Mr. Spock, Aristotle, and “The Menagerie”

Photograph Source: NBC Television – Public Domain

In the two-part episode of Star Trek called “The Menagerie”, Mr. Spock commits several crimes to help his former commanding officer, Fleet Captain Christopher Pike to return to the forbidden planet, Talos IV. 11 years before, Pike had been kidnapped on that world, and although he was able to escape through sheer willpower, the Talosians were deemed to be so dangerous that Starfleet Command wrote General Order 7, which denies future visits on penalty of death.

Spock freely admits his guilt, and during the court-martial, images from Talos IV are transmitted to the Enterprise to tell the story of Captain Pike’s internment there. Things do not look good for Spock, as all three members of the trial board, including his best friend Captain Kirk vote that he is guilty of all charges and will therefore face the death penalty. Fortunately, the transmissions from Talos IV at the end show that the now handicapped Captain Pike may regain his youth, vigor and good health on the planet, with the help of the Talosian Magistrate, as they did for Vina, the Earth woman he met there. After seeing this, Kirk finally realizes that Spock had a good reason to kidnap Pike, and then Commodore Mendez disappears from the briefing room because he was an illusion created by the Talosians. The commodore had been back at his starbase the whole time, watching the same transmissions, and decides that Fleet Captain Pike may indeed return to the planet if he so chooses and that all charges against Spock have been dropped. Pike accepts the offer from the now benevolent Talosians and is reunited with Vina.

There was no denying Spock committed crimes, but were his actions unethical? Apparently Commodore Mendez must have read Aristotle while a midshipman at Starfleet Academy because it is clear that he understands and agrees with the great philosopher’s concept of “equity”. According to Star Trek ethicist Professor Judith Barad, equity means that written laws, like General Order 7, are imperfect because they cannot anticipate, understand or deal with exceptional conditions. “Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances that go beyond the original precepts of the law. To not even take these into account would indeed be criminal. Aristotle called the principle of justice that takes extraordinary circumstances into account ‘equity’. Equity plays an important role in the world of Star Trek,” she observes. (pp. 121-122).

Therefore, Spock’s actions are equitable, and obviously Aristotle would approve. Here we have another outstanding example of how Star Trek can teach us about moral philosophy and doing the right thing, even if there is risk involved. Author Marc Cushman highly recommends this episode as well: “’The Menagerie’ constitutes an amazing and unparalleled creative work, most notably to the credit of writer/producer Gene Roddenberry, director Marc Daniels, and film editor Robert Swanson. With precious little time and resources, these three, with the support of the entire Star Trek team, pulled off a near-miracle and created one of the series most highly regarded episodes. If the primary element of any good story is to present a character with a problem, then ‘The Menagerie’ gives us a conflict four times over: Spock and Kirk have conflict with one another, and even inner conflict with themselves, as do Vina and Pike in the story-within-a-story. This one is about friendship. It is also about the quality and dignity of life.” (p. 379)

Live long and prosper.


Judith Barad with Ed Robertson The Ethics of Star Trek (New York: Perennial, 2001).

Marc Cushman; Susan Osborn. These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One (These Are The Voyages series Book 1). Kindle Edition.


Roger Thompson is a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development, the author of Lessons Not Learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture, a former researcher at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters and Korea’s first Star Trek professor.