Pleasure and Spock’s Father

Spocks father

In his Critique of Judgement, Kant begins by relegating aesthetics to the subjective, or to a condition of being determined by the subjective[i]. That which concerns whatever gives us pleasure or displeasure cannot be objectified[ii].

If we think of the Vulcans in Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek series, we are presented with an advanced hominid race – Vulcans are a completely logical species of Sapiens who have no emotions. But would it be right to assume from this that they don’t experience pleasure. If Kant had been able to watch Star Trek he would have found them intriguing.  If the fictional Vulcans can find a way of surpassing the subjectification demanded by his pleasure principle, then perhaps it is possible for human beings to do so as well. Followed by the subsequent question of – would we ever want to?

According to Star Trek myth, the Vulcans were originally a passionate, emotional race of Sapiens hominids who developed techniques to suppress those passions. Perhaps we could have imagined such a development in humanity if the Stoic school had become a universal institution in human educational programmes. But perhaps, to understand the fictional Vulcans positively then, instead of emphasising their oppression of passions, we could place an emphasis on the fact that they found a way of objectively analysing and drawing logical conclusions from their tastes – that which Kant says is impossible.

For a Vulcan, every sensation is analysed in order to determine and subsequently understand what the physical sensations are telling them when pleasure is felt, and why. This logical process, and the gap it creates between the experience and the understanding of that experience, dampens or cools the intensity of the experience itself. The result is that the pleasure or displeasure dissolves into something else – into understanding.

Star trek’s first officer, Mr Spock, despite the fact that he is actually only half-Vulcan, is often accused of being in-human because of his inability to enjoy the intensity of emotions. Nevertheless, in actual fact, Spock’s, and the Vulcans’, logic is also our most human of qualities.

Science fiction does try to see it otherwise, and it has created an abundance of these hyper-logical, creatures, or robot versions of them, or AI machine like HAL, in order to see how inhuman they are in comparison to us. Nevertheless, the greatest error would be to programme androids with the ability to experience emotions and make subjective their experiences to a sense of pleasure or displeasure – or develop a fear of their own mortality. Such robots would destroy us. It is precisely the judgements we form from the pleasure principle and our subsequent reactions that make us so dangerous for each other. A robot with a sense of personal taste would be one that desires, and a robot that desires will eventually do, or try to do, what it wants. A powerful intelligence combined with a strong, subjective sense of personal tastes would be the most dangerous monster imaginable.

Likewise, as humanity develops technologically, so must our ability to control our emotional side develop. If the homo sapiens is to evolve and not destroy itself, it will have to do so in the same way that the mythical Vulcans were able to do so – by conquering the emotional side through logic.

[i] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, I, i, §₁, p.35

[ii] Ibid


One thought on “Pleasure and Spock’s Father

  1. Semi-related (?) are some similar theories on the emotional processing of individuals experiencing ASD. By no means do I wish to compare them to Spock or AI, just the theory you mentioned of how understanding IS itself, intrinsically a human quality. I have also read some studies that suggest some people on the spectrum may actually feel MORE intensity, and subsequently process it differently. Not super relevant to you post (apologies) but just made me think of it!

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