Harvard Law Professor Uses “Measure of a Man” To Illustrate the Power of Good Questions

A feel-good story today, and one I think is worth retelling.

Those of us who are Star Trek fans know how inspirational the show can be. Nonetheless, it’s always a wonderful surprise to hear a successful, public person talk about how Star Trek influenced or influences their lives.

Harvard Law Today brings us the story of Martha Minow, a law professor whose recent lecture to the graduating class of Harvard Law School pulled an important lesson, straight from Star Trek. Martha Minow is the 300th Anniversary University Professor (one of Harvard Law’s highest honors) and former Dean of Harvard Law School.

During her lecture, Professor Minow focused on the art of asking good questions, and used a scene from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man” to illustrate. She told the story of how Data was the subject of courtroom drama, deciding whether he could be taken apart for study. Initially the court sides with Commander Maddox, the Starfleet cyberneticist who wishes to study the android, arguing that because he’s human-created, he can be considered property. But after consulting with Guinan in Ten Forward, Captain Picard argues that human beings are, by a similar definition, also made by people, and that we will be judged in the future by how we treat the next generation of androids.

Minow says: “I tell you this story to [help you] understand the power of asking the right questions... Ultimately, our questions define us: What we care about, what matters, and what we become. The questions that you will ask as graduates—that will make the difference about whether a person can stay in his or her home, whether or not the internet is uncensored, whether or not corruption is exposed... And whether or not there will be new enterprises—and I don’t mean spaceships, but maybe you’ll do that too.”

Alison Pitt