Hope For Humanity: How One Philosopher Achieved Peace On The Planet Vulcan

Still from The Savage Curtain episode of Star Trek.

With all the horrific violence that’s going on in places like Ukraine and Gaza, in this article I would like to show how useful Star Trek can be in solving our most pressing problem: war. In the episode “The Savage Curtain”, Kirk and Spock are invited to beam down to the planet Excalbia by Abraham Lincoln of all people and are forced to participate in combat against evil forces from history to allow their host to decide if good or evil is the greater. After Kirk, Spock and Lincoln beam down to the planet, against the advice of Dr. McCoy and Chief Engineer Scott, they encounter the father of Vulcan civilization, the philosopher Surak, whom Spock describes as “The greatest of all who ever lived on our planet. The father of all we became.” Spock even shows emotion when he first sees his hero! But before I discuss Surak’s contribution to Vulcan society, here’s some context from his era.

In the past, Vulcans were, as Spock puts it in another episode, “Savage, even by Earth standards.” According to Dayton Ward in his book Vulcan, “Most outworlders know that Vulcans, despite their celebrated devotion to logic and strict emotional control, were once an aggressive, even barbaric people, embracing a warrior culture similar to that at the heart of the Klingon Empire. During the Age of Expansion, as it’s now known, Vulcan clans combined their numbers, establishing permanent settlements to protect areas that offered food, water, and shelter from the planet’s unforgiving environment. Most conflicts during this period were waged over control of such resources, and this innate societal aggression led to the Vulcan people being decimated by several civil wars. At one point, more than two thousand years ago, they found themselves on the brink of annihilation.” (pp. 25-26) This sounds not unlike Earth history, including the present day as we have yet to truly evolve into a peaceful species.

Enter Surak. “As yet another war seemed inevitable, Surak, a Vulcan philosopher, renowned scientist, and outspoken pacifist, increased his efforts to end the protracted aggression and bloodshed. He enlisted emissaries from his growing legions of followers to carry forth his message of peace to the planet’s various governments and military leaders. Even in the face of repeated setbacks and the deaths of many of his most ardent supporters, Surak held true to his beliefs until he too died in battle. Despite this tragic loss, Surak’s message of tolerance and inclusion—the celebration of Kol-Ut-Shan or “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” not just among the Vulcan people but indeed among the limitless varieties of peoples found throughout the universe—soon began to take hold. This turning point in history is known as the Time of Awakening. Because of his unwavering values and leadership, which allowed his people to master their emotions and accept reason and logic as a means of guiding them from the darkness of unremitting conflict, Surak remains the most respected of all Vulcans.” (p. 28)

Controlling emotions and using reason were the keys to achieving peace on Vulcan, and I would say that would be true on our planet too. In “The Savage Curtain”, Surak refuses to fight the evil forces, saying “I will not harm others” and “The face of war has never changed, captain. Surely it is more logical to heal than kill.” Ultimately Surak goes to propose peace to the opposite side, and as a result, is killed. But I think his teachings live on, in a way, in the Earth philosophers who practiced old-school Stoicism, and luckily for humanity, books on the Stoics are still in print and still relevant to today’s world. We too could dispense with war, as the Vulcans did, if we all truly embrace the traditional understanding of Stoicism, which Star Trek ethicist Judith Barad maintains has “the principle that self-control is of the utmost importance”. (p. 148)

Let’s hope that we can bring our violent tendencies under control someday because we should all want “Peace and long life,” which is what the Vulcans say. Once again, Star Trek, a product of the late 1960s, shows us the way to a better future. Live long and prosper.


Dayton Ward. Star Trek: Vulcan (Hidden Universe Travel Guides Book 1). Insight Editions. Kindle Edition.

Judith Barad with Ed Robertson, The Ethics of Star Trek (New York: HarperCollins, 2000).

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.