Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Spock's "logic" has a theoretical and practical component. The practical component appears to be a utilitarianism to some extent constrained by deontological rules, in particular the duty not to kill the innocent and the duty to be faithful to commitments expressly undertaken, such as to the Federation. The other characters criticize him for lack of "emotion". In the theoretical context, this largely refers to the inability to predict the behavior of others (and occasionally maybe of self) due to a lack of emotional imagination (I am sceptical whether emotional imagination is needed to predict the behavior of others, and I think a psychopath could be very effective at predicting others' behavior). In the practical context, this seems to refer to a failure (and not a total one, since he is part human) to be moved by certain kinds of reasons, in particular reasons of friendship that go beyond commitments expressly undertaken.


LGM#3 said...

Hi Dr. Pruss,

This entry is both humorous, philsophical, and, I find, interesting. Spock may not have been able to fully communicate with "human" like beings. But so what? Why would or should he care about that? He seems like a decent chap to me. But, to get philosopical with you, where is his soul, heart, mind (Neh. 2.12)?

In short, nice post, and feel free to comment on my blog whenever time permits!


Alexander R Pruss said...

He does seem a decent enough chap.

Where is his soul, heart, mind? I don't know. :-)

Jeremy Pierce said...

Spock is really a Stoic, though. What he calls emotions are pretty much the same things they (wrongly) restrict themselves to when calling emotions bad. Emotions are just anything irrational that motivates you, but he's fine with feelings like mild fascination, since they're consistent with reason but enough of an emotion to cause the raising of an eyebrow. This key foundation of Stoic ethics is extremely important for him.

I tend to think of his utilitarianism and his deontology (Vulcans don't lie) as both limited. He'll state utilitarian principles, but he doesn't see them as absolute when logic says otherwise, and he will lie when he thinks logic dictates it. What is this logic, then? I suspect it's just a manifestation of a Stoic version of virtue ethics, one that because it avoids emotions can often coincide with utilitarianism and deontological constraints against things like lying.

Jeremy Pierce said...

Technically speaking, Vulcans are capable of being moved by feelings. They suppress emotions by meditation, because their emotions are much more intense than humans'. My suspicion is that the meditation prevents the feelings from affecting their behavior, including the way they describe their inner life. I'm not convinced that they don't feel them but may just not care that they feel them, something like medication that doesn't remove pain but just makes you not care that it hurts.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Spock is positively ashamed when he is moved by emotion. But I think he would probably think it not ideal if he even has the emotion.

I would revise the "anything irrational" to "anything non-rational".