Are Vulcans practitioners of the Greek school of philosophy called stoicism +2000 years development?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by ISS_Einstein, Jan 26, 2019.

  1. ISS_Einstein

    ISS_Einstein Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Jan 26, 2019
    A lot of Greek schools of philosophy have had their names enter general language, often with very different meanings to the original teachings. Cynicism, scepticism, stoicism, epicureanism, etc. What might happen if one of these ancient schools had been allowed to continue to develop right into the space age?


    I have seen Vulcan society in Star Trek interpreted in a variety of ways. But recently, I was reading the book 'Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction' by Brad Inwood, and it felt very similar to the displayed speech and methods of comfort Spock takes in Star Trek: The Original Series. The Greek schools were rooted in reason, logic and were justified by a series of propositions which each built on the last. Their ideas about the world were not always correct by our standards, but their methodology was, and they didn't have access to modern science. What if they had? Maybe the Vulcans were a thought experiment in what such a society would have been like?

    To explain what stoics practised, which was more than emotional control, let's break up a few points:

    Metaphysics: The world is material. Only matter can act or by acted upon. All events arise form matter interacting with other matter. There are no uncaused events. The Greeks predicted the atom, with Democritus reasoning that if you divided a piece of matter in half, with a knife, then repeat with the new piece, you would eventually arrive at a unit which could be divided no longer, and this was the basis of matter. Stoics often chose the less scientific Platonic idea of matter being composed of elements, but their interpretation of the world was materialistic.

    Reason: Humans alone in the animal kingdom have the capacity to reason (or reason to such a degree), and reason is what makes a human akin to a god (remember Picard's "what a piece of work is man?" speech to to Q). Reason allows people to withhold their assent to a belief, considering whether it is merely an illusion or a reasonable conclusion. Reason is thus necessary for the highest flourishing of human society, and separates man from beast. The study of logic allows the refinement of your conclusions, by knowing when and how your propositions are flawed.

    Senses: An 'impression' is the basic unit of mental activity, "a change in the mind caused by a perception of the senses", but reason crucially allows us to either assent or not to the impression, allowing a degree of choice which animals don't.

    Ethics: Virtue and living in accord with an acceptance of fact is it's own intrinsic reward, as it builds fulfilment and character. The character which is cultivated carefully through reason will react in cultivated ways to adversity. An appreciation of emotion, without letting it become an addiction, is the aim. Enjoy life, for what it is, find beauty in it, but don't become entrapped in destructive rumination.

    Contentedness: We only have control over a finite number of things, despite evidence to the contrary, we can't fully or reliably control our health, or reputation, or fortune, or what diseases we contract. Being content with events and actions is the only thing we can control. By assenting to the suffering or not, we can choose how to receive it, whilst still taking any action to improve our fortune that we desire. Agonising over spilt milk is illogical and inflicts more suffering. Agonising over events that haven't happened and may never do so is illogical.

    I've always respected Star Trek's focus on classical references to Greeks, Romans, Shakespeare, etc. As a kid, I felt there was more depth under the surface. Might this be a missing link in writing convincing Vulcans; an understanding of how they see sense impressions and the place of reason? I think Star Trek's long-standing tradition of engaging with classical culture has such value.
    StarCruiser and uniderth like this.
  2. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 26, 2002
    Houston, we have a problem...
    I'm quite certain that Greek Stoicism was what Roddenberry had in mind for the basis of Vulcan philosophy. Though that behavior was originally applied to "Number One" in The Cage...
  3. Asbo Zaprudder

    Asbo Zaprudder Vice Admiral Admiral

    Jan 14, 2004
    In my very expensive writing shed
    See also Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

    It takes a lot of commitment to be a Stoic and being very wealthy helps to keep one on track. Living off-grid as much as possible is probably necessary so I wouldn't expect a TV producer such as Roddenberry to have been very successful at practicing Stoicism.

    Usually, the numerous temptations, influences, and judgement imposed by the real world and the largely untamable impulses that pop unbidden into one's consciousness get in the way. I'm not a practitioner of the discipline myself or I wouldn't be hanging about around here.
    StarCruiser likes this.
  4. Dinosaur Enabler

    Dinosaur Enabler Rear Admiral Premium Member

    Aug 27, 2005
    I was actually about to attain Kohlinar once, but apparently my answer lay elsewhere. Still waiting.
  5. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 26, 2002
    Houston, we have a problem...
    Good luck with that!
  6. alpha_leonis

    alpha_leonis Captain Captain

    May 27, 2001
    You may have a point about Vulcans in general, at least in TOS time, less so in Enterprise.

    I've also started to believe that Spock's character development, especially through the movies, shifted to become less Stoic, more Taoist.