The Captain Kirk Principle

“This psychological battle between intellect and intuition was played out in almost every episode of Star Trek in the characters of the ultrarational Mr. Spock and the hyperemotional Dr. McCoy, with Captain Kirk as the near perfect synthesis of both. Thus, I call this balance the Captain Kirk Principle: intellect is driven by intuition, intuition is directed by intellect.” Michael Schermer The Captain Kirk Principle (Scientific American)

Star Trek meets Aristotle’s rhetorical strategies: Kirk = ethos (character); Spock = logos (logic); McCoy = pathos (emotion). I think of Kirk as a man of action, who pays attention to his gut (among other organs in that vicinity) whenever the logic of Spock and the emotions of McCoy gave him conflicting advice. Schermer’s explanation doesn’t quite account for Kirk’s warp-drive libido.

2 thoughts on “The Captain Kirk Principle

  1. I agree with you that Schermer’s explanation doesn’t quite cover the example. We each have slightly different revisions, but both recognize that Kirk was influenced by multiple forces. Sometimes a Federation official represented the Prime Directive in person, but sometimes Spock quoted regulations. But yes, you’ve indentified another potential dramatic conflict.

  2. I have to disagree. While Spock was clearly logos, and McCoy was undeniably pathos, I submit that Kirk was not ethos.
    Ethos, properly defined, is not the moral character or charisma of any single person, but an accepted standard which drives people’s decisions.
    Therefore, I like to think that The Prime Directive was ethos, and Kirk was stuck in the middle of the three, at the crux of them all, each tugging away at him in all the dilemmas he faced during his command.

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