Star Trek as philosophy: Spock as Stoic sage

Below is the abstract of a paper (download here) I published in The Palgrave Handbook of Popular Culture as Philosophy, edited by my friend and colleague David Kyle Johnson. It presents an unusual argument that the figure of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock can be interpreted as telling the story of how one embarks on the path of Stoic sagehood.

It has been suggested that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original Star Trek series (TOS), more or less consciously built the equivalent of a philosophical argument in favor of Stoic philosophy by centering his story lines on the interacting and exquisitely complementary characters of Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, and Doctor McCoy. Spock in particular was apparently purposefully meant by Roddenberry to represent Stoicism as he understood it. Modern prac- titioners of Stoicism, however, tend to see Spock as a “stoic” (lower-s) in the vernacular sense of the term: going through life constantly sporting a stiff upper lip and suppressing his emotions. I argue in this essay that, on the contrary, the evolution of Spock from the young officer serving on the Enterprise NCC-1701 to ambassador to the Romulans in the last movie based on TOS can be understood as the story of someone entering the path to sagehood in the Stoic sense. And yes, Stoicism definitely is about far more than stiff lips and the suppression of emotions.

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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