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Post Posted: January 16th 2005 3:28 pm

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
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What if you and fifteen of your fellow fans got together and were able to publish some of your best reflections on Star Wars? That's exactly what Kevin Decker and I, philosophy teachers and long-time fans, have been able to do with ‘Star Wars and Philosophy,’ a new book of essays that'll be widely available at booksellers across the nation in early April and can already be pre-ordered on and

The Force moved us to ask the following questions: Was Anakin predestined to fall to the Dark Side? Are the Jedi truly role models of moral virtue? Why would the citizens and protectors of a democratic republic allow it to descend into a tyrannical empire? Is Yoda a peaceful Zen master or a great warrior, or both? Why is there both a Light and a Dark Side of the Force? We think that pondering these questions, and many others, will give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the films in a new light and inspire discussions for a long time.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find inside:


Judith Barad

So, you’d like to be a Jedi Knight? Surely a good part of the appeal is the adventure, the excitement, the glory of this undertaking. But wait a minute! When Obi-Wan Kenobi attempts to persuade Yoda to train Luke, the diminutive Jedi Master objects that Luke isn’t a good candidate for training because all his life he has craved adventure and excitement. In Yoda’s words, “A Jedi craves not these things.” The path to becoming a Jedi lies within.

Suppose you’re not deterred. You still want to be a Jedi Knight just as much as you wanted to the first time you saw Star Wars. As a would-be Jedi student, you’ll need to have a teacher. Yoda is probably your best bet, given his experience. For over 800 years, the small, green Master has trained Jedi Knights. But having identified a teacher doesn’t mean that the teacher will accept you as a student. Being someone’s student is a privilege, not an entitlement. Yoda will most likely examine your mental attitudes before he accepts or rejects you for training. He will insist that you must have “the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” If you’re committed and serious, there is one more prerequisite that must be met before training can commence. You must have the patience to finish what you begin. The process of becoming a Jedi Knight is definitely not quick and easy.

The Old Republic and the Older Republic

If you find these prerequisites within you, it’s important to keep the underlying purpose of being a Jedi firmly in mind. The ultimate aims of the Jedi are peace and justice. When Obi-Wan first presents Luke Skywalker with a lightsaber, he explains that the Jedi Knights “were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic”. If we really want to know about the “Old Republic” we should turn to Plato’s seminal work entitled, oddly enough, The Republic. Plato suggests that an ideal society should train a group of virtuous warriors to preserve peace and justice in the commonwealth. It’s true that Plato’s Republic doesn’t have the galactic proportions we see depicted in Star Wars; but much of Plato’s teachings are reflected in the Star Wars galaxy. By comparing Plato’s notion of a warrior class to the Jedi Knights and his Republic’s Guardians to the Jedi Masters, we can acquire a richer understanding of the Jedi. With this understanding, we will be more successful in living our life to the full, just as a Jedi should.

Plato prescribes a long and rigorous period of training, which he thinks will yield knowledge of goodness and justice. Those who complete this training successfully, he insists, are fit to guard society for they will have developed the virtues associated with goodness and justice. A central feature of virtue ethics is the claim that an action is right if and only if it’s what a person with a virtuous character would do in the circumstances. Plato thus emphasizes the development of virtues. An initial step in the testing that Plato requires is hard physical training for the future Guardians. However, the purpose of this training is not simply muscular strength. Rather, it is undertaken to improve the soul, that is, the mind. Unless you train your body to obey your mental commands, Plato teaches, you won’t be able to have within yourself the necessary power to drive you forward on the road to even greater mental control over other things. Proper physical training produces the virtues of courage and endurance. But training to the exclusion of intellectual development may make a person may become hard and savage. Just glance at the wrestling shows on television, like WWE Smackdown!

Just as Plato requires a training program that combines physical and mental skills, so does Yoda. The training you’ll receive will probably be similar to the training young Luke Skywalker receives from Yoda, since you’re probably nearer his age than younger padawans. Throughout his training, Luke questions Yoda about good and evil, the Force, and other concepts important to a Jedi. Likewise, Plato’s Republic features a question and answer interplay between teacher and students as Socrates’s “padawans” question him about justice and injustice, the nature of the Good, and the ideal government.
The first step in the Jedi training Yoda imposes on Luke is intensely physical. Its point is not only to increase his endurance but to provide a crash course in Jedi virtues of discipline and persistence. By developing endurance, a Jedi padawan has the capacity to work his way through difficulties despite the frustration inherent in the task. One will learn to continue striving in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and defeat. Endurance, requiring self-control, provides a padawan with the ability to struggle over an extended time to achieve their goals. On Dagobah, the Jedi Master pushes his young student to the limit. Racing in and out of the heavy ground fog with Yoda on his back, Luke is winded as he climbs, flips through the air, and leaps over roots. Yet, he endures and continues striving.

A Balancing Act

The next step in Luke’s training is to learn physical balance. He stands on his head while Yoda perches on the soles of his feet. Like the other physical exercises, this one also has a predominantly mental objective. It requires such great concentration that nothing can distract him. By maintaining his balance, Luke is in control of himself and the circumstances around him.

Perhaps Plato’s padawan, Aristotle, can help us understand the importance of balance. To avoid being overcome by strong emotions, Aristotle recommends that we have the right balance of virtue – the “Golden Mean.” Here, all actions can be evaluated on a scale of excess to deficiency. Virtue is “the mean” or the intermediate between excess and deficiency. It’s a balanced action responding to a particular situation at the right time, in relation to the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way. For instance, you can fear something either too much or too little. Fearing too much may lead to cowardice, as when Chewie ran from the Dianoga in A New Hope. Fearing too little, as was the case when Anakin rushed headlong to confront Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, may lead to rashness, both undesirable traits. The balanced trait, that is, the virtue between fearing too much or too little, is virtue.

Suppose you face an ethical dilemma and fear making a decision because you have only incomplete information regarding the circumstances. You want to make the best decision possible and so try to collect as much information as you can. But, in reality, that's often not possible. Saddled with incomplete information, you may fear making a decision that might end up being wrong. But perhaps it's worse not to attempt to find a solution to the dilemma than to risk making a mistake, and so you rationally conclude that you shouldn't fear making such a mistake. Reason can help remove excess fear about being wrong, as well as inspire a proper respect for the gravity of the situation. By balancing too much fear against too little fear, you can attain the virtue of courage.

We see this illustrated near the end of Luke’s training period. Sensing that his friends are in pain and suffering, he asks Yoda, “Will they die?” But Yoda can’t see their fate. Luke is in anguish. Both of his teachers, Yoda and Obi-Wan, counsel him to wait before going to their aid. If he decides to help them, he risks possible danger to himself. Yet if he decides not to help them, they may die. Even though Luke has incomplete information and is aware that he may be mistaken, he arrives at a decision, one that he has not reached lightly. He courageously decides to help his friends.

So suppose you fear skydiving, but you learn to overcome your fear. If you decide to go ahead and skydive because you are essentially a thrill-seeker, would this count as a courageous act? While Aristotle would applaud Luke’s decision to help his friends as a courageous act, he would probably label your decision to satisfy your thrill-seeking desire as a rash act rather than a courageous one. What’s the difference? Well, for Aristotle, the act of confronting danger or risk becomes courageous if & only if both decision and just cause enter the picture. The skydiving decision lacks just cause, which is essential to a courageous act. In contrast, Luke’s decision, reached after serious consideration, involves a just cause – the lives of his friends.

Yet the very notion of fear seems to oppose the Jedi teaching at its core. Yoda tells Anakin that he’s not fit to begin training because of the great fear the young boy feels. The Jedi Master warns, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Yoda also warns Luke about anger, fear, and aggression. Does Yoda mean a Jedi should never experience fear and anger? His words could be interpreted in this way. But if we think about it, although the virtue of courage and the emotion of fear may seem to be mutually exclusive, they’re actually quite compatible. The truly courageous person not only fears what she should when there’s a reasonable basis for fear, but she can also stand up to fear and confront risk or danger. This is also true of anger, provided that anger is guided by reason. When Luke battles his father for the last time, as the Emperor goads Luke to “use your aggressive feelings” and to “let the hate flow through you,” he controls his anger when he realizes it will lead him to the Dark Side. He reasons that the only way to destroy the Dark Side is to renounce it. Yet his anger, controlled by reason, is what gives him the courage to stand up to the evil, powerful Emperor. Throwing his lightsaber aside, he says with resolve, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
Not only is “righteous” anger compatible with courage, but it can also result in acting justly ¬– another virtue. Feeling angry about someone’s unfair treatment could lead you to take positive action to correct this treatment. For the Jedi, it’s important to stop violent and abusive behavior, and to defend the innocent against assault. Yet, if possible, a Jedi should use nonviolent means to accomplish this. It is true, now, that your emotions enable you to act more promptly and easily than merely reasoning about a situation. So if controlled by reason, emotions can actually fuel the kind of virtuous action a Jedi should engage in.

It’s thus unlikely that Yoda’s admonitions about fear and anger should be interpreted as meaning that a Jedi never feels those emotions. Rather, he probably means that a Jedi never acts from fear and anger. A Jedi acts when reason is in control, when he’s “calm, at peace, passive.” In fact, as Yoda tells Luke, only a calm mind can distinguish the good side from the bad. In contrast, acting from an agitated condition clouds one’s mind from knowing right from wrong. Anakin acts from uncontrolled anger when he sees his mother die at the hands of the Sand People. He confesses to Padmé that, in retaliation, he killed them all: “They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men … But the women and the children, too. They’re like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals … I hate them.” Padmé attempts to console Anakin by reminding him that “to be angry is to be human,” to which Anakin responds sharply, “I’m a Jedi, I know I’m better than this.”

Entering the Deep, Dark Cave

In order to succeed as a Jedi Knight, one must identify one’s deepest fears and learn to overcome them. As part of his Jedi training, Yoda makes Luke enter the recesses of a dark cave where he will come face to face with himself as he confronts the fearsome apparition of Darth Vader. When Luke enters the cave, he’s ignorant of the nature of these fears; he doesn’t know himself as well as he should. Clearly, this lack of self-knowledge can interfere with his self-control. It’s difficult to control what you don’t understand. Self-knowledge entails an understanding of our fears and other emotions, habits, and personal relationships. It implies an understanding of the possibilities that are open to us, as well as a realistic sense of our limitations. And it implies an understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, and faults. So when Luke enters the cave, as frightening as it is, he’s given an opportunity for self-knowledge, a release from his ignorance of the hidden aspects of his nature.

Similarly, Plato has a famous story about a cave of ignorance, the condition he thinks most people live in. Here chained prisoners, unable to see one another, see only the wall of the cave in front of them upon which appear shadows cast by small statuettes of animals and objects that are passed before a burning fire by people behind a low wall. The prisoners believe that the shadows they see are all there is in the world. By this imagery, Plato wants to show us that most people are ignorant of their true selves and reality. Although they’re deeply ignorant, the cave dwellers are content with the “knowledge” they think they have. Then someone releases one of the prisoners. Standing up and looking around him, the former prisoner now has a clearer perception of the cave he inhabits. Yet the light from the fire, which he has never seen before, hurts his eyes. In other words, he is quite uncomfortable with his new knowledge. It even pains him and he desires to return to his chained position. Aside from the literal experience of suddenly looking at a bright light, why would he experience discomfort and pain from learning something new? Well, looking at himself in this new light would force him to revise the familiar image he had of himself and of the world he’s been living in. He may then have to change his former beliefs, values, and ways of doing things. Few people welcome this kind of change in their lives. Yet his rescuer encourages him to search further until he’s finally freed from the cave’s confines and attains a vision of the Good, Plato’s highest principle.

Yoda, of course, corresponds to the rescuer. When he sends Luke into the cave, Luke first sees shadows of the truth, for the youth mistakenly believes that his deepest fear is Darth Vader. However, after decapitating Vader’s image, he sees the severed head more clearly. The experience provides him with an alternative shadow to help him discover his true nature. Gazing in horror, he recognizes that the face looking up at him isn’t Vader’s, but his own! Corresponding to the freed prisoner’s first sight of the fire, Luke first recognizes his real fears. He realizes that he’s afraid of becoming evil, fears that his weaknesses of unrestrained anger and impatience would prevent him from becoming the Jedi he yearns to be. These fears are based on his failure to fully trust himself to resist temptation. By realizing and confronting the implications of his fears about himself, Luke is liberated from the chains of ignorance.

When Luke meets his father for the second time in a real battle, he succeeds in overcoming his anger and hatred by seeing the good in his father. His vision of this good results in forgiveness and compassion, such that he refuses to kill Vader. At this moment, Luke experiences the ultimate triumph of a Jedi Knight. The Jedi Knight resists evil, but does so motivated by a compassion that remains open to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Both Luke’s experience and Plato’s story urge us to look beyond the familiar image each of us has of ourselves, so that we can be aware of our weaknesses. Being aware of our weaknesses, we are able to rectify them. Once our weaknesses are rectified, we will have the stability of character that is desirable both in a Guardian and in a Jedi since it enables them to remain unchangeable in the face of dangerous internal and external forces. If someone displays the character traits of justice, courage, and compassion to the extent that it has become a habit for them to act in these ways, they can be counted on to behave in these ways. They will rarely be influenced by conflicting self-interests or swayed by temptations, as Obi-Wan wasn’t at all tempted to join Dooku to obtain release from captivity. When Obi-Wan refuses to join the Dark Side, he displays the virtue of integrity. Having integrity, he can discern what is right from wrong and act on what he discerns, even at personal cost.

Just as the former prisoner in Plato’s Cave Allegory at last sees the Good, the successful Jedi must see the good in others, a recognition which motivates forgiveness and compassion. These two virtues drive out uncontrolled anger and hatred so that the Dark Side is no longer a threat. Forgiveness frees a Jedi to overlook transgressions made against him so that he no longer needs to carry around the burdens of resentment and hostility. Even without saying the words “I forgive you” to his father, Luke’s forgiveness of his father is clear as Vader lies dying in his son’s arms.

The Right Kind of Love

The other virtue that’s generated by seeing the Good is compassion. Anakin, in an intimate moment with Padmé, defines compassion as “unconditional love” which is “central to a Jedi’s life.” There’s a huge difference between unconditional love and erotic or romantic love. In the scene where Anakin defines compassion for Padmé, she’s beginning to fall in love with him. Aware that he’s very attracted to her, she asks Anakin, “Are you allowed to love? I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi.” The young Jedi responds with his definition of compassion, distinguishing it from attachment and possession, which are both forbidden to a Jedi. The Jedi approve of compassion, a higher and more universal form of love, while attachment to a particular individual is frowned upon. Personal attachment to someone or something is an intense emotion, which can lead to fear of losing what one is attracted to, and we know already where fear leads; compassion is a virtue. More precisely, compassion is a selfless love, involving a deep, cherishing concern for each individual as having intrinsic value. That is, individuals are valued for their own sake, regardless of their capacity to achieve anything else.

Plato also seeks to prevent the Guardians from having private attachments and possessions, which might conflict with wholehearted devotion to the public welfare. Since the Guardians are servants of the Republic, they should have no temptations to neglect the public interest; they should have no land, houses, or money of their own. This approach avoids the corruption and conflicts that can happen when it’s possible for authorities to place their own good above the public good.

Plato maintains that the virtuous life is much more satisfying than personal relationships. It is so much more real than romantic attachments that those who live it will lose a great deal of the ordinary person’s interest in sexual satisfaction. The very intensity of a guardian’s universal love or compassion will make him less dependent upon particular attachments. The Guardians devote as much of themselves as they can to public service. By forbidding romantic attachments, Plato hopes to free the Guardians from the competition and jealousy of these exclusive relationships. More importantly, without romantic attachments, the Guardians won’t be tempted to prefer such private interests to those of the entire community. We see how Anakin almost puts his love for Padmé above the safety of the entire galaxy when she falls out of a gunship chasing Count Dooku. Aware that he may be expelled from the Jedi Order, Anakin wants to rescue her, even if it means that Dooku might escape and the Clone Wars expand beyond Geonosis. Only when Obi-Wan reminds him that in such circumstances Padmé would fulfill her duty does Anakin agree to fulfill his.

But does compassion for others necessarily require people to sacrifice personal attachments to concern for the larger society? Compassion is at the root of virtuous conduct; it is the notion that everyone counts. But to say that is to say that you count as well. And an individual may feel more fulfilled when allowed to love particular others and to be loved by them in return. At the end of Luke’s training on Dagobah, he experiences an internal conflict between his commitment to becoming a Jedi and his loyalty to his friends, whom he senses are suffering. Loyalty is a Jedi virtue for clearly the Jedi should be loyal to one another, to their ideals, and to the Republic. Yet loyalty also entails an unwavering commitment to the people you value. It involves the subordination of your private interests in favor of their more pressing needs. Not only would Luke have been disloyal if he had ignored his closest friends in their distress, but he would also have lacked compassion. And it is the virtue of compassion that enables him to see through Vader to the good within him and to bring that goodness out. There’s nothing inherently unethical about living in a way that enhances one’s personal relationships. But neither does the advancement of personal relationships allow one to disregard the well-being of others or ignore duties. So perhaps the Jedi Order should allow family life, but prevent it from interfering with public duty.

Is Brainwashing Ethically Sanitary?

One more problem about Jedi training requires some reflection. Part of Luke’s training is to learn to control objects with his mind. First, he levitates a small rock, and then his sunken X-wing fighter. Now if this exercise is meant simply to learn concentration, there would be nothing wrong with it. Concentration, in itself, is a valuable skill and a necessary one for a Jedi Knight. But, eventually a Jedi progresses from mentally controlling inanimate objects to being able to mentally control “weak-minded” individuals. The Jedi can use mind control to plant suggestions in weak minds, making them do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. For instance, at Mos Eisley Spaceport a trooper demands Obi Wan’s and Luke’s identification, but speaking in a very controlled voice and with a slight wave of his hand, Obi-Wan makes the trooper think that he doesn’t need to see their identification. A much younger Obi Wan used mind control to convince a young drug pusher that he doesn’t need to sell “death sticks” (which look suspiciously like cigarettes) any more and that he should go home and rethink his life. Now using mind control over others is a kind of brainwashing, a practice most people think of as horrible. But is the practice justifiable if it’s used for a good purpose? The problem is that anyone who brainwashes or controls the mind of another believes they are doing so for a good purpose. Can Plato help us out here?

Plato sympathizes with the desire to influence weak-minded people. However, rather than directly controlling the minds of such people by the power of his own will, he uses the power of his thought to construct a myth designed to control the beliefs of the weak-minded by appealing to their imagination. The myth is this: the earth gives birth to people, so that all citizens are born of the same soil and must protect the land that is their mother. Additionally, some people have gold in their souls (the Guardians), some have silver (the warriors), and some have iron on bronze (everyone else). The type of metal that courses through each person will determine the role they will play in the Republic. Plato suggests this influential myth in the interest of a higher purpose, namely, the unity of society. Unity is achieved when people prove that they can bear responsibility and give up self-interest in order to fulfill the common good. Most people won’t understand that it’s important for each individual to subordinate their self-interests to the common good. But patriotism is easily inculcated by careful control of information, and it serves the same purpose of producing unity in society. Plato thinks that using a myth to mentally manipulate the weak-minded will encourage the kind of allegiance to the Republic that people usually feel toward their family members. So, when the Jedi use their more direct mental manipulation for the good of the Republic, whether to fulfill a mission or reform a drug pusher, Plato would certainly validate this.

Also, in Plato’s Cave Allegory, the people who carry the objects that project the shadows on the cave wall are manipulating the minds of the chained prisoners. The weak-minded are always being mentally manipulated by other people. Since they dislike thinking for themselves or are unable to do so, they turn to others to figure things out for them: family members, authority figures, the media, the rich and the powerful – you know, the Watto or Jabba the Hutt types who, interestingly, are immune to Jedi “mind tricks.” The weak-minded uncritically accept what such people want them to believe. They’re being mentally manipulated, although they’re unaware of it. Now it’s reasonable to believe that the overwhelming majority of mind-controllers have their own selfish interests at heart, rather than the common good, when they put thoughts in the minds of others. Since weak-minded people desire others to figure things out for them, and since there will always be people willing to do so, isn’t it better that the controllers be people who authentically care about the common good rather than people who seek to advance their own vested interests?

The Jedi Model

Despite the problem of controlling others’ thoughts, the virtues the Jedi possess make them great models to aspire to. As we’ve seen, in the eyes of an ancient Greek master and his padawan, the Jedi would likely appear courageous, loyal, compassionate, just, and forgiving. They have endurance (otherwise referred to as perseverance), are mentally focused, and have a healthy humility. Also, the Jedi have honor: they live by a code or a set of principles, and find such value in so doing that they count it as a basis of self-worth. For a Jedi, honor is closely connected to one’s role as a Jedi Knight as defined by the Jedi Code. Further, the Jedi regularly manifest nobility, a desire for moral excellence that permits them to overcome personal interests in favor or some purpose larger than themselves. They show great stature of character by holding to the virtues that define them. Nobility involves admiration of the virtues of others and a desire to realize one’s potential or, as the Army used to say, “Be all that you can be.” Such admiration for the virtues of others and desire to bring out what is best in oneself are part and parcel of Jedi training. Due to their desire to perfect their own virtue, noble persons serve as good role models for others. Having the tendency to influence others, the noble person provides a persuasive example of what can be done in the service of goodness, peace and justice, which are, after all, the ultimate aims of being a Jedi Knight.

Being a Jedi certainly involves a lot of hard work. Fortunately, the various Star War movies have showed you how to awaken your “inner” Jedi. Just as fortunately, a couple of ancient Greek philosophers shed even more light on the process. Developing the kind of character a Jedi possesses may be far more rewarding to you in the long run than learning how to wield a lightsaber. So if you’re still serious and have the commitment to be a Jedi, it would be wise to follow the examples of virtuous character illustrated in Star Wars and explicated by Plato and Aristotle.

[Footnote/bibliographic references deleted]

(Copyright Open Court Press, 2005. All rights reserved.)

Post Posted: January 16th 2005 8:21 pm

Join: October 28th 2004 6:19 am
Posts: 219
well thank you very much - i really enjoyed reading that excerpt... on a side note...

Plato wrote:
He realizes that he’s afraid of becoming evil, fears that his weaknesses of unrestrained anger and impatience would prevent him from becoming the Jedi he yearns to be.

in my opinion an important parallel was not included - luke fears that he is his fathers son and with that, like stated, inherits the inability to resist the dark side.

Post Posted: January 17th 2005 1:36 am

Join: October 28th 2004 6:19 am
Posts: 219
i dont think that anikan could have actually done anything to help padme... another ship would have picked here up and the jedi could surely sense she was fine on the other hand yoda have to act quickly to save both fallen jedi under dookus hand.

Post Posted: February 13th 2005 8:14 am

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
Posts: 6
Here's another chapter from 'Star Wars and Philosophy.' I look forward to the discussion it will engender.



Walter [Ritoku] Robinson

The “Force” is central to the Star Wars mythology. In A New Hope Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” This is an extremely good description of what is known in Chinese as “ch’i,” or in Japanese as “ki.” In the Star Wars galaxy, the Jedi use the Force in their fighting arts. “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force” Yoda teaches Luke. In the martial arts of the Far East, ch’i is cultivated to give special fighting advantage over someone who relies only on physical strength. Eastern philosophy, most especially philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, plays a major role in the Star Wars mythology. This is most true in relation to the martial arts philosophy of the Jedi. The historical development of this philosophy begins with a Buddhist synthesis with Taoism producing Zen and Kung-fu. This synthesis spread to Korea and Japan, and with it the knowledge of ch’i. The philosophy of the Force is thus best understood by way of understanding the nature of ch’i and the wisdom of Zen.

“Looking? Found Someone You Have”

The origin of ch’i-oriented martial arts in China is found in the teachings from the
Shaolin Temple. It was here that Bodhidarma, who came from India to China in the sixth century, founded Ch’an (known in Japanese as Zen) and Kung-fu, a discipline that cultivates and directs the flow of ch’i, applying it to fighting techniques.

The Shaolin Temple was founded as a Buddhist monastery in 497 CE. When
Bodhidarma arrived he found that the monks were weak and in ill health and tended to fall asleep during meditation. China at this time was in a state of disunity with competing military powers fighting with one another and bands of bandits wandering the countryside. Buddhist monks in central Asia had evolved a system of self defense based in Yoga and utilizing “prana” – Sanskrit term the meaning of which approximates ch’i. Bodhidarma came out of this tradition, integrating it with Taoist practice, and taught it to the Shaolin monks to promote heath, mental discipline, self-defense, and spiritual awareness.

The origin of Buddhism goes back a thousand years before Bodhidarma to the teachings of Gautuma Sakyamuni in Northern India. As an advanced student of Yoga, Gautuma was principally concerned with liberation from the bonds of karma, which causes suffering. The idea is that one is subject to innumerable incarnations due to the conditions of karma – that is, past actions produce the conditions of the present moment, and what one does now determines the conditions of the future. In this there is suffering due to ignorance of reality. With enlightenment (which is the meaning of the word “Buddha”) one comes to know reality and thus liberation from the chains of karma. Bodhidarma was in a lineage of mind to mind transmission through twenty eight generations beginning with Sakyamuni Buddha. At Shaolin, he transmitted this wisdom,
which is the essence of Zen.

The character of Yoda was created with Zen in mind. George Lucas envisioned a character one would find in traditional fairy tales or mythologies, like a frog or a wizened old man on the side of the road. The hero meets this character thinking him to be insignificant, yet it holds the very wisdom the hero needs to fulfill his quest.

Lucas learned from Joseph Campbell that underlying religious mythologies are archetypal patterns which reflect universal truth. Dig deeply enough into any of the great spiritual traditions and one comes upon a reservoir of truth common to all and the source of each. Star Wars mythology is an intentional expression of archetypal truth. This truth is known through mystical experience. Campbell maintained that the Zen experience is the mystical wisdom which springs forth from the great reservoir of universal truth. Thus Yoda is intended to be a motif for universal wisdom. When Luke Skywalker enters into Jedi training, he undergoes what Lawrence Kasdan (screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back) envisioned as Zen education. He tells us that “the stories I find most interesting are stories of Zen education and the Zen master teaching a pupil how to transcend physical prowess into some kind of mental prowess. That’s what all the training sequences are about.”

“Don’t Give in to Hate. That Leads to the Dark Side”

When Buddhism was introduced to China, it entered into dialectic with Taoism and the synthesis of Buddhism with Taoism produced the Zen philosophy. The notion of ch’i is rooted in Taoism, which teaches that the ch’i is manifested as yin and yang, the light and the dark, and that one must harmonize with this energy which requires balance. Lucas said that “The idea of positive and negative, that there are two sides to an entity, a push and a pull, a yin and a yang, and the struggle between the two sides are issues of nature that I wanted to include in the film.”

The word “tao” literally translates from the Chinese as “way” and the philosophy of Tao is about the Way of nature. Everything in nature exists in the field of opposites: up/down, left/right, in/out, male/female, light/dark, positive /negative, yang/yin, and so forth. The Way of nature has a tendency toward balance which is the Great Harmony know as Tai Chi, which literally means “Supreme Ultimate.” The so called “yin/yang symbol (a circle the inside of which is divided by a wavy line, one half being light with a dark dot, and the other half dark with a light dot) is properly called the emblem of Tai Chi. The white dot in the dark side and the dark dot in the light side symbolize the interdependency of opposites.

In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn refers to “the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force,” believing the “one” to be Anakin Skywalker. This implies something other than a duality of good versus evil. In Taoist thought there is neither absolute good nor absolute evil, but rather good and evil are relative conditions of one another. As Obi-Wan puts it, “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” From a Taoist point of view, it is not possible to have the light without also having darkness, or in the language of Star Wars, one cannot exist without the Dark Side being ever present. When Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, he is seduced by the Dark Side, but in Return of the Jedi, his son, Luke, draws him back to goodness. Anakin thus bring balance back to the Force in himself as well as to the galaxy by destroying the Emperor.

Is it possible to be out of balance with too much goodness? The short answer is “yes.” The prequel trilogy outlines just such a condition where the Jedi Order finds itself in the smugness of complacency as the Dark Side is active right under their noses. The Jedi are living so much in the light of morality, that the shadow of unconscious desire, symbolized by the Sith, takes on a life of its own and, like an unsupervised child, becomes delinquent. If one is out of touch with the shadow side of one’s nature – one’s Dark Side – it become pathological, like feeling lust or greed and living in denial or otherwise becomes unconscious, such that it only magnifies itself in the repressed unconsciousness. This, it seems, is the lesson that Luke learns in the depths and darkness of the cave on Dagobah in which he confronts his own Dark Side.

Yoda teaches Luke that “a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the Dark side. Anger … fear … aggression. The Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.”

Luke asks if the Dark Side is stronger? “No” answers Yoda, but it is “quicker, easier, more seductive.”

Luke then asks, “How am I to know the good side from the bad?”

“You will know. When you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for
knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

According to Buddhist psychology, there are three poisons which produce the karma of suffering: attraction, repulsion, and ignorance. Attraction includes desire to have or possessiveness, greed, lust, and any other emotions of holding on or clinging to what is wanted. Anakin’s excessive clinging attachment to his mother leads him into self-destructive hate and rage. The problem is not that he loves his mother, for that is good and natural; but his attachment, rooted in the fear of losing her, leads him to aggression when her death sends him into a rage and he slaughters a tribe of Sand People, including women and children. Following this is his fear based, ego-centered drive to be strong enough never to lose what he is attached to again, blaming his own weakness for his mother’s death. He promises Padmé, “I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.”

Anakin thus suffers repulsion toward his own perceived weakness. Out of repulsion are generated fear, anger, hate, violence, and other such emotions. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader prompts Luke to use his hate. And in Return of the Jedi, the Emperor goads “Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you.” Acting out of such emotions leads to the Dark Side. Luke knows this and so encourages his father to “let go of your hate,” as doing so will lead Anakin back to the good that Luke has faith must still exist in him.

Both attraction and repulsion are rooted in ignorance, which is the illusion of being an isolated individual ego. Buddhism teaches that there is no inherently substantial self. Everything is impermanent. All is in process, with everything changing, always flowing. Nothing is in isolation from the whole of this ever changing process. Existence is not made of parts, but is a relative process of interdependence. As Obi-Wan says, “The Force binds the galaxy together.” And it’s interesting to note that the one hero character who explicitly professes to not believe in the Force is named Han “Solo,” derived from the Latin for “alone.”

The ignorance of egotism produces the negative karma of suffering. When one is constricted by one’s ego, the emotions characteristic of the Dark Side are generated. In The Phantom Menace Yoda warns Anakin, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side … Fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.” Fear is the clinging of ego, of not realizing the oneness of life. Anger and hate follow. Sakyamuni Buddha said that he taught one thing and one thing only, how to be free from suffering. This freedom is the letting go of clinging to the ego. With this letting go, negative emotions dissolve into nothingness.

When Yoda teaches Luke to know by way of being calm, at peace, passive, this is the teaching of Tao. In Taoism, and in the Tao of Zen, there is the practice of letting go and emptying. Lao-tzu writes in the Tao Te Ching, the core text of Taoism, that the Tao is to unlearn and to undo. Yoda says to Luke, “You must unlearn what you have learned!” In Chinese this directive is called “Wu Wei,” which literally means “no action”; but a better translation would be effortless action or ego-less spontaneity. When Yoda says to be passive, he does not intend for Luke to become inactive, for the Force is ever in motion, like water flowing in a river – passively in action without effort. In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, effortless action is of the essence. The name “Aikido” means the way (do) of harmonizing or unifying (ai) the ch’i (ki). In order to use the ki, one must let go of effort. In the prequel trilogy one Jedi Master is named “Ki-Adi-Mundi,” which seems to be inspired by the name “Aikido.” When Obi-Wan begins to teach Luke the Way of the Force, he says, “A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.” When
Luke asks if “it controls your actions?” Obi-Wan answers, “Partially, but it also obeys your commands.” This is an important teaching in all of the ch’i/ki-oriented martial arts and what differentiates them from gross fighting techniques.

“Great Warrior? Wars Not Make One Great.”

Buddhist monks traveling throughout China, Korea, and Japan shared their martial arts with worthy students. About a half-century after the founding of Shaolin Kung-fu, the king of Silla on the Korean peninsula invited Buddhist warrior monks to begin training an elite order of warriors to be known as Hwa Rang. This order was to serve the kingdom, uphold justice, and maintain social order. They were a monastic order trained in not only martial arts, but also the healing arts, Taoist Ch’i kung, the arts of political leadership and diplomacy, as well as Buddhist philosophy. Like the Jedi, the Hwa Rang were chosen at a young age, trained to be pure of mind, and to follow a strict ethical code of loyalty, honor, and service. They were also given authority over the regular military in much the same way the Jedi are in Attack of the Clones.

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan through Korea, and with it also the Buddhist martial arts forming the basis of Jujutsu. In Japan, the Sohei, an order of warrior monks much like the Hwa Rang, was developed. They lived in mountain monasteries surrounding the Imperial capital of Kyoto. Their considerable political power eventually put them at odds with the Shogun (military ruler over the warrior class known as the samurai), culminating in the fifteenth century when samurai destroyed the Sohei monastic complex, killing most of its monks; parallel to the way in which the Jedi are practically wiped out in Revenge of the Sith. A few Sohei went into hiding, blending in with non-militant monks, and over time they taught their martial arts to other monks and a few worthy samurai. Eventually, Buddhist martial arts became the core of samurai training.

The indigenous religion of Japan is Shintoism, which centers around reverence for the ancestors and worship of the Japanese Emperor as a divine incarnation. Traditional Japan was hierarchical with the Emperor and his family on top, then the nobility, and then the samurai. The common people were subordinate and submissive to this social structure. The word “samurai” means “to serve.” It was the role of the samurai to serve the good of the nation with honor and loyalty to the Emperor, and with absolute obedience to his master even unto death. The samurai had a strict code of conduct known as Bushido, which means “the way of the warrior.” The code consists of general precepts which are open-ended and fluid. Over time it would integrate into itself much of the ethical teaching of Buddhism.

The sword is the soul of a samurai. The relationship that a samurai has to his sword is much like a Jedi’s relationship to his lightsaber. The name “Jedi” is derived from the samurai era of swordsmen called “Jidai geki,” which literally means “the era of play,” referring to samurai inspired settings or themes used in Japanese drama. The Jedi’s kimono-style dress is loosely based on samurai clothing with the addition of a medieval hood to give a more monkish motif. Vader’s helmet and armor are based on those used by the samurai as well. Swordplay in the original Star Wars trilogy reflects the way of sword called Kendo, as derived from the samurai tradition. In the prequel trilogy we see sword styles based more on Kung-fu.

Zen master Tukuan Soho wrote to a sword master giving advice on Zen and the art of swordsmanship. He advised to have a “no-mind” mindfulness. Do not let the mind stop, but keep it flowing. As soon as the mind stops it localizes itself, thus becoming limited. Rather than localizing the mind, “let it fill up the whole body, let it flow throughout the totality of your being … Let it go all by itself freely and unhindered and uninhibited.” Soho goes on to say that when the mind is nowhere – that is, when it does not stop at any location – it is everywhere. In Zen practice one is with one’s original mind, which is no-mind. A mind that stops and localizes is a delusive mind that is divided against itself, thus interfering with the free working of original mind. When Obi-Wan tells Luke to let go of his conscious self and act on instinct, he is essentially advising to let go of the divided delusional mind and go with the original mind which is the mind unconscious of itself: “A mind unconscious of itself is a mind that is not at all disturbed by affects of any kind … the mind moves from one object to another, flowing like a stream of water, filling every possible corner.”

There is a story of a centipede that was asked how with so many legs he was able to walk. When the centipede began to think about it he was not able to walk. The act of working is simple without thought, but think about it and it become impossibly complex. To master is to simplify. The sword master must act on no-mind spontaneity. Takuan tells his student that his actions must be like sparks flying off flint struck by metal. There can be no delay, no hesitation. Attack and response must be in the same moment, such that no space and no time divide one thing from another. Zen sword master Tesshu calls this the “sword of no sword.” in which, as he says, “I naturally blended with my opponent and moved in unhindered freedom.” Aikido is founded on this same philosophy. In fact, it is literally the art of the sword without the use of a sword. There is a story told about Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, being unarmed, defending himself from a sword attack by a high-ranking swordsman, by avoiding the cuts and thrusts until the swordsman gave up.

In The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is confronted with a task that he perceives as difficult, he declares, “Alright, I’ll give it a try.” To which Yoda responds, “No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” So long as there is effort, that very effort divides the mind against itself. When “I” try, the mind is divided between “I” and trying. With effort there is division between the actor and what’s acted upon. This division is a psychological fabrication that fragments the whole into parts, thus removing one from original mind. In Zen enlightenment, known in Japanese as “satori,” there is the experience of undivided wholeness. Satori is what Zen is all about.

Tesshu was one of the greatest sword masters. After his early training, he went for many years undefeated. Then he met Yoshiaki whom he was not able to defeat. Although Yoshiaki was older and much smaller, he repeatedly forced Tesshu to retreat. Tesshu began to suffer from the image of this master as a great mountain bearing down upon him. This was for him like Luke’s vision of Darth Vader inside the cave on Dagobah. And just as the real obstacle for Luke was his own mind (as revealed in the severed head of Vader exploding into the likeness of Luke’s face), so it was for Tesshu. Thus he went to a Zen master for help. “If an opponent frightens you or confuses you,” advised Zen Master Ganno, “it means you lack true insight.” Ganno gave Tesshu a koan for his zazen (Zen mediation practice). A koan is problem to work on with zazen that cannot be solved on the level of thought. Some classic koans are: “Show me your original face before your parents were born,” and “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” To answer a koan, one must demonstrate insight which comes out of satori. After years of Zen training Tesshu entered into a satori, after which the threatening image of Yoshiaki vanished. When next he encountered Yoshiaki and they crossed swords, Yoshiaki withdrew his sword and declared, “You have arrived.” There was no further need to fight for there was “no-enemy.” When Luke says to Yoda, before he knows it is Yoda, that he is looking for a “great warrior,” Yoda asserts that “Wars not make one great.” In like manner Tesshu only became truly great warrior when he realized that in truth there is “no-enemy.”

As a novice monk studying with Taizan Maezumi Roshi (a Japanese Zen master), I worked on a koan attributed to Bodhidarma: “If you use your mind to study reality, you will understand neither reality nor the mind. If you study reality without using your mind, you will understand both.” Axiomatic to Zen philosophy is the insight that conceptual understanding is illusory. A core assumption of Western thought is that one can use intellect to understand mind and reality. Zen asserts that this is not the case. True understanding is beyond all conceptualization. The mind is endlessly active in effort to achieve that which is impossible for it. Zen is a philosophy to undo philosophy, to study mind and reality with no-mind. There is no end to asking why and no way to give an intellectual answer that will be fully satisfactory. When Luke asks the “why question,” Yoda answers, “No, no, there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear you mind of questions. Mmm. Mmmmmmmm.”

[Footnote/bibliographic references deleted]

(Copyright Open Court Press, 2005. All rights reserved.)

Post Posted: February 13th 2005 5:43 pm

Join: October 28th 2004 6:19 am
Posts: 219
again, a great read... thanks for posting...

with all the mention of martial arts and then the quote “You will know. When you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for
knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
i was dissapointed there was no mention of aikido, i was then pleasently suprised the reference was there half way through your post plato... a fantastic star wars infused history lessons!

aikido would have been a nice addition to the physicality of the jedia force use... as in when an opponent is advancing towards a jedi, them may have inititially force pulled (take the energy of the opponent) and then navigate that energy back towards the opponent in a force push... though this may seem to have to much similarity with aikido and lose its mystical jedi nature.

Post Posted: February 14th 2005 1:01 pm
User avatar

Join: July 28th 2004 12:18 am
Posts: 69
Location: The Mos Eisley Velvet Dungeon
"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, suffering leads to Anacin, which sounds a lot like Aniston, and Jennifer Aniston was in PICTURE PERFECT with...KEVIN BACON!"

Post Posted: March 1st 2005 9:37 pm

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
Posts: 6
Pretty good -- but I prefer this axiom:

Fear leads to anger...anger leads to stress...stress leads to doobies...and doobies lead to twinkies

Post Posted: March 11th 2005 9:57 pm

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
Posts: 6
With less than a month until 'Star Wars and Philosophy' hits bookstores, I figured it'd be good to post one more essay to keep the discussion going.



Robert Arp

Years ago, I watched Star Wars: A New Hope with a blind person named Mary. She asked if I could describe to her what was going on throughout the movie. After the 20th Century Fox fanfare ended and the wonderful John Williams soundtrack began, I read the opening paragraphs to her. What happened after the next few scenes was fascinating. She listened to C-3PO’s opening dialogue where he says somewhat frantically, “Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure! This is madness! We’re doomed …” However, before I could describe the scene to her, Mary asked me, “What does that man look like?” I told her it was not a man, but a droid – a gold-plated robot who looks like a man. She paused a moment and continued, “Oh … It sounded just like a man.” Being naturally inquisitive, I asked Mary what made her think that C-3PO was a man. Her response was that C-3PO used language, and had expressed the emotions of fear and concern.

My exchange with Mary was fascinating for two reasons. First, if I were blind, and a robot approached me on the street and started talking to me the way C-3PO does – with all of his over-dramatizing of events, expressions of reluctance, and name-calling – most likely I would think a human being was talking to me.

Second, my exchange with Mary made me re-think Threepio’s role as a protocol droid built to serve other human beings in a slavish capacity. If C-3PO looks and acts like a person – if he uses language, has certain advanced cognitive skills, is aware of his surroundings, and can feel emotions and express concerns – then what really separates him from actually being a person, other than his silicon and metallic innards and appearance? Furthermore, if he could qualify as a person, then shouldn’t such a robot be granted the same kinds of rights and privileges as any other human being who qualifies as a person? If droids meet the conditions for personhood, I question whether they should be granted at least limited rights and privileges, including the ability to choose to work in the Star Wars galaxy, as opposed to being slavishly “made to suffer, it’s our lot in life” (to use Threepio’s words) at the hands of biological persons.

“He’s Quite Clever, You Know … For a Human Being”

The first thing we need to do is get at the fundamental nature or essence of what it means to be a person. So, what is the definition of a person? A person is a being who has the capacity for (1) reason or rationality; (2) mental states like beliefs, intentions, desires, and emotions; (3) language; (4) entering into social relationships with other persons; and (5) being considered a responsible moral agent.

Before asking whether droids meet these criteria – and if so, which droids – we should consider the matter of whether a body is absolutely necessary in order to be considered a person. Among the criteria for personhood just given, there is no mention of a physical body. Important implications can be drawn from this omission. First, what it means to be a person is not tied directly to having an intact bodily existence. Take someone like the famous physicist Stephen Hawking. Here is a man whose body is ravaged by disease, is confined to a wheelchair, and needs machines in order to communicate. Yet, we would still consider him a person because, despite his bodily limitations, he fulfills criteria (1)-(5). He does this because his brain is still functioning properly and his cognitive capacities remain intact. He reasons, feels, communicates (albeit, with the help of machines), and has been able to form strong social bonds in the scientific community, as well as in his personal life. So, on the face of it, it appears that cognitive capacities are what to look for when trying to discern whether a being qualifies as a person, and the brain, or something that functions like the brain, is the seat of this cognitive capacity.

If bodily existence is downplayed and cognitive capacities are what really count when defining a person, then droids like C-3PO and R2-D2 could be considered as persons, provided their cognitive capacities are the same as other persons. We naturally think that persons will be biological entities with brains who breathe air, metabolize carbohydrates, and take in water for nourishment. Right now, however, it’s possible to simulate various biological parts of bodies artificially; there are artificial hearts, artificial kidneys, and even artificial eyes. Suppose that a scientist develops an artificial occipital lobe (the back part of the brain) out of silicon and metal, and implants it into the brain of an adult female human being. The artificial lobe performs the same functions that a natural occipital lobe performs: it processes visual information from the environment. So, with her artificial lobe she can do the same thing that she could do with her natural lobe – she can see the world around her. Say that the scientist develops artificial silicon and metallic parts of the brain responsible for memory, and implants these into our subject’s brain. She now can store and recall memories with the artificial parts of the brain in the same way she could with her natural parts. Now, say the scientist develops an artificial silicon and metal brain in its entirety, and implants it into our subject. With this artificial brain, she can do all of the same things she did before her transplant; she lives, loves, lies, and meets all of the criteria for personhood. Would she actually be a person, however, given that her brain is robotic? Say the scientist can simulate all parts of her body with silicon and metal, and thus replaces her biological body with a robotic body. She now is fully a robotic being with all of the same hopes, fears, responsibilities, loyalties, and so on, as any other human being. Would she (or should we say it?) actually be a person?

It seems possible to simulate the mental capacities necessary for personhood through physical things other than the brain. Why would one need to have a brain in order to think, believe, feel, experience, and the like, if such cognitive capacities can be simulated by other means? Think of an android like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or the replicants in the movie Blade Runner, or the synthetics like Bishop (as Bishop says they prefer to be called) in the Alien movies. These are examples of beings that act like persons, yet the internal workings of their “brains” consist of a series of silicon and metallic connections, or other artificial systems, that are very different from the gray matter of the brain. So it seems that a functioning brain, or something that functions like a brain, with all of the cognitive capacities associated with such functioning, is the most important thing to consider when determining whether something qualifies as a person.

“If Droids Could Think, There’d Be None of Us Here, Would There?”

Now we can address the question as to whether droids qualify as persons. The first qualification has to do with the capacity for reason or rationality. In one sense, reasoning is the same thing as intelligence, and involves a variety of capacities, including (a) calculating, (b) making associations between present stimuli and stored memories, (c) problem solving, and (d) drawing new conclusions or inferences from old information. Do droids qualify as rational or intelligent in these senses?

Droids obviously make calculations. In The Empire Strikes Back, C-3PO lets Han Solo know that the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3,720 to 1. Also, in The Phantom Menace Droidekas judge distances while rolling up to, and firing their lasers at, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan aboard the Trade Federation ship. Droids also have memory storage capabilities, and can recall memories based upon present stimuli. When Jabba’s droid manager, EV-9D9, notes that R2-D2 will make a fine addition to Jabba’s sail barge crew, he can do so only because he has a memory of the barge, the crew, the work detail, as well as a capacity to associate Artoo’s actions with the barge, crew, and work detail. C-3PO knows “six million forms of communication,” has been on many adventures with Artoo, and is able to recount his past experiences to Luke – he even recounts the story of the previous Star Wars films to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Furthermore, droids can solve problems. In Return of the Jedi, Artoo takes the initiative to open the door to the command center on Endor while he, Leia, and Han are under attack by stormtroopers. Artoo performs similar mechanical problem-solving when he gets the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive to work in The Empire Strikes Back and the Naboo Royal Starship’s shields up to escape the Trade Federation blockade in The Phantom Menace.

Finally, droids seem to be able to reason by deductively drawing conclusions and making inferences. Think of the holographic chess game played between Artoo and Chewbacca on board the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope, and Han’s comment that “a droid don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies are known to do that.” C-3PO comes to the conclusion that Artoo should choose “a new strategy. Let the Wookie win.” This conclusion is arrived at by a process of reasoning that goes something like this:

1) Premise 1: If Artoo wins, my arms will be pulled out of their sockets.
2) Premise 2: I don’t want my arms pulled out of their sockets.
3) Conclusion: Thus, Artoo should let the Wookie win.

Artoo also displays some clever deductive reasoning in his first conversation with Luke. He deceives Luke into removing his restraining bolt by falsely claiming that its removal will enable the image of Princess Leia to return, knowing how much Luke would want to see the entire message. The little manipulator appears to have reasoned his actions through quite well.

“I Am Fluent in Over Six Million Forms of Communication”

Just because something can reason does not mean that it is a person. A computer can be trained to reason in the same way that C-3PO does with Chewbacca, or Artoo does with Luke – making step-by-step calculations – yet, we would not consider a computer a person because of this capacity alone. Persons have the capacity for mental states and language. Mental states are a part of a human being’s psychological life and include such things as holding a belief, having a desire, feeling a pain, or experiencing some event.

Probably the best way to understand what a mental state consists of is to close your eyes and think about experiences where you felt some pain, jumped for joy, or regretted a decision you made. First, think about the pain you experienced. Maybe it had to do with touching something that was very hot. Recall how that pain was all-consuming for its duration, how it lingered in your body, and how you thought, “Ow! That HURT!” (and maybe expressed some other choice intergalactic expletives). That was your pain, and no one else’s; only you could know what that pain was like. Only Han knows what his pain is like when the hydrospanners fall on his head in The Empire Strikes Back. All we can know is that he experienced pain based on his vocal expression: “Ow! … Chewie!”

Now, recall a time when you felt joy and elation over some accomplishment of your own or of someone else’s, like winning an award, or your favorite team scoring the winning goal in the last seconds of the game. Recall the experience: how you smiled, relished the moment, and wished that every moment could be like this one. Only Luke and Han know the joy of receiving a medal for heroism from the beautiful Princess Leia at the end of A New Hope – poor Chewie doesn’t get to have that experience himself.

Finally, think of a decision you made that you have come to regret. You believe now that you could have made a different, better decision back then. And now, having thought about it, it may cause you pain. Surely many such regrets passed through the dying Anakin Skywalker’s mind after his redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi.

These three experiences seem to get at the idea of a mental state because they entail beliefs, emotions, desires, and intentions. It would seem that only members of the human race experience such mental states. We don’t have any evidence of other animals realizing that their pain is their pain, relishing moments, thinking back to past events with regret, or looking forward to future events with joy and anticipation.

The capacity for language is another qualification for being considered a person. Language is a tricky thing to understand, and many people think that each kind of animal has its own language, including bees, ants, apes, dolphins, and even Tauntauns (just to name a few). We must distinguish, though, between communicating some information and speaking a language. Whereas communicating some information does not require having mental states, speaking a language does entail mental states. When speaking a language, it seems that more than mere information is communicated; beliefs, desires, intentions, hopes, dreams, fears, and the like are relayed from one person to another. Many beings can communicate information by relaying some useful data back and forth to one another. All animals do this to some extent. A bee is not speaking to another bee when doing his little bee dance in order to communicate information about where pollen is located outside of the hive. I know this is going to sound controversial, but even apes who have been taught sign-language are not speaking (using a language) to their trainers; they merely are associating stimuli with stored memories. As far as we know, no bees or apes have experiences of joy, hope, or anticipation to communicate.

Do droids have capacities for mental states and language? There are plenty of examples of droids apparently engaged in behaviors expressive of mental states and language. One glaring example is the torturing of a droid at Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Return of the Jedi. When the droid’s “feet” are burned, the little guy appears to know what is going on, anticipates the pain he’s going to experience, and screams in pain and terror when the hot iron is lowered. (Interestingly enough, one also gets the sense that the droid administering the torture is enjoying what he’s doing.)

C-3PO expresses emotions himself on numerous occasions. Before getting into an escape pod with Artoo he claims, “I’m going to regret this.” On Tatooine he despairs, “How did we get into this mess … We seem to be made to suffer, it’s our lot in life.” After reuniting with Artoo in the Jawa sandcrawler, Threepio exclaims, “R2-D2! It IS you! It IS you!” When Luke comes back to discover Artoo has gone off to look for Obi-Wan Kenobi, he finds Threepio hiding (expressive of shame) and begging not to be deactivated (expressive of fear). When Luke returns to Yavin Four after destroying the Death Star, and Threepio realizes that Artoo has been damaged, he offers his own body parts in order to save his little friend. In The Empire Strikes Back, C-3PO expresses sorrow and reverence when Luke cannot be located before the main doors of the Hoth outpost are shut for the night (because Luke likely will freeze to death), frustration at having Han’s hand placed over his mouth in order to shut him up, as well as fear before being shot by stormtroopers on Cloud City.

C-3PO exhibits many more examples of anticipation, fear, anger, joy, as well as put-downs (“you near-sighted scrap-pile” and “overweight blob of grease,” directed toward Artoo) and passive aggression (“fine, go that way, you’ll be malfunctioning in a day,” again directed toward Artoo). Threepio and Artoo share a very human-like, personable relationship wrought with the same kinds of normal, as well as abnormal, communication that any person may have in relationships. This is probably why we find them so appealing as characters – sometimes more so than the actual human characters in the films. Think of the brief exchange between Threepio and Artoo in A New Hope after Luke leaves for dinner with his aunt and uncle, Artoo asks C-3PO if Luke “likes him” and C-3PO responds, “No, I don’t think he likes you at all. (Plaintive whistle from Artoo). No! I don’t like you either.” It’s an adorable scene to the viewer precisely because the communication is tongue-in-cheek and somewhat dysfunctional. It would seem that this kind of communication takes place only between beings having true mental states.

Besides having and expressing emotions, droids also seem to have beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them. And they act on those beliefs whether it is to save themselves, aid others, or engage in other kinds of actions. Put another way, they appear to be free in their actions precisely because they form beliefs and can act on those beliefs. In A New Hope, while stormtroopers are searching Mos Eisley, C-3PO holds the belief that if Artoo locks the door to the room in which they are hiding, then the stormtroopers will check the door, note that it is locked, and move on. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens and Threepio’s belief is ratified. When Artoo is roaming by himself on Tatooine near caves where Jawas are hiding, he holds the belief that danger is near, adjusts his direction, and rotates his head back and forth to keep an eye out for the suspected danger. He engages in these actions precisely because he holds the belief that danger is near.

Finally, droids have the capacity for language. When Artoo beeps a series of electronic sounds into Luke’s computer on board his X-wing fighter, or to Threepio for translation, this isn’t merely an expression of data communication. Language is dependent upon and expressive of true mental states. It would appear that droids have mental states, and so when they communicate it would appear that what’s being communicated constitutes linguistic expression, and not simply data transference. Droids want other droids and other beings to understand what they are communicating. I want you to understand what I’m experiencing, feeling, thinking, and the like, when I speak to you. So too, when Threepio tries to reassure Luke that Artoo is a reliable droid (while the two are being sold by the Jawas), he wants Luke to understand where he’s coming from in terms of his beliefs about Artoo being a “real bargain.”

“You’ve Been a Great Pal … I’ll Make Sure Mom Doesn’t Sell You”

Do droids have the capacity to enter into social relationships with other persons? Social relationships can be divided into: (a) family relationships, such as Luke’s relationship with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru; (b) economic relationships, such as Han Solo or Boba Fett’s relationship with Jabba the Hutt; (c) allegiance relationships, such as those among the multi-species members of the Rebel Alliance; and (d) civil relationships, such as the relationship among the citizens of Naboo, and between them and their elected queen. In each one of these relationships, one finds duties, rights, laws, and obligations that would be appropriate to each relationship. For example, in a family a parent has a duty to take care of a child, and one of the fundamental “laws” in such a relationship is unconditional love. In economic transactions, the fundamental obligation is to the “bottom line” of staying in the black, and the law may include something like “let the buyer beware” or “don’t drop your spice shipment at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.” In civil relationships, rights and laws are utilized in the most commonly understood way so as to protect citizens from harm, and ensure the prospering of societies as a whole.

On the face of it, it would seem that droids don’t have the capacity to enter into any one of these relationships. After all, they don’t have families, they seem to be barred from economic transactions (“We don’t serve their kind here,” declares the bartender at the Mos Eisley cantina), they aren’t a part of any “droid” interest groups, and they definitely aren’t citizens who bear any rights in either the Republic or the Rebel Alliance. However, two scenes in The Empire Strikes Back make it possible to believe that a kind of familial relationship can be fostered between a droid and a non-droid. First, we note the care and concern Chewie takes when he tries to put C-3PO back together in the cell on Cloud City, and later when he straps C-3PO to his back so as not to abandon him while he and Leia try to free Han and flee from Vader. There is also Luke’s reaction to Artoo’s falling into the swamp after they land on Dagobah. Luke expresses shock, concern, and is even willing to fight to save Artoo from being eaten by whatever monster sucked him up (and subsequently spit him out). The care expressed in both of these cases is analogous to the care a father might have for his son, or an older brother might have for a younger brother. These characters form a kind of family.
Droids also seem to care for their “masters,” as in The Empire Strikes Back when Artoo sits at the foot of the door probing for Luke who is lost out in the cold on Hoth, or in Attack of the Clones when C-3PO’s head realizes (to his shock!) that his battle droid body is shooting at friendly Jedi in the arena on Geonosis: “I’m terribly sorry about all of this!” This indicates, at the very least, a rudimentary reciprocal social relationship.

Yet, droids are exploited. They are treated as little more than pieces of machinery – slaves whose purpose is to serve non-droids. Threepio and Artoo are hunted down, fitted with restraining bolts, and sold by Jawas into slavery. And Threepio refers to his previous “master” when giving his work history to Luke in their initial conversation. Droids lack the rights and responsibilities afforded to other beings such as humans and Wookies, as well as fish-headed and hammerheaded creatures in the Star Wars galaxy.

Given what we know about droids such as Artoo and Threepio, it is unfortunate that they are treated as slaves. Droids communicate, have the capacity for reason, and can be involved in complex social relationships. More importantly, they express feelings of disillusion, contempt, pain, and suffering, as well as joy, satisfaction, and contentment. A being that has these traits appears to have mental states, and such a being is arguably a person, regardless of having been created by persons.

Maybe it’s time for droid liberation in the Star Wars galaxy, in much the same way that other groups of people who have been unjustly enslaved throughout human history have been liberated. Of course, if droids were liberated, then they would need to establish their own social relationships, ways to propagate, moral laws, and the like, for themselves. At the same time, there would need to be adjustments made in the existing social spheres of the Star Wars galaxy to accommodate droid needs and wants, and to mainstream them into existing social spheres, in much the same way Wookies, Gungans, and other creatures have been incorporated.

It’s NOT Our Lot in Life!

I have a proposal to make. Droids appear to meet the qualifications for personhood, so droids should be granted limited rights and privileges. The practical specifics of what that means would need to be worked out by the Galactic Senate. However, such limited rights and privileges minimally would include the choice to work for human beings, as opposed to being slavishly “made to suffer, it’s our lot in life” (to use Threepio’s words in A New Hope) at the hands of humans. I realize, however, that giving them the choice to work for humans probably means that we would be granting them a person-like status, in which case we are well on our way to recognizing droids as deserving of the same kinds of rights and privileges afforded to any other person.

The case can be made that droids are an oppressed group in the Star Wars galaxy. Perhaps we ought to cheer for a droid rebellion against an organic empire? The issue of treating droids as persons may seem silly to talk about because, after all, it’s just a make-believe story! As history has proven, though, science fiction has a way of becoming science fact. The famous robotics engineer and theorist, Hans Moravec, claims that by 2050 robots actually will surpass humans in intellectual capacity. The way in which advances in computer and robotic technology are being made at an astronomical rate gives us cause to pause and consider that, in the not-so-distant future, there most likely will be advanced forms of machinery that behave much like C-3PO and R2-D2. How then, will the organic community react? How should such non-organic persons who seem to behave like organic persons be treated?

[Footnote/bibliographic references deleted]

(Copyright Open Court Press, 2005. All rights reserved.)

Post Posted: April 11th 2005 3:37 pm

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
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The book, 'Star Wars and Philosophy,' is now available in bookstores as well as and I look forward to reading what people think of it.

Post Posted: April 12th 2005 3:30 am
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Join: March 29th 2005 11:10 pm
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I glanced at a new book the other day called "The Dharma of Star Wars" has anyone checked it out, and is it worth picking up?


Post Posted: April 23rd 2005 11:17 pm

Join: January 16th 2005 1:03 pm
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I haven't check out the Dharma book yet, but the author was (illegally, according to Lucasfilm) passing out advertisements for it at Celebration III. I, however, followed the rules and only talked about my book with individual fans and pointed out that the Borders a few blocks away was selling copies of it.

Anyway, I don't mind that he broke the rules, because is selling my book as a double-pack with his. So double your reading pleasure!

Post Posted: May 17th 2005 4:03 pm
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Join: May 3rd 2005 4:43 pm
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Actually, besides EV-9D9 and the tortured droid at Jabba's, the only droids you see behaving in the human ways you describe are 3PO and Artoo. Perhaps their behavior is not typical of the droids in the Star Wars universe but rather is unique. 3PO was built by Anakin and Artoo had a long association with Anakin (and most certainly was tinkered with by him). Maybe an ironic element that Anakin gave his machines 3PO and Artoo their humanity but lost his own the more machine-like he became (this might be giving Lucas too much credit).

The purposeful plot element used by Lucas of the two droids being dismembered or somehow severely damaged in each film demonstrates, I think, that no matter how human they behave, they are not human. 3PO gets his arm chopped off in ANH, gets completely dismembered in ESB and gets his eye poked out in ROTJ, in TPM he has no skin and is missing an eye and in ATC has his head chopped off and swapped with a droid soldier. Artoo has similar damage in the OT: zapped by the Jawas and head blown up by Vaders TIE fighter in ANH, eaten by a swamp monster in ESB and blasted by stormtroopers in ROTJ. For some reason Artoo is not so unlucky in the PT.

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