Star Trek, Sentience, and Human Rights

Merrill, Sierra
Science fiction has often been a platform for advocating change. For example, Star Trek is famous for the first interracial kiss on television. Besides advocating racial equality, Star Trek has also been a platform for many kinds of philosophical discussion. In one particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "The Measure of a Man," one of the characters, Data, an android, is put on trial to determine whether he has the right to choose or whether he is the property of the United Federation of Planets. In the episode, a complicated discussion of what qualifies a person for rights and how to prove sentience ensues. The judge's indecisive ruling indicates the presence of a complex philosophical problem, a problem that is essential to consider in the discussion of human rights. I seek in my paper to prove the relevance of exploring philosophy through the lens of fiction by exploring the philosophies present in the episode, the implications of the arguments and decisions made within the episode, and how the philosophies and implications regarding human rights can be used in a context outside of fiction. I focus particularly on how the discussion can relate to the rights of individuals who, for one reason or another, are excluded from rights, including undocumented persons, persons with brain injuries or mental disorders, and persons who are medically unresponsive.
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