’s Spock (though, it’s mostly hidden in a footnote):

Appropriately weighty principles guide our course. First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan21), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency.

Then, if you jump down to Footnote 21, you get:

See STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (Paramount Pictures 1982). The film references several works of classic literature, none more prominently than A Tale of Two Cities. Spock gives Admiral Kirk an antique copy as a birthday present, and the film itself is bookended with the book’s opening and closing passages. Most memorable, of course, is Spock’s famous line from his moment of sacrifice: “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” to which Kirk replies, “the needs of the few.”

And so, Spock is now a legal authority on the Texas Constitution. Very logical.

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Comments on “Texas Supreme Court Cites The Wisdom Of Spock On Star Trek”

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Christopher Gizzi (profile) says:

Ethics & Morality

In my studies of ethics and morality in college, one of the things we discussed was this very concept and how it affects societal beliefs. Those beliefs almost always translate into interpretations of the law. Its not unreasonable to think that the concept of majority rule & opinion – no matter who embodies them with quotes and sound bites – would be the most moral and ethical way of problem solving and decision making.

I also like how a Texas court (I know, not THAT court) references transformative works to prove a point.

And FWIW, I think if Spock’s logic were applied to many of the topics we discuss here, we wouldn’t have many problems to discuss.

Also, I’m not a Star Trek fan… just in case anyone was wondering if I’m a Trekkie; I’m not. But I greatly appreciate the discussions I had in college about the “greatest good for the greatest number of people” constructs that were proposed by the early Greek philosophers.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Ethics & Morality

I agree with much of what you said. But, in not being a Trekkie, you may have missed the competing debates/arguments on this theme that Spock and Kirk frequently had. Sometimes the needs of the few (or even the one) outweigh the needs of the many.

As a default standard, going for the greatest good of the many is usually a good course. If taken to the extreme, however, it turns into a ‘tyranny of the majority’ and can be very bad for disenfranchised groups.

The ruling takes this into account – the second part where it says ‘justified only by urgency, not expediency’ refers to the balance that must be taken.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ethics & Morality

As a default standard, going for the greatest good of the many is usually a good course. If taken to the extreme, however, it turns into a ‘tyranny of the majority’ and can be very bad for disenfranchised groups.

Very good point. There has to be respect for individuals at some level in a reasonable system of jurisprudence.

When taken to the extreme, the mob starts to believe that:

Th’needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Big difference between a need and a th’need, and it sure seems like there’s a whole lot of th’need built in to our system right now.


Re: Re: 3 Musketeers perhaps a better model.

…of course the whole thing is moot because that maxim does not even apply in the given situation. There was no sacrifice being made really. If no action were taken, Spock still would have been dead. It was logical not because Vulcans are collectivist but because the situation was hopeless.

The principle doesn’t really fit the situation and Spock’s solution was borne out of dire necessity and extreme urgency.

Gray Champion says:

Re: Ethics & Morality

This way of thinking in government is the antithesis of The Constitution – especially the Fourth Amendment. While it is good and virtuous for an individual to ON HIS OWN self-sacrifice for the many, it is when some god-playing government official makes that decision, forcing a certain person or persons to sacrifice – that is where trouble is. Do you want your Constitutional rights tossed aside?

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

The needs of the many...

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

If a person can apply “the needs of the many…” argument at any time and said person is the ‘representative’ of the many, then that person gets to trample the “needs of the few” at any time for any reason.

It is not logical, it’s only a convenient excuse to dismiss individuals’ rights. The fallacy of this argument is that there is no many, only lots and lots of ‘the few.’ It is a simple variation of the ‘heap’ fallacy.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: The needs of the many...

We adhere to ‘rule of law’ over ‘mob rule’ because the ‘mob’ is collectively stupid and easily manipulated.

For each collective ‘few’ you can think of, the ‘many’ that would balance it out is not the same.

Also to be considered, is that the ‘many’ can be comprised of a number of the ‘few’, and that the net negative effect on either party contributes to the overall benefit in the equation.

SuperSparky (user link) says:

Not so fast

Need I remind everyone that the next movie proved Spock’s statement false. That statement is Marxist in its origins. The Search For Spock showed it was “human” and more noble to put an individual’s needs (not wants) ahead of the needs of the many. Kirk said “The needs of the one outweighed the needs of the few.”

It proved that when the individual is most important it benefits the many much more.

You will find that this nation was founded on that very principle, that the individual is most valuable and as such all individuals benefit society. Marxism states society is most important and that individuals are expendable.

You may note, it was the choice and actions of an individual (Spock) that saved the Enterprise from destruction, not a group or committee. To say the individual is unimportant is in grave error.

“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.” – Ronald Reagan

RobShaver (profile) says:

Re: Not so fast

@SuperSparky, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. It’s what I was formulating.

Three times before I was ten one government department or another in the USA forced my family to sell our property to them for “the good of the many” at a price they insisted was fair, but was not.

Now, as we know, the government can make YOU sell your property to them if they decide they can get more tax revenue by giving/selling it to someone else.

So think twice before you embrace “the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one”. SuperSparky got it exactly right and StarTrek set it up and then knocked it down. I see many missed the lesson there.

The USA used to be the poster child for individual rights but no more. Look how many people we have behind bars. Prisons are a growth industry and the prison companies are writing the laws to make sure the prison populations continue to grow.

Will Sizemore (profile) says:

Rules of Acquisition

Wait, wait, wait.

The needs of the many? How friggin’ COMMUNIST!

I love Star Trek. I am a Trekkie. I have never been to a convention but I have considered it. I play the games, read the books, write fan fiction.

BUT those philosophies have NO basis in American government. We are NOT Communist. In the Star Trek universe, especially in the time of ST II and III, the United Federation of Planets was a vast empire on the verge of destruction (wasn’t the Federation ALWAYS in danger?) and all currency had been outlawed LONG ago. Those two factors alone disqualify any philosophy that is contradictory to the Capitalist Empire which is the United States of America.

Sadly, we’re more Classic Ferengi than Vulcan.

Nosy says:

Re: Rules of Acquisition

I really doubt that’s what they were getting at. It’s like, we shouldn’t let many people suffer while one or few of us enjoy every luxury in sight. We should share the wealth and help others. I thought kids were taught to share in Kindergarten.
Dang, the public school system has failed me yet again. And they want to take money AWAY from schools!?!

Anonymous Coward says:

YET what does kirk do

he goes agaisnt the grain and in the process of saving the “one” also saves the earth in star trek 4 that one wiht the whale and such…..

you see i’ll expand the logic

the needs of the many most times will out weigh the few and the one, but if your logic in so doing would cause harm, or death of a single innocent…it should not occur.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: YET what does kirk do

A well-worn hypothetical shows it’s not so simple: what if the choice is between the death of one or the deaths of many? Do not the needs of the many then outweight the needs of the few? Unfortunately we’re not very good at dealing with that situation. We value the one life we can see and identify more than the many lives that could be saved but whose identities are not known.

chekr says:


@Will Sizemore

You throw around the word “communist” as if it is a bad thing. You also act as if our government isn’t completely corrupt and ruled by the rich.

I also like how other people are using the argument of “if the majority ruled, they would take away the rights of the minority!” In reality, that is what the government (the few) is doing to us (the many) right NOW. They are eroding our privacy and rights (patriot act, ACTA, DMCA, and many other recent decisions). This process is slow, but not nonexistent.

No, what we need is BALANCE. We need to keep the checks and balances that we have in place (as in, the majority couldn’t take away rights from the minority because the government wouldn’t allow such a thing to be passed), but we also need to be able to stop the government from passing laws which clearly violate our freedoms. In other words, the majority vote on many of the governments actions. Think of this as an extra layer of checks and balances. It is logical to assume that it would rid us of quite a bit of the corruption that plagues our governments currently (they are ruled by the rich, specifically corporations).

Blerp says:


This is absolutely no different than someone citing any classic literature. Star Trek is a work of art. And I don’t mean that as “it’s great”, because I’ve never even seen an episode of Star Trek. It is literally a work of art, no different than Beethoven’s “5th Symphony” or the Mona Lisa, or even the Bible. The skill level may be different, and that they are classic pieces creates an illusion of their being more important and quotable, but they’re really not. So I realize the point may be what was actually quoted, but this article seems to be saying that quoting Star Trek is a big deal, or something that is childish maybe, when it’s really not.

Timothy Miller (profile) says:

This principle must be applied with care

I should note that while there are certainly cases where this principle applies, it should not be applied to everything. If we catered _only_ to the needs of the many, we would not have handicapped-accessible ramps, gluten-free menus, or rights for ethnic minorities. Without laws that compel cell phone companies to provide TDD-like devices, the deaf would be unable to use cell phones. Of course, in such cases, we’re not really forcing the majority (of people, not companies) to sacrifice anything for the sake of the minority; it infringes no one’s rights to install a ramp or offer specialized menu items. By contrast, in the Spock’s case, he was making a personal sacrifice to save a lot of people. Making a personal sacrifice or voluntarily curbing your personal desires in order to make life better for other people is always a noble thing. (Burried in there is the principle that you have the freedom to do anything you want, but not necessarily on my front lawn. If you want to practice your drums in your basement, please don’t do it at 3AM.)

John Doe says:

Zeroeth Law Of Robotics - Isaac Asimov - Good Doctor

This was all started and postulated by the Good Doctor – paraphrased into the needs of the few etc …

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

PJ says:

So you think you're a Trekkie?

Then get it straight. Star Trek II TWOK had a real-world MILITARY feel to it. Spock’s sacrifice was for the ship and its sovereign Starfleet Captain. . .not a 21st century representative republic. I can’t believe I have to remind some of you people that we’re not in uniform and we’re not Starfleet Officers. Not even at the convention, okay? Deal with it. It’s dangerous to start taking sci-fi/fantasy too deeply. Art imitates life; not the other way around.

I think another great quote applies here: “Get a life!” -W. Shatner

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