I’m sure you have heard that Leonard Nimoy died. I, like almost everyone else, will forever think of him as Mr. Spock. And I, unlike most people, will forever think of Mr. Spock as my first philosophy teacher.
Of course everyone associates Spock, and all Vulcanians (that’s what they were called in the original TV series), with logic. While logic is a branch of philosophy, many people don’t realize that, and I’m not really talking about his logic. Many people also know that Gene Roddenberry used stoic philosophy as a sort of guide in the creation of Spock’s character. But, that’s not what I am talking about either. There are two elements to Mr. Spock that are essential to all great philosophy. One is the fact that he is always an included outsider. The other is his sense of wonder.
The position of included outsider is important to philosophy. What I mean by the phrase included outsider is that a philosopher needs access and distance. Too close and there is no objectivity, but too far and objectivity is sterile. From Socrates’ gadfly to Nagel’s “View From Nowhere”, this has been a part of the philosophical tradition for as long as there has been a tradition. Spock is the perfect embodiment of an included outsider. He is an alien from the point of view of the audience and most of his shipmates, but he is a part of the crew and a friend. Even on his home planet, he is half human and not fully accepted. His outsider status allows him to see things that no one else can. But his relationships are what allow him to use those insights.
The ancient Greeks said that philosophy begins in wonder. Without wonder we wouldn’t progress, we wouldn’t question. Wonder, even more than intelligence and society, is what defines us. Spock’s sense of wonder is constantly on display, but rarely talked about. Everyone associates Spock with the word, “Logical.” I was always struck by his use of the word, “Fascinating.” He is not looking for profit or power. Spock wants to learn just because he is curious. And I think this is where Nimoy really shines. Vulcanians are cold and calculating when played by anyone else. When Spock says, “Fascinating,” the sense of wonder comes through.
As I have studied philosophy, Spock has always been a kind of model. Not because I follow any of his specific ideas, but because I try to emulate his style. I try to cultivate a sense of wonder. I try to be objective while still being involved and caring. Leonard Nimoy created a character that truly impacted me and I think helped to make me who I am. For that, I will be forever grateful.