Lesson 131: Dichotomy of the moral choice
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 7/10 ('Inheritance')


Data, an android, learns that the visiting scientist, who believes she was the wife of the scientist who created Data and thus, considers her self to be essentially Data's mother, is actually a very sophisticated android with feelings, built by the same scientist replacing his human wife who had died.

Seeing that she is totally unaware of her android existence and that she truly believes she is totally human, Data is faced with the issue of whether or not to tell her the truth.

In discussing the situation with Capt. Picard and Counselor Troi, Troi tells Data that as an android, if Data's quest has always been to be more human, and given that the woman android believes her self to be human, why take away from the woman android the ultimate goal to which he himself aspires.


The question of do we always need to tell the truth has been the topic of debate of philosophers and of students of thought for ages.

While it is true that axioms in physics and mathematics are incontrovertible within our known space-time continuum, 'to always tell the truth' cannot really be an axiom of moral law. Each case needs to be appraised on its own merits and situations before exercising the option to 'tell the truth.'

As incredulous and disconcerting as that may sound, let's review a few scenarios to better illustrate the point.

When a very young child loses a parent, do we really need to tell the truth to the child that we have no conclusive or tangible evidence, and thereby knowledge, of what happens to humans when they die and that it is only in our faith and belief where we find any solace - or do we just calm the child by assuring them that their parent is now in a happier better place with other passed on relatives such as grand ma and grand pa.

If a child keeps swinging the bat and keeps missing the pitched softball and you intentionally throw a very easy pitch, which they hit really well, should you take away their elation and sense of accomplishment by telling them the truth of the easy pitch?

To paraphrase the famous example from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, if the Nazis knock on your front door and ask if you are hiding Jews in your attic (and in truth you are!), how do you answer them, knowing that telling the truth will result in the certain death of those you are hiding and most likely yourself too?

The moral duty is to obviously always protect the innocents and thus, not tell the truth.

However, as impractical and as cold hearted as it may sound, one may take the stance that to uphold my moral duty, I must always tell the truth, and that the immorality which will be committed as a result of my action is the responsibility of the Nazis and not me.

As ridiculous as that argument sounds, it does highlight the paradox of contradictory results that can arise from the maxim of always telling the truth.

By doing our moral duty to protect the innocents we violate the moral law of always telling the truth, and vice versa, by following the moral law of always telling the truth, we violate our moral duty to protect the innocents and condemn them to death.

There are no quick and easy answers to this issue here.

All of us make such choices in our everyday life, maybe not so dramatic in consequence, however, just as important in our continuing self-appraisal of our own moral values.

If we are not part of any fringe extremists section of the population, then we probably care about the welfare of all other humans around us, and it is probably in our exercise of the unwritten laws of kindness and concern for others where we can find the right answers to our moral dilemmas.

For Data, his final decision to not reveal the truth to his female android 'mother' of her non-human existence reflects his overriding programming for the protection of all life-forms against suffering and harm, and verges on the human conditions of exhibiting kindness.

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