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Sci-Fi The Courts Idle

Texas Supreme Court Cites Mr. Spock 345

An anonymous reader writes "We always knew that Spock was wise and would probably make a pretty good judge, so perhaps it's a good thing to see the Texas Supreme Court citing Spock in a recent ruling, noting his wisdom in stating that 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.'"


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Texas Supreme Court Cites Mr. Spock

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  • It would of be amazing if Bones stood up and said "Come on spock it's a court room not a space ship"
  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:00PM (#34082488)

    While as a Trekky, I like the reference. I hope that they referenced utilitarianism in the article and I hope that they recognize utilitarianism can be used to justify evil things including letting a few starve so everyone else can live. This may be realistic but its evil unless you are acting as spock and *SACRIFICING YOURSELF* to be one of the few helping the rest. If the rest are choosing you to die against your will, it's evil.

    Utilitarianism negates free will, property rights and individuality when misapplied (and perhaps when correctly applied too).

    • I was going to complain that the "Needs of the many..." thing is Pure Utilitarianism - but if you read the article you notice that its an actual citation. An actual reference to star trek, and the context of what happened in that scene.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fche ( 36607 )

        If you read the entire court decision, you'll see that they point to this Spockian utilitarianism as something to be wary of. Their decision was actually to reverse just such legislation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      evil things including letting a few starve so everyone else can live.

      As opposed to letting everyone starve? That's even eviler.

      Utilitarianism negates free will

      There is no such thing as free will in the first place.

      property rights

      If property rights cause more harm than good they should be abandoned.


      Not sure what you mean here. Your individuality is a physical fact. Different people have different bodies, brains, and therefore minds. It's as if you said "Utilitarianism negates hair color". No

      • So you agree, in principle that you have no rights and no basis to argue against any decision by others.

        No-- choosing a subset who dies is evil.

        If you can engage people's free will, then it's not evil.

        Examples, if we say, "We need three volunteers to die so everyone else can make it" and you get three volunteers, then you were not evil.

        If you don't ask, but three people volunteer, also not evil.

        And finally, if some subset up to 100% agree to die based on a lottery- then three die as a result of the lottery,

      • by Xiroth ( 917768 )

        As opposed to letting everyone starve? That's even eviler.

        There is no such thing as free will in the first place.

        If there's no such thing as free will, there's no such thing as evil. Just saying.

    • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:38PM (#34082830) Journal

      >>>Utilitarianism negates free will, property rights and individuality when misapplied

      Well said.

      Also most people forget the SECOND half of the saying: "You were wrong Mr. Spock. We decided that the needs of the ONE outweigh the needs of the many. That is why we risked our lives to save you." - Captain Kirk. The American Confederation and later United States Constitution was founded on that principle. The individual matters.

      • by DavMz ( 1652411 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @07:52PM (#34083820)

        I don't share your interpretation. In the movie, Kirk, Scott, Sulu, Chekov and McCoy go to find Spock body in order to perform a Vulcan ritual to free Spock's katra which he "uploaded" into McCoy's mind before dying and also to prevent McCoy from becoming crazy, and in order to do this they have to desobey superior's orders, steal the Enterprise and sabotage another ship, which is likely to bring them to Martial Court.
        So it's more in my opinion about friendship and loyalty among the crew of the USS Enterprise, and not about the US constitution; it's just people who say that, as individuals, they are willing to take risks to save one of them.
        The principle on which the US constitution was founded is the protection of individual rights and freedom. But for the rest, as any other country, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". That's why the US has an army, some tens of thousands of people who are ready to die and whom the government is willing to sacrifice in order to protect hundreds of millions.

    • Utilitarianism negates free will, property rights and individuality when misapplied (and perhaps when correctly applied too).

      The needs of the many should not outweigh the rights of the few.

      • In a trivial example, in any case where a larger (2+) group of people I care about will die and i can stop it by sacrificing myself to save them, their needs outweigh my needs. This could be my family, my friends, a bunch of children, a bunch of women (I'm just old fashioned I guess-even if they were lesbians- can't help myself), etc., etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:40PM (#34082854)

      John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian proponent, would say that harming a minority for the benefit of a majority would not be for the greatest good of the greatest number. Instead, Mill argues that the concepts of justice and individual rights emerge directly from the principle of utility. Violating individual rights, he says, more often leads to bad consequences than good, and individual rights as an unbreakable rule promotes the greater happiness.

      He spends a large portion of his book on utilitarianism arguing this, so it's not a particularly new objection to utilitarianism.

    • ... in a reference to urgency, not expediency. I suspect he knew that the one/many discussion was a long-running theme in the show.
    • Utilitarianism negates free will, property rights and individuality when misapplied (and perhaps when correctly applied too).

      Meanwhile, free will, property rights, and individuality negate everything else when misapplied (and definitely when correctly applied too).

      Everything is a tradeoff; that's life.

      I'm just amazed that there's a court in the U.S. that doesn't subscribe to the opposite fundamentalist philosophy: sacrifice everything for the weakest. But given that one exists, I'm not surprised it's Texas.

    • While I agree that utilitarianism can be misapplied, and I'd even go so far as to say that there are times when it is totally inappropriate, I'd like to point out that property rights are utilitarian.

      • How so? They seem like an individual right and in many cases, an individual with property rights thwarts the desire of a larger group to put up a hotel or ski lodge, drill for oil, etc.

        (seriously interested- what's the utilitarian argument for property rights?)

        • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @07:42PM (#34083766) Homepage

          A person's 'natural' right to property is limited only to what he can personally defend against others who might try to take it. Anything beyond that is purely based upon other people recognizing my claim, which they are not obligated to do, and may only do when it is in their own interest.

          That an individual might claim to own a particular piece of property doesn't mean that property law generally is founded on individuals.

          Your example of a single person fighting against a large and presumably unscrupulous group to keep their land only works when the single person can call upon the resources of a much larger group -- law enforcement, the judicial system, the army, etc. -- for aid. Consider the difference between someone being forced off their land at gunpoint by brigands, and someone being forced off their land via a foreclosure by a bank. Not only will the local sheriff not defend the second victim, he is apt to be called in to help kick him out. And if invulnerable aliens landed there the next day and disintegrated anyone who crossed the property line, the aliens would own it, because a good disintegration gun is worth a lot more than a mere property deed.

          It's not pretty, but this is how property law ultimately works when you get down to the bottom of it.

    • utilitarianism can be used to justify evil things including letting a few starve so everyone else can live

      Which is not evil, since by your wording the choices are "let a few starve so everyone else can live" or "let everyone starve because you're not willing to let anybody die first." I'm not saying it would be easy to decide (personally or from a ethical system standpoint) who should live and die in such a circumstance, but it is hardly a failure of utilitarianism.

      The major problem with utilitarianism i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

        Choosing to let everyone starve is the good choice if all decide to starve and none decide to sacrifice themselves. That the entire group dies isn't an evil event since no one's consent was violated.

        Choosing a few to die involuntarily (against their informed consent) is evil.


        Interesting point on the nothing to do with free will.

        My personal morality system reflects here. Essentially, if a rational (not drugged, drunk, or obviously insane) individual gives informed, uncoerced consent, then the act isn't

    • by DaveGod ( 703167 )

      I hope that they referenced utilitarianism in the article and I hope that they recognize utilitarianism can be used to justify evil things including letting a few starve so everyone else can live.

      That isn't even a dilemma, if the choice is a few or everybody (including said few) then you're not even sacrificing the few, they're dying anyway so you can only be said to be saving the others.

      It turns into a dilemma when you have an option to save the many which involves causing a few other innocent passers-by

    • I interpret "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" as being something that might have been said by Karl Marx. The original article doesn't really go into the context of the court case, but it is intereting that this came from Texas which conjures up images of rugged individualism.

  • Not quite (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:04PM (#34082522)

    Even as the footnotes to the ruling indicate, Spock was merely referencing a classic work of English literature. One of the hallmarks of good literature, and good art, are that they reflect the sensibilities of the culture which created them. That's what allows people to identify with the work and the characters therein, as well as learn a great deal about now-dead cultures through surviving works. If not for Beowulf and the Exeter Book, then we would not precious little about the minds of the ancient Anglo-Saxons. Citing Dickens, who was nothing if not socially conscious, seems perfectly reasonable. The fact that more people have seen Star Trek II than have likely read Dickens is just a way to help get the point across.

    If not for the Star Trek reference, this likely wouldn't have made it to Slashdot, however I honestly think that it's slightly disingenuous to relegate it to idle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I suspect more people have seen A Christmas Carol than Star Trek 2.

      BTW ever read part 2 of that story? Ebenezer Scrooge ends-up bankrupt because he goes from a spend-thrift to a careless spender (kinda like some americans today). Perhaps Ebenezer suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder? Unfortunately Bob Cratchet loses his job when Mr. Scrooge loses his bank and business.

      The moral is the same moral as Henry David Thoreau wrote-about in his novels: Moderation is the best course.

      • by Tacvek ( 948259 )

        What on earth are you saying? There was no part of the A Christmas Carol novella where in Scrooge went bankrupt. I suspect you are talking about one of the unofficial sequels, such as McHugh's "Scrooge & Cratchit".

  • Because (Score:4, Funny)

    by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:05PM (#34082532)

    the judge lost his copy of John Stuart Mill?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:06PM (#34082548)

    ...the rights of the few outweigh the interests, benefits, and even the needs of the many. "Democracy" is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. I'd rather see the rights of the minority protected, regardless of the opinions of a given science fiction character - pointy ears or no.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:48PM (#34082928) Journal

      Protecting the rights of everyone (including the few) is beneficial to everyone. If we have sheep for dinner tonight, there's nothing to stop me from being next. Therefore it's in my best interest to vote for constitutional limitations preventing anyone from being dinner, no matter how delicious that sheep may be.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by srothroc ( 733160 )
        Not everyone thinks like that, though. A lot of people seem to think more along the lines of "Damn, I could go for some sheep tonight... and seriously, there are a million sheep! What are the odds that I'LL be the one taken?"
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Not everyone thinks like that, though. A lot of people seem to think more along the lines of "Damn, I could go for some sheep tonight... and seriously, there are a million sheep! What are the odds that I'LL be the one taken?"

          It is not that there are some sheeps that think that way... IMHO, they are sheeps precisely because they think that way...

        • by REggert ( 823158 )

          Huh... are you against eating mutton?

    • Two wolves and a sheep is a 2/3 majority, which is enough to change the constitution. Just sayin...

    • Aristotle, 250 BC, "The Aim of Man": "Even supposing the chief good to be eventually the aim for the individual as for the state, that of the state is evidently of greater and more fundamental importance both to attain and to preserve. The securing of one individual's good is cause for rejoicing, but to secure the good of a nation or of a city-state is nobler and more divine."
  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:09PM (#34082588)
    This story has no context. Without knowing what the decision was that they cited this on, there is no way for me to judge how appropriate this was or wasn't.
    • ... there is no way for me to judge how appropriate this was or wasn't.

      This is slashdot. What site were you looking for?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DougBTX ( 1260312 )
      Here's the context:

      First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan21), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency. That is, there must exist a societal peril that makes collective action imperative: “The police power is founded in public necessity, and only public necessity can justify its exercise.”22 Third, whether the surrender of constitutional guarantees is necessary is a legislative call in terms of desirability but a judicial one in terms of constitutionality. The political branches decide if laws pass; courts decide if laws pass muster. The Capitol is the center of policymaking gravity, but the Constitution exerts the strongest pull, and police power must bow to constitutional commands: “as broad as [police power] may be, and as comprehensive as some legislation has sought to make it, still it is subsidiary and subordinate to the Constitution.”23 Fourth, because the Constitution claims our highest allegiance, a police-power action that burdens a guarantee like the Retroactivity Clause must make a convincing case.24 Finally, while police power naturally operates to abridge private rights, our Constitution, being inclined to freedom, requires that such encroachments be as slight as possible: “Private rights are never to be sacrificed to a greater extent than necessary.”25 []

      Note: "cabined" means limited, contained in a small place

      TL;DR: The Vulcan quote was used as an example of evil to be contained, not as a guiding principle.

  • by destinyland ( 578448 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:10PM (#34082598)
    The judge obviously hasn't seen Star Trek III... Captain Kirk and his crew risk their lives to save Spock. And when he asks them why, Kirk replies "The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many." And then Spock raises an eyebrow...
  • The Decision (Score:3, Informative)

    by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:22PM (#34082720) Homepage Journal
    • Re:The Decision (Score:4, Informative)

      by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:35PM (#34082810)

      This is actually a concurring opinion, and not the main opinion. As such, little can be gleaned from it regarding what the actual case is about. This [] is the main opinion. Quoting the summary:

      The issue we address in this case is whether a statute that limits certain corporations’ successor liability for personal injury claims of asbestos exposure violates the prohibition against retroactive laws contained in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution1 as applied to a pending action. We hold that it does, and therefore reverse the judgment of the court of appeals2 and remand the case to the trial court.

      So as we can see, it's a rather dull case concerning asbestos.

      • Re:The Decision (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @05:42PM (#34082872)

        So as we can see, it's a rather dull case concerning asbestos.

        A slightly more interesting interpretation is its a case about retroactively applying laws.

        In a world where the laws are purchased by corporations acting as people, and almost no biological people can afford professional representation/interpretation of the law, the finer details of the rule of law are kind of irrelevant or uninteresting to the populous. But in a less apathetic world its an interesting situation.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Saxophonist ( 937341 )
          In skimming through the decision, I noticed that the legislative history of Chapter 149 (the relevant law being overturned in this instance) was discussed. It really looks like Chapter 149 was bought and paid for by the defendant in the case; yet, I did not notice any discussion of that matter. Perhaps someone who read the decision, or its concurrences, more thoroughly could comment. This type of legislative issue tends to be of interest to Slashdot readers, judging by some of their comments.
    • What was the damn case about? I understand all the words written there, and get the snarky tone of judges at the beginning, but cant make head or tail about the actual dispute was about.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vlm ( 69642 )

        Little company makes something that turns out to be quite dangerous.

        Big company buys little company and immediately strips the assets, sells off the division that make dangerous stuff.

        Is the big company liable for everything the little company's dangerous division ever did if they never directly actually did anything dangerous?

        Lots of paperwork and billable hours burned there.

        Idiots hear the words "possession is nine tenths of the law" and don't realize they look stupid claiming that means whomever holds so

  • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @06:05PM (#34083068)

    Seriously, "the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few", sounds like socialism......AND in Texas yet. Rush LImbaugh better sound the alarm bells.

  •   Technically, they were quoting Gene Roddenberry and/or the writers of the show*, not Spock, who is a fictional character.

      * Not entirely sure who wrote the script, hence... it reminds me of people who quote Prof La Paz from Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, when they should be quoting Heinlein ;-)


  • by frytoy ( 1313613 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @06:31PM (#34083252)
    Interestingly, nobody seems to complain when sacrifice is imposed for the sake of war - i.e. WWII. Why is only war, and not the human quality of life for all citizens, a worthy cause? Can we not build a society that rewards achievement _and_ protects those who have failed from utter ruin? Can we not have a utilitarian baseline of humane living conditions for all, and a capitalist economic engine that allows for the successful to rise (well) above the baseline? Also, why not these same concepts to protect the environment and other resources for future generations? Why is it only considered immoral to require some sacrifice when the goal is peaceful and just? This is not communism - this is a capitalist, socialist, utilitarian hybrid that works very well when implemented in good faith, and is basically the system we would have if it weren't for the constant undermining influence of the libertarian right in our government.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In general, "moderated" anything is not an example of fairness, but of ignorance, muddled thinking, and an inability to synthesize a more complete and/or consistent philosophy.

      This is not communism - this is a capitalist, socialist, utilitarian hybrid that works very well when implemented in good faith, and is basically the system we would have if it weren't for the constant undermining influence of the libertarian right in our government.

      Sorry, but what you have in mind is communism, and it only works as long as the productive people are separated from the consumers a la Eloi and Morlocks, and both groups are lied to. It has been tried over and over again, and each time fails once producers become aware of their exploitation, and consumers are made aware of their pre

  • Well, true. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @06:33PM (#34083272) Homepage Journal
    the opposite, is aristocracy, elitism. it doesnt matter how it happens ; whether a minority owns more than the majority, and/or rules them, it ends up as being feudalism.

    in capitalism, this is provided by the inner mechanisms of capitalist system. free market just functions as a 'free for all' chaos environment in which a pecking order will get established in future. the 'better' competitors, however better they are (fair or unfair) get ahead, buy or subdue others (controlling shares), and increasingly control aspects of various industries.

    if, nothing intervenes, then eventually after a while EVERYthing gets consolidated at the hands of a particular group. this may be as small as 4-5 people, just like in usa in late 19th century, or, it may be a group of conglomerates, which own and run aspects of life through proxies and conglomerate structure. (as in now).

    it doesnt matter how it happens : as long as a minority group has ownership of the resources and amenities in a given nation, they are de facto rulers of that nation. it may end up through establishing an elite through birthright, it may happen through establishing mega conglomerates by fair competition, which then ends up getting inherited.

    think : competition, is competition. eventually, some will do better than others, and get to top. if there is nothing controlling their power, they will establish a hierarchy. AND, because there is inheritance, the established pecking order will just get inherited to heirs, and it will practically be an aristocratic dynasty. it doesnt matter whether these people do it consciously, planned, and be aware of each other and what they are doing. it is automatic, subconscious, and just a mechanical result of the system.

    the ONLY thing different now, from the medieval feudal aristocratic system is, everyone is supposedly allowed to attempt being aristocrats. 'supposedly' and 'attempt' words are in the preceding sentence, because they describe how little chance such a thing happening has ; if, in medieval times, everyone was allowed to just attempt setting up a feudal lordship, (instead of being through birthright), the newcomers would find it impossible to set a domain for their own, because established pecking order would overpower them. just like that, it is as such in capitalist system of today ; enter into a market, try to be someone, establish yourself. as soon as you get noticeable and become a competitor, you are either clamped down through 'competitive' means, or, bought out. if the two not avail, then you are coerced into the hierarchy that is present in your area, which is the sub hierarchy that rules nationwide.

    RARELY, there happens 'wild west' situations. original wild west, was one. it was a chaotic, free for all environment, where there were noone established, and the established powers were far away and unable to reach and dominate it. in this free for all environment, first to come and to get on top, established themselves into various points in the newly occurring pecking order. then, this pecking order, eventually got integrated with the greater hierarchy of the entire nation.

    AND a contemporary example ; the internet, i.t., digitization of the society was another such land rush, a wild west. it was new, it wasnt even taken seriously at the start, noone knew what was it and what was going to happen. opportunist people with ideas and ambitions have entered this area. just like all these wild west situations, it was a phenomenally free environment in which there was great opportunities, great freedom. practical 'nobodies' (compared to established conglomerate owners) got rich over years' time, sometimes days. in a brave free world, the capitalist system seemed to fulfill its promise. after all, there was opportunity for the lower strata of society, who didnt have any capital and any place in pecking order - people were getting rich, right ?


    look how long did it take for it to end and an established order to come up. a deca
  • A lot of those footnote comments in legal opinions are put in there not by the judges writing them, but by their clerks typing them up, who end up with the task of looking up all the citations.

    I once read one by a judge who was notorious for never following up on what his clerks cited, so they would try to one-up each other by seeing what they could get away with. When the opinion noted that the plaintiff's version of events didn't jive with other records, the accompanying citation read, "'Can't seem to fac

  • Signs of progress (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KGBear ( 71109 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @07:08PM (#34083518) Homepage
    If Texans cited Star Trek at least as often as they cite the Bible, Texas, the US and actually the whole would be a happier place...
    • Re:Signs of progress (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @08:53PM (#34084296) Journal

      You'll be disturbed to know that the origins of that quote are....wait for it....

      The Bible:

      John 11:49-50 the Apostle John wrote, "And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."

      So, it's likely that he wasn't quoting Spock.

  • "the needs of the money, outweigh the needs of the few"
  • Will it embrace IDIC?

  • the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few

    ...Texas is still pursuing its lawsuit challenging the new federal health care law.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You're missing the point that the "few" in this example are the one or two generations who will benefit from subsidized healthcare and an extra 10-20 years of lifespan at the expense of the "many" of younger generations who get completely screwed when the system completely collapses.

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Sunday October 31, 2010 @09:30PM (#34084538)

    In the early discussions between Prof, Manny and Wyo in Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Prof poses a question that is the inverse of this. Manny replies that there is nothing the state can do that overrides Manny's best interests. I don't have the book at hand right now, but it's a great discussion, and should be on the required reading list of every student and prospective political candidate.

  • by modmans2ndcoming ( 929661 ) on Sunday October 31, 2010 @10:05PM (#34084792)

    Since Utilitarianism is not a spock thing and he simply quoted the axiom in the movie, it is hardly quoting Spock to quote the phrase.

The next person to mention spaghetti stacks to me is going to have his head knocked off. -- Bill Conrad