Obviously some characteristics will be based on biology (Trills not being good in the heat while Cardassians are for example.) However, in the various incarnations of Star Trek, there appear to be differences in the behaviour of species based on race.

Ferengis are depicted as generally greedy. The accumulation of wealth is seen as more important than even familial bonds and betrayal in order to gain profit is rife.

Are these behavioural tendencies explained as a matter of the nature of the race or are they explained by the way they are brought up/their cultural heritage (the rules of acquisition etc.)? Or is there some nuanced middle answer? In "Prophet Motive" Zek is "devolved" into an earlier less avaricious state - is this biological evolution or undoing the effects of millennia of culture on the way Ferengis think?

I am interested in this question from an inside-the-universe perspective i.e. this question is about how people inside the Star Trek universe understand this. This is not a question concerned with how the species was invented in the real world.

  • Please rephrase "race" to "species". Races are small variations within species. Ferengi, Klingons, and Humans are different species
    – zipquincy
    Dec 5, 2014 at 15:43
  • <comments deleted> The comments were outdated, due to revisions made to the post, so I cleaned them up. Carry on.
    – user1027
    Dec 5, 2014 at 15:43
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    @zipquincy True, but "race" is often used as a synonym for "species," as in "the Human race." Picard, in particular, will frequently talk about "dooming an entire race" and so on, referring to the species as a whole. The way you're using it, as an ethnic subset of a species, seems to have fallen out of favor in the Star Trek universe, probably due to the Federation being a truly post-racial society without divisions or prejudices within the Human population.
    – Nerrolken
    Dec 5, 2014 at 17:29
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    I agree with Nerrolken, the use of the word race is particularly useful for the structure of the sentence 'differences in the behaviour of species based on the individuals being that species' is a bit clumsy and the only way I can think of to avoid using the word race. Dec 5, 2014 at 17:40
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    Ummm, might as well ask: is it nature or nurture? Dec 6, 2014 at 11:13

4 Answers 4


As seen in the DS9 episode Prophet Motive, the Ferengi were once a much more peaceful, less greed-oriented race and have 'evolved' to become a more commercially-obsessed species. When Quark encountered the Prophets in the wormhole, there was this exchange:

PROPHET (in the form of Sisko): We examined your species' history, the totality of your existence. We discovered that you have not always been as you are now.

QUARK: We haven't?

PROPHET (in the form of Kira): There was a time when your peoples' acquiring nature was not so pronounced.

QUARK: Wait a second. Are you telling me that you somehow de-evolved the Nagus?

PROPHET (in the form of Bashir): We restored the Zek to an earlier, less adversarial state of existence.

But, it should be noted that when 'restored' to this peaceful non-corporate state, they look exactly the same as they do today. The 'evolution' therefore may be a cultural one, rather than a physical evolution of their species.

This is a debate that still rages on today in our society - whether behavior is born into a person, or taught over time. And since we have not yet solved it today, and there is no evidence that would lead us to solving it for this series, there's no way we can know if Ferengi greed is biological, behavioral, cultural, or some combination of the three.

What we do know is that their entire culture is based around this - to the point where it is customary to give payment for entry into a person's house, and the common greeting upon welcoming someone in is "My home is my home", followed by "as are its contents", with the explicit understanding that it would otherwise invite uninhibited theft. Reference

So it seems mostly cultural, and we know for a fact that at least two Ferengi are not entirely motivated by profit. They are Nog and Rom, both relatives of Quark who is, in every other way, highly profit-motivated. Though we see evidence that Rom does still have some capitalist tendencies, even when he joins Starfleet, the two of them can and do act beyond that tendency by joining a non-corporate organization.

And we also have Leck the Eliminator from The Magnificent Ferengi, who preferred assassination over accumulation - a very unusual Ferengi.

So while there may be some biological urge for profit in a Ferengi's blood (though we don't know for sure if there is), it is entirely possible for them to overcome it, and it definitely has happened.

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    good point with nog and rom, i believe that the majority of the greed is because of the culture that they live in. i dont think you can be biologically tuned to want money, however, you can be biologically tuned to have a drive for something, which is what i think the ferrengi have. because while rom and nog are not obsessed with greed, they do manifest a ferrengi's drive for success in their own personal endeavors.
    – Himarm
    Dec 5, 2014 at 15:05
  • Would Leck the eliminator (The Magnificent Ferengi) also be an example of a less profit orientated Ferengi? Dec 5, 2014 at 15:07
  • @Reluctant_Linux_User Yes, definitely.
    – Zibbobz
    Dec 5, 2014 at 15:13
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    Just because the Ferengi look the same does not mean that they have not undergone massive biological evolution, especially when it comes to brain chemistry. Dec 5, 2014 at 18:07
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish Then you should pay special attention to my qualifier - it 'may' not have been a biological change, since there's no visible change that the Nagus underwent. It's also possible that the Prophets only de-evolved his brain, leaving his body intact. It is imperfect proof at best, and difficult to decipher at worst.
    – Zibbobz
    Dec 5, 2014 at 18:11

EDIT: this question originally concerned ALL races in Star Trek before it was limited to the Ferengi. This answer deals with original question, although by and large it still applies to the updated question.

The answer will vary greatly from one individual to the next, and from one species to the next. It's not particularly fair to summarily label entire races this way. There are Klingon monks and Ferengi scientists, after all.

As with the real universe, it's a mixture of both, and it's context-dependent. In TNG "Suddenly human", a human boy raised by Talarins has been completely assimilated into their culture and refuses to rejoin humanity. In DS9, "The Abandoned" a Jem'Hadar is raised by Odo on DS9 and taught Federation values but nonetheless becomes a war-obsessed killing machine who ends up fleeing to the Gamma Quadrant to be with his people. Then there's Worf, who retains and honors his Klingon heritage but also respects his human upbringing, and honors the Federation and humanity in a way most Klingons wouldn't. I don't seem to recall any definitive preference towards one side or the other in any series.

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    The Jem'Hadar are a poor example. They're genetically enhanced and contain pre-programmed memories and urges.
    – Valorum
    Dec 5, 2014 at 11:07
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    I agree that this is not an entirely comfortable question in that we would not want to apply this question within humanity in the real world. However, it is a question that needs to be asked when considering races that are clearly different, as in Star Trek. The fact that this question makes me feel a little ill-at-ease is one of the reasons I think it is so worth asking and answering. Dec 5, 2014 at 11:16
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    @Richard The fact that new species are introduced as plot devices doesn't really have much bearing on the question of the in-universe source of their characteristics does it or am I missing something? Dec 5, 2014 at 11:37
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    @Richard You're missing the point of the question. How the different species were invented in the real world isn't relevant. I'm asking about how the differences between the species inside the universe are understood from inside the universe. Dec 5, 2014 at 11:50
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    For instance, let's say there was a new species introduced with remarkable artistic skills that all other species were left astonished by. Let's say the writers did this because they wanted to set up a relationship dynamic between one of this species and a ship's chief engineer. That doesn't explain how their artistic abilities came to be from the perspective of the characters inside the Star Trek universe. That is what I'm trying to get at. Would those skills be thought of as a natural gift of the species, a culture that prizes art more highly leading to great skill or a combination or what? Dec 5, 2014 at 11:52

Without drawing a line in the sand, I suggest that one cannot understimate the effect of the Rules of Acquisition, a cultural phenomenon. The Rules of Acquisition were first codified by Grand Nagus Gint over ten thousand years ago, which is an incredibly long time for any culture to continuously exist (at least by Earth standards. I know the Vulcans blah blah blah. But for perspective, for example, some regard the Chinese "culture"--let's not get into what exactly is a "culture" as distinct from the biological "people" who create that culture--as being two to more than four thousand years old. Or, Jewish "culture" counts a calendar of 5,767 years.)

I am not aware of any in-universe physiological or psychological/neurological explanation for the Ferengi dedication to the free market.

The original question specifies no real-world explanations, but surely evolution is understood in-universe. At any rate, I can't resist, so ignore the rest of this answer:

Of course, it is obviously helpful in business that Ferengi minds can't be read by some telepaths, and that they have excellent hearing. But I posit that the culture came first, and that cultural dispositions (i.e., mate selection) in the early market stages of Ferengi society tended to favor traits (psychological) best suited to Ferengi business. Real-world examples of natural selection for personality traits include: aggression (a favorable trait in species where, e.g., males compete for females); maternal instinct (works better for some species, not so much for others); and individual vs. flock/herd/schooling behaviors.

Rom and Nog, therefore, are genetic outliers to the general Ferengi trait of greed, much as sociopaths are outliers to the general human trait of sociability. Outliers often do bestow an evolutionary advantage to the group, even if the individual outliers suffer, so Rom and Nog are not "freaks" they are just... outliers.

  • At the beginning of the show both Rom and Nog are motivated by greed. Arguably, they've just been corrupted by Federation propaganda.
    – Valorum
    Dec 5, 2014 at 23:00
  • @Richard - or maybe they were just trying to be good Ferengi but are genetically predisposed not to be greedy. Or maybe it's Maybelline.
    – Xplodotron
    Dec 6, 2014 at 18:20
  • Quark is very clear that if you spend too much time around Hew-mons, you start having very strange ideas. He's of the opinion that these high-minded morals are only skin-deep; "Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, nephew. They're a wonderful, friendly people – as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working"
    – Valorum
    Dec 6, 2014 at 19:52
  • I always figured that it based on a hoarding instinct, like squirrels collecting nuts or magpies and shiny objects. It just developed with their culture
    – Aaron Abel
    Sep 28, 2023 at 21:08

I think we're ignoring a very important factor here. By singling out culture or biology, we ignore environmental factors.

It was established, on DS9, that it's always raining on Ferenginar. It's difficult to imagine any species evolving and developing in such an environment but, if one could, it would explain an early development of a barter system since doing anything, from gathering food to building shelters, is significantly more difficult in torrential rain. Paying someone else is better than working in the rain.

It was also stated, later in the series, that the Dominion could not conquer Ferenginar without conquering the surrounding systems first. The Ferengi had some impressive weapons but could never be considered a military power. That implies that the surrounding systems may have been more impressive from a military standpoint than the Ferengi (since the Dominion would HAVE to conquer them first rather than just waltzing straight through to Ferenginar) so the Ferengi may have been in a situation where they had to maintain a good relationship with a much more powerful neighbor and that would require them to be a commerce power instead of a military power.

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