The Ethics of Star Trek: Into Darkness

How can ethics shed light on the moral decisions of The Enterprise crew?

Spoiler Alert: I'm about to reveal details of the new Star Trek movie Into Darkness.

J.J. Abrams has done it again! Into Darkness was fantastic. It was visually stunning, had a surprising and exciting story, and had many classic Star Trek elements that made it a genuine Star Trek movie. What I found most fascinating – if you'll excuse the term – is how Abrams was able to incorporate elements of previous Star Trek movies into this one, and yet still keep it fresh. Having Kirk, instead of Spock, enter the engine core to save The Enterprise, and be on the other side of the glass as he died, was brilliant. And the reveal that John Harrison was actually Kahn was really enjoyable -- even though I had heard the Internet rumors, and figured it out when they started talking about 300 year old cryogenic capsules. (I should have figured it out when Kirk was pummeling him to no avail.)

I'm sure some reviewers will be critical, thinking that incorporating elements from the old movies is unoriginal. But Abrams is playing with the fascinating idea of an alternate time line, and the concept of fate. In Abram’s first Star Trek movie, the villain Nero changed the past, creating an alternate timeline – one where Kirk was born in space, not Iowa, and Vulcan was destroyed. But despite the changes, it might be that certain things are fated to happen. For example, Kirk and Spock seem to be fated to battle Kahn and defeat him only at the cost of one of their lives (and shouting Kahn’s name), no matter what timeline they are in. And, after all, franchise reboots always contain elements from their predecessors; no one complained when Batman had to fight The Joker, just like he always does, in Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot.

But Star Trek is notoriously more philosophical than most other sci-fi, and Abrams also managed to incorporate philosophical issues into this movie as well. The most obvious one was this: What defines that which is morally right? How can you tell what the morally right thing to do is? Kirk argues with Spock about whether or not rescuing him from the volcano on Nibiru was the morally right thing to do, Spock convinces Kirk not to kill Kahn outright but let him stand trial because it is the morally right thing to do, and Kirk sacrifices his life to save The Enterprise because he believes it is the morally right thing to do. There are a plethora of ethical theories on display, and even argued for, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

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Replies to This Discussion

Star Trek at it's best has always been about morality.

Except that the antagonist in this piece comes from the subcontinent, NOT the west coast of the Mediterranean!

It's not Kahn, it's KHAN!!!!

Speaking of ethics ... and cheating, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk is accused of cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test.  When confronted with the clear and present danger which is Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, it's Spock who cheats ... by consulting with his former self, who has been there and done that with Khan Noonien Singh ... and therewith perhaps creates the inspiration for the torpedo swap.

[Though I have to say ... shouldn't 72 of those torpedoes going up in the middle of that Dreadnought starship have blown it to smithereens?!?]

Then, too, this begs the question: is it really cheating when one uses means at one's disposal to solve a problem?  In a classroom situation, where the environment is supposed to be "controlled," maybe the argument could be made that cheating is cheating and not permissible.  In the real world, where life-and-death consequences are in play?  'Nother matter.

Good question Loren - the cheating had a good outcome as well.




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