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Analysis of Star Treks 'What makes up a man?' epsiode

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 790 words Published: 29th Jul 2021

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“What makes up a man?” This is the philosophical question mainly explored in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, entitled “The Measure of a Man.” In this episode, a formal hearing is held to debate whether or not Lieutenant Commander Data, an android who has been a long-time member of the Star Fleet, has the right to refuse undergoing a risky scientific experiment. The scientist who wishes to perform the procedure, named Bruce Maddox, claims that Data is not entitled to the right to refuse because Data, simply put, is a piece of technology. As a result, he claims that it would be absurd to entitle a “thing” to the same rights that a human being has. On the other hand, Captain Picard, a fellow crew member who sees Data as an equal, argues otherwise. He states that despite how Data technically isn’t human, he is entitled to the same rights because he demonstrates the core qualities of human being, such as intelligence and self-awareness. A difficult decision must now be made: to allow Data to refuse the procedure by acknowledging that he has the right to be regarded as a sentient being like a fellow human being, or to simply see Data as a piece of property without any rights and all of his human-like acts as being mere imitations and a complex system of if-then clauses. Though Data, being an android, is obviously not a human being, the episode ultimately raises the question of to what extent must an individual, or even a piece of technology, exhibit to be seen as an equal-a level that we, as human beings, recognize in each other?

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Captain Picard’s arguments focus more on how Data is a “person” rather than how he is not a biological human being, and that “persons” maintain certain rights. Commonly, most people today use the terms human and person interchangeably. However with deeper examination, it can been acknowledged that a “person” and a “human being” are not entirely same. A human being refers to people in a more a biological sense; being a human being merely implies that you are of the species homo sapiens. On the other hand, being a person signifies that you are a sentient being with a level of conscience. As a result of demonstrating these qualities, a person is to be regarded as one who is entitled to certain rights, a level of moral respect, and, ultimately, a right to life. And since being a person is different from being a biological human, it can be assumed that anyone, even an android such as Data, may be entitled to the rights that a person has; just because of the fact that one is not a homo sapien does not mean he is disqualified from the holding the moral respect a person deserves.

Furthermore, it should be noted that not all human beings are persons, for an individual must have a level of rationality or consciousness to be regarded as a person. Maddox points out that a debate would not be taking place if it had been a computer or a toaster that had refused to undergo the procedure. But he failed to consider the fact that a toaster or a computer does not maintain a level of rationality or consciousness, hence not entitling it to the moral rights that a person is accorded with. Things that have failed to demonstrate these qualities, including certain human beings, are not viewed as persons, hence not entitled to these rights. For instance, a boy who is stuck in a permanently vegetative state and does not demonstrate any signs of brain activity may be regarded as a human being, but not a person. As a result, if it were decided that he would euthanized, there would be as much uproar as there would be if it had been boy had been severely injured, but still conscious, because he would still be regarded as a person. Hence, it becomes evident that being human is not what determines whether or not someone like Data is a person, but the level of consciousness that one, whether he is a human or android or Klingon, exhibits.

Captain Picard argues that it does not matter that Data is an android because the species of an individual does not determine his personhood. During his argument, Picard states three characteristics that determine whether or not an individual is to be regarded as a person: intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. The trial ends in Picard’s favor because Data demonstrates to a degree all of these traits, and the fact that Data is an android does not work against his favor. It is ruled that as a result of demonstrating these characteristics, Data is ultimately deserves the moral respect that every person does. Conclusively, it becomes clear that being human does not automatically entitle an individual with the rights of a person, but the level of rationality or consciousness.


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