I'm writing an essay in which I analyze utilitarianism, and I decided to open it with:

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” While the quote famously comes from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the logic comes from John Stuart Mill’s essay on utilitarianism.

When I showed the essay to my peers, one of them asked "How do you know? It may resemble it…unless you have done research on this," and what better way to do research into this particular subject than by reaching out to the nerds of the Internet?

The question title says it all: Is there any official evidence that Vulcan logic is derived from utilitarianism?

  • 10
    Vulcan ethics may or may not be based on utilitarianism. Generally, Star Trek philosophybabble doesn't make any more sense than Star Trek technobabble. In particular, the word "logic" is constantly misused.
    – user41473
    Oct 22, 2015 at 9:48
  • 6
    Vulcan logic generally is based on plot needs. Oct 22, 2015 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


The founder of current Vulcan philosophy was Surak. But utilitarianism was never the reason behind his work as Roddenberry envisioned. Vulcan, at the time, was experiencing serious trouble because of the natural, hyper-emotional state of Vulcans. I think this was meant to be the primary motivation behind Surak's philosophy- trying to find a way to have a peaceful world. The core of that philosophy was what they called Kol-Ut-Shan (infinite diversity in infinite combinations). It was a way of describing and embracing the complexity of the universe.

Emotions are generally the result of an over-simplification of one's worldview. This philosophy seems to be intended on overcoming emotions through an understanding of the universe. It's essentially a scientific philosophy, geared to their specific problem.

Thus it's not geared towards creating something- that's just a side-effect. The intention was to allow them to have peaceful relationships, so their society could basically function. You could say that the mysticism which they retained is evidence of this. If they were utilitarian, then they'd have no use for the more irrational elements of their culture.

This information was gathered from the Wiki article on Surak and IDIC. I've had to read between the lines a little bit, though.

  • 1
    I really like your answer. Do you have any canon references to back it?
    – Joe L.
    Oct 22, 2015 at 14:05
  • I've updated it with a references bit. Literally it's just from Memory Alpha. Oct 22, 2015 at 15:16

Seeing as though you refer to Spock, let's consider some of his actions in the light of his logic:

  • TOS: 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' - Spock recommends to Kirk to either strand Mitchell on Delta Vega, or to kill him for the safety of the galaxy. Quite a utilitarian recommendation, placing the good of the many over the rights of the one (here Mitchell)
  • TOS: 'The Galileo Seven' - Spock decides to leave three crewmen on Taurus II for the good of the remaining crewmen
  • TOS: 'City on the edge of forever' - Spock persuades Kirk to ensure Edith Keeler is killed so that Earth history can resume its normal course, preventing the Nazis from winning WWII - definitely sacrificing the life of one for the good of the many
  • TOS: 'Is there no truth in beauty?' - Spock allows his body to be taken over by Kollos to navigate the Enterprise, putting himself at great risk for the good of the crew
  • The Wrath of Khan - arguably the most utilitarian act of Spock surrendering his own life for the good of the crew by rectifying the warp core problems.
  • TNG : 'Unification Pts I & II' - Spock attempts to re-unify Vulcan and Romulus which, arguably, had the potential to bring great good to those two cultures. In performing this task though, Spock was putting himself at great risk

Conversely, there is one act in particular which doesn't necessarily follow a utilitarian logic: the V'ger incident where Spock mind melded with V'ger to satisfy his need for answers. Granted, one could see this as a utilitarian act, as it had the potential to bring great knowledge to the many. Yet, this act may have upset V'ger, triggering the attack V'ger had proposed on Earth.

So, purely from these examples, yes there is evidence to support the contention that Vulcan logic was based on utilitarianism. By based, though, I am arguing from an out-of-universe perspective, as Spock is the first Vulcan we meet, so bear that in mind.


There is indeed a large amount of evidence that Vulcans have a utilitarian ethical system.

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself to save the lives of those on the Enterprise, stating that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one". In Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Spock uses the same logic to justify his attempt to sacrifice himself, and, in another scene, states: "A sentient being's optimal chance at maximising their utility is a long and prosperous life".

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Galileo Seven", Spock states that "it is more rational to sacrifice one life than six." In Star Trek: Enterprise, in the episode "The Council", T'Pol states that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" is a Vulcan axiom.

Vulcans are also vegetarians for ethical reasons, again suggesting that they wish to minimise the sum total of suffering in the world.

Logic dictates every action that a Vulcan takes. Surak's philosophy is based upon logic, not on utilitarianism. Therefore, the Vulcan utilitarian ethical system is based upon logic, not the other way round.

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