Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Measure of a Man"


Air date: 2/13/1989
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In TNG's first bona fide classic, the nature of Data's existence becomes a fascinating philosophical debate and a basis for a crucial legal argument and Federation precedent. Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy), on behalf of Starfleet, orders Data to be reassigned and dismantled for scientific research in the hopes of finding a way to manufacture more androids with his physical and mental abilities. When Data says he would rather resign from Starfleet, Maddox insists that Data has no rights and takes it up with the region's newly created JAG office, headed by Capain Philipa Louvois (Amanda McBroom), who serves as judge. Picard takes on the role of Data's defender.

This episode plays like a rebuke to "The Schizoid Man," taking the themes that were intriguing in that episode and expanding upon them to much better effect. What rights does Data have under the law, and is that the same as what's morally right to grant him as a sentient machine? Of course, one of Maddox's arguments is that Data doesn't have sentience, but merely the appearance of such. The episode cleverly pits Riker against Picard; because the new JAG office has no staff yet, the role of prosecution is forced upon the first officer. Riker finds himself arguing a case he doesn't even believe in — but nevertheless ends up arguing it very well, including with a devastating theatrical courtroom maneuver where he turns Data off on the stand.

Picard's rebuttal is classic TNG ideology as put in a courtroom setting. The concept of manufacturing a race of artificial but sentient people has disturbing possibilities — "an entire generation of disposable people," as Guinan puts it. Picard's demand of an answer from Maddox, "What is he?" strips the situation down to its bare basics, and Picard answers Starfleet's mantra of seeking out new life by suggesting Data as the perfect example: "THERE IT SITS." Great stuff.

Still, what I perhaps love most about this episode is the way Data initially reacts to being told he has no rights. He takes what would for any man be a reason for outrage and instead approaches the situation purely with logic. He has strong opinions on the matter, but he doesn't get upset, because that's outside the scope of his ability to react. His reaction is based solely on the logical argument for his self-protection and his uniqueness. And at the end, after he has won, he holds no ill will toward Maddox. Indeed, he can sort of see where Maddox is coming from.

Trivia footnote: This is also the first episode of TNG to feature the poker game.

Previous episode: A Matter of Honor
Next episode: The Dauphin

◄ Season Index

64 comments on this review

Fri, Apr 17, 2009, 10:21pm (UTC -5)
just wanted to agree with your review of "Measure of a Man" and wanted to add, the final secne, where Riker and Data speak in the conference room, when Data says, "you're actions injured you to save me. I will not forget that." Chokes me up every time. Wonderful writing.
Wed, Apr 22, 2009, 10:47am (UTC -5)
"Measure of a Man" - absolutely a classic and one of my favourites, possibly favourite.

I only have one small quibble (well, it's a biggie, but not so that it detracts from the overall ep).

It just didn't seem realistic that a case of such huge potential importance would be prosecuted and defended by two people that have no legal training, have never tried a case and are friends and colleagues serving on the same ship! It beggars belief that such a trial could take place, especially given its importance.

Surely the logical thing to do would have been to delay the trial until such time that trained lawyers could be gathered and a legally binding decision could be made, rather than leaving the decision open to appeal/overrule in the future on the grounds of improper procedure.
Tue, Mar 30, 2010, 3:49pm (UTC -5)
'The Measure of a Man'. Ugh! I'm sorry, I hate it. I have no problem with the theme but as a lawyer, I really, really hate it. It's a bit like the entire Doctor Who series 'Trial of a Timelord' where the greatest and oldest civilisation in the galaxy apparently has a judicial system that bears no relation to any reasonable concept of 'justice'. No JAG officers so you must prosecute? If you don't he's 'a toaster'? No, if you insist on making that ruling I'll ensure that I have your head on a plate by the end of the day and you'll never practice law in the Alpha Quadrant again. As for turning Data off; it was his rights as a sentient being that were for the court to decide. Allowing him to be turned off constitutes assault, battery, actual bodily harm and possibly attempted murder if he had no reset button. And this is allowed in A COURTROOM?

Sorry. No stars from me. Actually, can I award negative stars??
J.B. Nicholson-Owens
Sat, Jul 17, 2010, 1:20am (UTC -5)
More about "Measure of a Man": In addition to Trajan's objections, I'll also add that the episode strikes me as a huge dodge of the issue they set themselves up to decide.

One wonders how Data got to serve at all if his entrance committee only had one objection -- Cmdr. Maddox's objection -- and that committee based their decision on sentience like Data said.

But there's another problem: the slavery argument (should we or should we not let Maddox make a race of copies of Cmdr. Data?). The slavery argument only works if you already agree with what Capt. Picard had to argue. The slavery argument fails if already agree with what Cmdr. Riker had to argue (Data is property, he can no more object to work than the Enterprise computer can object to a refit). It seems to me that the slavery argument presupposes the very thing the hearing is meant to decide and therefore this argument has no place in this hearing.

And Cmdr. Louvois' finding essentially passes the buck (as she all but says at the end of the hearing): she has no good reason to find as she does but she apparently believes erring on the side of giving Data "choice" is a safer route.

I think this episode might merit as the most overrated TNG episode.
Dave Nielsen
Mon, Aug 8, 2011, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
"The Measure of a Man." I too loved this episode, but I can't help wondering how this question wasn't already decided years earlier. It seems to me Data's status would have had to be decided before he could join Starfleet, or at least before he could be given a commission. Then I partly agree with Maddox that Data could just be simulating sentience. With a sufficiently sophisticated computer there would be no way to tell. I guess the point is that there's no way to tell with anyone, but then there's a difference between the "programming" of biological life and that of an articial, constructed life form. It's also a bit cheeseball that they would have no staff just so that some of the principal actors won't just be getting paid to sit in the background. I wonder too if it was necessary for the Philippa to have been an old flame of Picard's. Still, with all that I still love and it still stands as one of TNG's best episodes.
Dave Nielsen
Mon, Aug 8, 2011, 11:16pm (UTC -5)
Trajan: "As for turning Data off; it was his rights as a sentient being that were for the court to decide. Allowing him to be turned off constitutes assault, battery, actual bodily harm and possibly attempted murder if he had no reset button."

Since Data's sentience was the question here, Riker couldn't be charged with anything for turning Data off so that would be perfectly fine to do in a courtroom. Even after the ruling, it wouldn't have mattered - only if he did it again. If Maddox's arguments had been upheld, and Data was property, who could be dissected against his will, he can't have the rights of a sentient being.
Wed, Jan 25, 2012, 3:08pm (UTC -5)
Dave Neilsen: Since Data's sentience was the question here, Riker couldn't be charged with anything for turning Data off so that would be perfectly fine to do in a courtroom.

I disagree. You could 'turn off' an alleged human being with a baseball bat but it would produce no more evidence of his sentience than Data's off switch does of his.
Sun, Mar 25, 2012, 7:03am (UTC -5)
Trajan: You could 'turn off' an alleged human being with a baseball bat but...

No. You could not 'turn off' a human being with a baseball bat in the same way that you can turn off a machine. You can either turn off a conscious part of a man's brain (brain and the entire organism is still functioning) or kill him. You cannot turn off a human completely, as you can turn off a machine, an then turn him on again.
Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 3:32pm (UTC -5)
X: You cannot turn off a human completely, as you can turn off a machine, and then turn him on again.

Sure you can. Just don't be so enthusiastic with the baseball bat and knock him unconscious with it. (Which, in my courtroom, will still get you locked up for grievous bodily harm...)
Mon, Aug 27, 2012, 9:28pm (UTC -5)
The Original Star Trek had a second pilot and in some ways, TNG did too--"The Measure of a Man". This was the watershed turning point of the series it's thoughtful story was uniquely it's own and not another riff on Classic Trek. The actors were truly becoming comfortable in their character's skin; call backs to the series own mythology from Tasha Yar's intimacy with Data, to a mention of Lore made the fictional universe of TNG more real. Secondary characters like O'Brien and Guinan were weaving their way through the mythos. And last but not least: THE FIRST POKER GAME--a brilliant edition to the series that provided some of the best characters moments and the classic final scene of the series.

"The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who" were an effective one-two punch that made the show the one we know and love.
Mon, Sep 3, 2012, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
"I partly agree with Maddox that Data could just be simulating sentience. With a sufficiently sophisticated computer there would be no way to tell. I guess the point is that there's no way to tell with anyone, but then there's a difference between the 'programming' of biological life and that of an articial, constructed life form."

Is there?

It's a somewhat deeper question than the episode really addresses, but... what *is* sentience?

Is it physically contained in the actual electrical and chemical processes of neurons?

Or is it the *product* of a certain complexity of such processes?

If the latter, then not only is there no fundamental difference between biological and synthetic processors giving rise to the sentient function--but there is also no such thing as 'simulated' sentience. If the complexity is there, it's there.
Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
Data is the best!!! Loved the final scene between him and Riker.
Fri, Nov 30, 2012, 10:53am (UTC -5)
Just saw the new extended, remastered version of the episode the other night, and it was absolutely fantastic. It really gives the story a bit of room to breathe, and better develops the guest characters (especially Philipa's backstory with Picard) as well as really exploring Data's dilemma and the nature of being sentient. This version of the episode, in my opinion, is one of the best in all of Trek and I'm really glad they were able to give us this extended cut.

Hope Jammer reviews the extended version at some point, I'd be interested to hear his take on how it changes the episode.
Sun, Feb 24, 2013, 9:52am (UTC -5)
What a wonderful episode!

@ Trajan: I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I think you're being too hard on this ep for something it isn't. TNG is not trying to be 'law and order in space'. It's always about the bigger questions.

I can suspend my disbelief with stories like this, specially when I compare 'The measure' to total fantasy wrecks like the black pond of tar of 'skin of evil' or the many energy life -form from countless episodes.

Still, I wont deny that the lack of crew for a trial of this gravity was hilarious. The production staff must have been in dire straits during this season.
Shawn Davis
Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 7:00am (UTC -5)
Greetings to all. I love this episode. One of TNG's classic and features one of my favorite character, Data, in an most interesting position ever.

I have one question though, Riker as Data to bend a metal bar in an attempt to disprove that he is not sentient and Picard object to that by stating that there are many live alien species that are strong enough to do that, Capain Philipa disagreed with him and told Riker to continue with the demonstration. My question is why is Picard wrong? I though what he said about some aliens being strong enough to bend the metal bar along with robots and androids like Data was logical to me.

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 4:09pm (UTC -5)
It seems to me that the space station and the Enterprise-D are not appropriately scaled.
William B
Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 3:35am (UTC -5)
I do like this episode, perhaps even love it, but I admit that I do find it hard to suspend my disbelief in portions of it related to the legal proceedings.

It does seem, as others have mentioned above, as if Starfleet should have settled this issue before; but on some level it does make sense that maybe they didn't, because Data's status is so unique.

That said, I do think the idea that Data would be Starfleet property because he went through the Academy and joined Starfleet is disturbing, because Data is only in Starfleet because he chose to do so. The Enterprise computer never *chose* to be part of Starfleet.

I suppose one resolution to this would be that since Data was found by Starfleet personnel (when he was recovered from Omicron Theta), at that point he 'should have' entered into Starfleet custody as property. It would also make sense if the reason that Data's status as having rights/not having rights was not extensively discussed (e.g. whether Data constitutes a Federation citizen) was that he spent all his time from his discovery on Omicron Theta to his entrance into the Academy with Starfleet personnel in some capacity or another, so that there was never a time in which he would need official Federation citizenship.

On some level it does make sense to me that Data would hang around the Trieste (I think it was?) after they discovered him until eventually a Starfleet officer there sponsored his entry into the academy.

I suppose that if Data had no sentience all along, and had a mere facsimile of it -- if Data genuinely WAS an object and not a person -- perhaps he would go to Starfleet ownership merely for the fact that Data was salvaged by a Starfleet vessel after the destruction of Omicron Theta, and since there are no living "rightful owners" with the colony destroyed (and Soong and his wife for that matter thought dead) it makes sense that Starfleet could claim something like salvage rights.

Re: the point raised by J.B. Nicholson-Owens, it is true that IF Data is property, then so would a race of mechanical beings created in Data's image. It does not actually affect the case directly.

However, I do not think this is a flaw. Picard makes the point that one Data is a curiosity, but a fleet of Datas would constitute a race. Perhaps that was a leading phrase -- but instead we should say that a fleet of Datas would constitute a much larger set. The main purpose of this argument is, I think, to demonstrate that the consequences extend far beyond Data himself.

Put it this way: if there is a 99% chance that Data is property and a 1% chance that he is a sentient being with his own sets of rights, then taking Data by himself, there is a 1% chance that a single life will be unfairly oppressed. But if there are thousands and thousands and thousands of Datas in the future, that becomes a 1% chance that thousands and thousands of beings will be oppressed. That is simply a much bigger scale and a much bigger potential for tragedy. If Luvois ruled that Data were property and he were destroyed but was the only creature destroyed, it would be tragic, but still only a single being. If Luvois ruled that Data was property and thousands of androids were produced and Luvois was wrong, then _based on that ruling_ a whole race would be condemned to servitude. The possible cost to her decision is much greater, and the importance of erring on the side of giving Data rights becomes greater as a result as well.
Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 4:50am (UTC -5)
Has anyone considered that the basic premise of this episode is unnecessary based on the shows own rules. The premise is that Data needs to be dismantled so that more androids like him can be created but Data is dismantled every time he uses the transporter. Since the enterprise computer is able to dismantle Data and reassemble him it must have detailed information about his construction. Surely all Maddox needs to do is access the information stored in the transporter logs and he would have all the information he needs to replicate Data.
The above point aside I really love the episode and the questions it raises about the point when a machine becomes conscious. I agree with those that have stated that his issue would have been settled before Data entered Starfleet, especially since the sole bases for Maddox objecting to Data's entrance into Starfleet was because he did not believe that Data was sentient. The fact that the others on the committee allowed Data to enter Starfleet anyway suggest that they believed he was sentient.
I also agree that there were some aspects of the court scenes that were not as convincing as they could have been. For instance, since the issue to be decided is whether or not Data is sentient I find it odd that no psychologist were asked to testify since consciousness is part of what psychologist study. I also find it odd that there were no cross exam when a witness testified. For example, when Data was on the stand Picard asked him what logically purpose several items Data had packed served. In reference to his medals Data replied that he did not know he just wanted them and in reference to a picture of Tasha Data replied that she was special to him because they were intimate. Clearly Picard was trying to imply that Data had an emotional connection to the things he had packed much as humans do. Riker could have easily undermined that premise on cross exam by asking, "When you say you wanted these medals do you mean you felt a strong desire to take them with you?" Data would have had to have answered no because by his own admission he does not feel anything. This would have reminded the audience that Data is a machine.
Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
"...Data is dismantled every time he uses the transporter."

If you're suggesting that Data could be replicated like any other hardware, a fair point. Presumably something in his positronic brain is akin to lifeforms, which can be transported at "quantum resolution" but not replicated at "molecular resolution." But the issue was never addressed in the series.

Also, apparently Data's positronic brain is an "approved magnetic containment device," which the tech manual says is the only way to transport antimatter without "extensive modifications to the pattern buffer."
Fri, May 10, 2013, 7:24pm (UTC -5)
This is the best TNG episode I've seen so far. Admittedly, I've only seen season 1 and half of 2. Nonetheless it is very compelling and it suspended my disbelief just fine. I don't care to dissect mainstream scifi television in great detail. Something will inevitably fail to add up. But overall, uncharacteristically for the said mainstream television, this episode actually raised some deep issues, and it was done well, in its own context. It actually got me thinking, what is life? No, really? Seems very easy but I have no more concrete answers to that, than I do to the questions, "what is the universe", or, "what is the earth's core really like".
All in all, this was good television.
Frank Wallace
Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 9:54pm (UTC -5)
Wonderful episode.

I never saw any reason to question the legal elements of the episode. For one, Starfleet officers are multi purpose types, given that the Federation doesn't have "police" or "armies" in the truest sense. Secondly, The reason for Picard being involved is explained early, and the other captain is a JAG member.

Lastly, the person that wrote the episode has actually trained and practiced law as a career for several years. She will know enough about it to make it believable, and it DID seem believable. Plus, it's the idea behind the episode that matters. :)
Sam S.
Sat, Aug 3, 2013, 11:36pm (UTC -5)
I just wanted to add that this episode provides the term toaster for artificial life. This apparently is where Battlestar Galactica reboot gets the concept for its artificial lifeforms.
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 9:48pm (UTC -5)
This was basically an all or nothing episode. A concept like this could either succeed magnificently in raising philosophical points or fail miserably in cliches and preachiness. Thankfully, it hit the former far more often than the latter.

Yes, the courtroom scenes were hardly very legally precise (but heck, lawyer based TV shows aren't very legally precise either). Unfortunately, I don't think either Riker or Picard did a very good job. Maybe that was due to the fact that it had to be short to fit in the episode. Of course, they could have cut out some of the Picard/JAG romance backstory for a better courtroom drama.

But it probably would feel incomplete no matter how long they took. In reality, it would probably be a very lengthy trial, so no showing in a 43 minute TV show could fully expand whether or not he's sentient.

And frankly, it isn't necessary. We already know the arguments already. It really does boil down to a few simple facts: On the negative side, he was very clearly built and programmed by a person. On the positive side, he very clearly acts like he's sentient. And frankly, we don't know.

And that's probably what makes this episode work. They acknowledge and reinforce that. Picard's realization (actually Guinan's realization) to make the argument but avoid defining the scope in favor of the bigger picture was pitch perfect. This is a simple backwater JAG office. Should it really be deciding the fate of a potential race? Picard made that point beautifully in the best speech he's had so far. And it was that speech, that implication, that resonated.

The point was not to decide whether or not Data was sentient, but to consider the consequences. And to err on the side of caution.

Of course, in the real world, Maddox would undoubtedly appeal to a higher court, and this would make its way to the Federation equivalent of the supreme court. But you know what? I'm glad it ended here. Another good aspect of this story was that, despite going full tilt towards making Maddox the Villain with a capital V, he seemed to get Picard's point as well. I'd like to think that Maddox does have a conscience and was willing to stop his pursuit based on even the chance that Data is sentient.

This episode seemed to skirt the edge of being melodramatic, preachy, and cheesy, but always managed to avoid falling into it. Most importantly of all, it hit exactly the right tone on the fundamental question. There's a few nagging doubts in terms of the plotting and the in-universe rationale for all of this (which others have pointed out). I think that keeps it from being elevated too highly, but it's still the best episode of the series so far.
Latex Zebra
Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
This might actually be the best episode of any Trek series.
Nick P.
Mon, Sep 30, 2013, 4:11pm (UTC -5)
OK, first amazing episode! One of the best of the series...However, I am not sure that I agree with the central theme, that it is wrong for starfleet to create a race of slaves. The enterprise is as sopshistacated as data, and has already been able to create sentience (elementary, dear data), and there is a fleet of them, further, data numerous times saves the ship, why is it wrong to want to mass produce him for starfleet needs?
Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 10:26am (UTC -5)
Sure, you had to suspend disbelief, but this was one of my favorite episodes of TNG. This wouldn't have been resolved on some Starbase, but by properly trained legal officials in a proper court.

This should have been resolved already, Starfleet had already accepted Data as a person by allowing him to enter the academy and commissioning him. Data's ability to bend a bar is not evidence that he is a thing. As counter evidence, Picard could have brought in a bar of his own, and showed that some members of his crew were strong enough to bend it, while others were not.

To counter the off-switch argument that Riker made, one need only have someone perform the Vulcan nerve pinch, which effectively turns a humanoid off.

If Data had been declared to be property, that wouldn't mean that he was Starfleet's property. Starfleet didn't make him, if he was anyone's property, he would be Dr. Soong's property.

Still, this is an episode well worth suspending disbelief, because the ideas are so profound.
Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
I don't think Riker would have liked it if Data did a Vulcan Nerve Pinch to turn him off.
Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 9:29pm (UTC -5)
I love any Star Trek episode with Q,Data,or Spock in it.I think they are the highlight of the show.
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
There is no "we don't know" about him being sentient - the very fact that he spontaneously says (and insists) he's sentient means he is.

And an argument which I think should have been pushed further: Organic life isn't any less a machine than Data. The only difference is that it's a self-replicating machine. Animals (humans included) are organic machines whose building and functioning is determined by dna sequences (GACT instead of 0 & 1).

As for the comparison with the ship's computer: As a matter of fact, not all organic life is sentient: We have somehow determined, for diverse reasons good or bad that non-sentient life isn't as respectable as sentient life. In that, the ship's computer isn't Starfleet's property any more than a dog belonging to Starfleet would be. Still, just as a dog isn't a human being, the ship's computer isn't a sentient android. The fact they're both non-organic has no bearing on this.

In any case, whether it's here or during the Doctor's trial in Voyager, I cannot even begin to understand the arguments of the "they're machines" side. Obviously as portrayed in Star Trek, they ARE sentient (whether we will one day be able to replicate a brain's complexity well enough that this would be possible is another matter entirely).
Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 10:21am (UTC -5)
Where did my(our) discussion go?
Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 5:00pm (UTC -5)
Totally agree! This is probably one of the best episodes of Star Trek across ALL of the series. And I love that it didn't involve phasers, torpedos, or silly looking aliens. This was a moral story about the rights granted to a sentient being of our own design. This is class Trek, with themes that stretch deep into our society... Patrick Stewart was amazing in this episode, with his oh so controlled passion when he was arguing Data's case. "Your honor, the court room is a crucible, and when we burn away irrelevancies, we are left with a pure product, the truth for all time." Great stuff! I only wish I could give it 5 stars, because this was an amazing story!
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 5:10pm (UTC -5)
I'll also add that the episode strikes me as a huge dodge of the issue they set themselves up to decide.

One wonders how Data got to serve at all if his entrance committee only had one objection -- Cmdr. Maddox's objection -- and that committee based their decision on sentience like Data said.

But there's another problem: the slavery argument (should we or should we not let Maddox make a race of copies of Cmdr. Data?). The slavery argument only works if you already agree with what Capt. Picard had to argue. The slavery argument fails if already agree with what Cmdr. Riker had to argue (Data is property, he can no more object to work than the Enterprise computer can object to a refit). It seems to me that the slavery argument presupposes the very thing the hearing is meant to decide and therefore this argument has no place in this hearing.

And Cmdr. Louvois' finding essentially passes the buck (as she all but says at the end of the hearing): she has no good reason to find as she does but she apparently believes erring on the side of giving Data "choice" is a safer route.

But you have to realize the only reason we got that conversation in 10-Forward was because Whoopie is black.

Here is the transcript:

"GUINAN: Do you mean his argument was that good?
PICARD: Riker's presentation was devastating. He almost convinced me.
GUINAN: You've got the harder argument. By his own admission, Data is a machine.
PICARD: That's true.
GUINAN: You're worried about what's going to happen to him?
PICARD: I've had to send people on far more dangerous missions.
GUINAN: Then this should work out fine. Maddox could get lucky and create a whole army of Datas, all very valuable.
PICARD: Oh, yes. No doubt.
GUINAN: He's proved his value to you.
PICARD: In ways that I cannot even begin to calculate.
GUINAN: And now he's about to be ruled the property of Starfleet. That should increase his value.
PICARD: In what way?
GUINAN: Well, consider that in the history of many worlds there have always been disposable creatures. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do because it's too difficult, or to hazardous. And an army of Datas, all disposable, you don't have to think about their welfare, you don't think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.
PICARD: You're talking about slavery.
GUINAN: I think that's a little harsh.
PICARD: I don't think that's a little harsh. I think that's the truth. But that's a truth we have obscured behind a comfortable, easy euphemism. Property. But that's not the issue at all, is it?"

Nothing in this conversation has ANYTHING to do with proving Data's sentience.

What one could do with a technology or a thing should in no way have any bearing on this trial.

They should have been trying to prove Data was sentient because then he could be identified as something more than 'property', not that we they could make a bunch of him so it isn't right. If Data was proven not to have sentience, then why wouldn't Star Fleet want one on every bridge?

This is why this episode, in my view, receives more acclaim than it deserves.

It's nothing more that the liberal machine injecting slavery into a situation where it didn't exist because they wanted to make this episode "moral". It pales in comparison to Uhura's conversation with Lincoln:

"LINCOLN: What a charming negress. Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know in my time some used that term as a description of property.
UHURA: But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words.
KIRK: May I present our communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura.
LINCOLN: The foolishness of my century had me apologizing where no offense was given."

See in this exchange, Uhura responds how one would expect one to respond in the 23rd century, where Gene's vision is true. It doesn't faze her in the slightest, because it shouldn't. They bring a pertinent point up, but not in an accusatory way. In TNG, they inject something that happened 400 years ago in an attempt to justify something it doesn't relate to.

Why was Maddox a self-interested 'evil' white guy? Why did the epiphany for Picard come from a black Guinan? How does that epiphany relate to this case at all? Liberal hollywood. Poor writing.

Look at Picard's argument.

"PICARD: A single Data, and forgive me, Commander, is a curiosity. A wonder, even. But thousands of Datas. Isn't that becoming a race? And won't we be judged by how we treat that race? Now, tell me, Commander, what is Data?"

If Data isn't sentient, why is "it" different that a toaster? Because "it's" programed to talk? Do we regret making "races" of Starships? ... desk-top computers ... etc? The issue of "a race" is irrelevant, and only it and slavery are injected in his argument because Guinan was black.

Riker's argument WAS impressive, because he put the FACTS on display.

Picard's was not because he did nothing but put up a "feel bad" smokescreen that had nothing to do with proving whether or not Data, our beloved android, was indeed sentient or not.

So Picard put on a good dramatic show and Data won, which made us all and Riker feel good, but for all the wrong reasons. The Judge rules that Data was not a toaster, but why - because we might do something wrong with toasters in the future?

If they had proven Data was sentient (or some equivalent), then they could have addressed the whole cloning issue and that should be why Mattox can't "copy" Data, not because we might mistreat a machine in the future because we will make a bunch of them. But they didn't.
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 9:26pm (UTC -5)
"But you have to realize the only reason we got that conversation in 10-Forward was because Whoopie is black."

Well, that is your interpretation, but I think it's fairly clear that Picard considers Data to be self-evidently sentient, yet was unable to argue this from a legal perspective adequately at that point in the episode. The essential argument of the episode - on my reading - is simply that Data is a self-aware being who is entitled to the presumption of sentience like anyone else, even though he is a machine. The corollary is that although Data cannot be "proven" to be sentient, there does not exist any test that can be prove it for anyone else either.

As for the slavery angle, Picard chooses that word to express his abhorrence at the idea of a race of sentient beings who might be "owned" and used like, to take your example, desktop computers. This doesn't have anything to do with any "liberal machine". It strikes me as a peculiarly Americentric reading to assume that this must have anything specifically to do with historical slavery in the Americas.
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 9:28pm (UTC -5)
@Yanks: Whoopie's race is relevant to the scene you described, but in a way that breaks the fourth wall, not "because she [Guinan] is black." If Guinan had been, say Beverly in this scene, the lines would read exactly the same and the truth of the statement would be no less, but the emotional *punch* wouldn't be quite so severe. It is purposefully uncomfortable for that brief moment she looks at the camera and we remember that these are actors with history, and out history with regards to how we treated other races, especially black people, has been mostly appalling. Again, the substance of the dialogue is what it is, but there's an extra layer to the scene because of Goldberg's race. It's in many ways what "Angel One" failed so miserably at.

Now, on to your other points:

" The slavery argument only works if you already agree with what Capt. Picard had to argue."

Well that's the point. If one hedges on the issue of Data's sentience, one can neatly hide behind the euphemism of property until the full implications of that process are pointed out by the slavery argument. You may not think Data is sentient--maybe he has a soul, maybe he hasn't (as Louvois said)--but if you're wrong, the issue is not the fate of one android, but the implications for how we treat an entire new form of life. Thus, the gravity of respecting this one individual android's sentience is enormous.

"Picard's was not because he did nothing but put up a "feel bad" smokescreen that had nothing to do with proving whether or not Data, our beloved android, was indeed sentient or not."

I'm kind of baffled by this: Picard asked Maddox what the qualifications for sentience were. He named them: intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. Picard then went on to demonstrate how Data met those requirements, thus proving his sentience. The issues of race and slavery, as I said, have to do with the *implications* of the ruling, not winning the case. Picard's argument was that it wasn't merely a case of pitting the rights of Maddox against those of Data, but humanity's responsibility to the form of life of which Data is a vanguard.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 6:46am (UTC -5)
Josh and Elliott are correct. Also, Guinan refers to "many worlds," so while we the audience recognize the significance of Whoopi's blackness *for us*, in-universe it is explicitly *not* about just black slavery on Earth, or "400 years ago."
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 6:52am (UTC -5)
Oh, and it's the TOS depiction of 'Lincoln' that was disingenuous and 'PC.' The real Lincoln assuredly did not consider black people to be humans of equal worth and dignity to himself.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 8:38am (UTC -5)
Josh & Elliot,

Elliot, you said it yourself. The "implications" can't be used to make the decision here, so the argument is fluff. That angle should have been ruled inadmissible. (Read J.B. Nicholson-Owens' post above.) Take the entire slavery/race thing out and Picard's argument doesn't change at all. She doesn't even mention it in her ruling.

"PHILLIPA: It sits there looking at me, and I don't know what it is. This case has dealt with metaphysics, with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I'm neither competent nor qualified to answer those. I've got to make a ruling, to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We have all been dancing around the basic issue. Does Data have a soul? I don't know that he has. I don't know that I have. But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose."

I also don't know what "soul" has to do with anything. But that's neither here nor there I guess...

Her ruling is concerning Data and Data only. (as it should have been, that's all this trial was about)

Picard is beaten, goes down to 10-forward, talks with Guinan and comes away with the race/slavery argument. He didn't pop down and discuss this with Beverly. Like I said, this was just injected here as a "moral boost" to an episode that really didn't need it. How a society will treat more "Dats's" is irrelevant here, but most certainly would be a matter to be addressed later if Data's positronic brain can be replicated.

Picard's argument with Mattox anout sentience was all that was needed.

Another thing that gets me is how can Data be a commissioned Star Fleet Officer and not have the right any other officer has? I personally don't think this trial should have ever happened. No idea how he can have all the responsibility and no rights. the Enterprise's computer doesn't have any responsibility.

Let's end on a good note.

I personally think the best part of this episode is this:

"DATA: I formally refuse to undergo your procedure.
MADDOX: I will cancel that transfer order.
DATA: Thank you. And, Commander, continue your work. When you are ready, I will still be here. I find some of what you propose intriguing."

Data is one decision away from being dismantled and he reveals his decision not to participate was not a completely selfish one, he just was not convinced Mattox was competent. He is not opposed to research on him.

If Mattox was competent, would we have had this trial at all?

Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 8:42am (UTC -5)

"we the audience recognize the significance of Whoopi's blackness" That's the whole point. We don't get this irrelevant discussion unless Whoopie is in the conversation. It's Hollywood's way.

The "Real" version of Lincloln was not the point. Uhura's response was.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 1:00pm (UTC -5)
@Yanks :

"The "implications" can't be used to make the decision here, so the argument is fluff. That angle should have been ruled inadmissible. (Read J.B. Nicholson-Owens' post above.) Take the entire slavery/race thing out and Picard's argument doesn't change at all. She doesn't even mention it in her ruling. "

If you're looking at this episode purely as a court case to decide Data's status (I grant you your point about his appointment to Starfleet, by the way), then I guess you can call the slavery arguments fluff, but if, like me, you're looking at it like a piece of drama, the ideas are integral to the story. The discussions are a window across time--can't you imagine similar discussions happening during the slave-trade on earth? A man, for example, who took a slave for a wife, extending to her rights and freedoms he denied to his other slaves because she was special to him? Don't we see in "Author, Author" how the narrowness of Louvois' ruling left the door open for further injustices to AI?

It's good to think critically, and not be myopic about issues like this and it was rewarding to see this kind of thinking on the screen.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 1:10pm (UTC -5)

I might agree with you if there were 100's of Data's running around but there is not. This argument would be more applicable to the EMH in Voyager. Data is unique (positronic brain) so the implication is not needed nor applicable here. For this reason it is injected Hollywood drama for the sake of implied "moral justice". Nothing more.
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 1:29pm (UTC -5)
@Yanks - So if there were only a single black man in the new world (because for some reason we'd only brought one over so far) we couldn't discuss the broad range implications of denying him rights and how that would affect what happens when we got a whole lot more of them? Wasn't the whole point of Maddox's research to figure out how to make 100s of Data's run around?
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 1:56pm (UTC -5)

Not relevant to this trial. Jesus, even you guys try to inject race/slavery into this. Hollywood has you trained well. It's not about a discussion.

Like I said in my 1st post. You can't make a ruling on a “what if”? This hearing was on Data's right to choose, not "if there were 100's or 1000's of Data what would we do".
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 2:27pm (UTC -5)

Not relevant and not central are two different things. I will agree that it is not the central argument. I think "no relevant" is stretching here. Maddox's goal was to brand Data as a creature with no rights and then make lots more. Guinan (rightfully) deemed that slavery. Picard (rightfully) pointed out during the trial that the Maddox intended to create a race of androids slaves and that he couldn't even determine (with certainty) that Data wasn't sentient by his own criteria. Yes, taking away an individual's rights to choose are troubling enough and was the core issue of this trial, but Maddox DID intend to create a race of superhuman sentient slaves. That was the point of the episode and addressing it isn't a hyper-liberal Hollywood poppycock conspiracy :).
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 5:44pm (UTC -5)
I believe your opinion here is too idealistic. A trial such as this one is more than a logical investigation - it is an attempted interpretation of both the meaning and the purpose of law. Not all trials need to be this way; in some cases (most cases?) a trial should be about logically or reasonably uncovering truth. But in cases such as these, truth is not easily definable, and so the meaning and purpose of law become as important as the logical statements themselves.

Picard's arguments (grossly simplified - I'll agree that this episode is slightly overrated) can be viewed as:
1. No satisfactory definition for sentience exists that will allow for a logic-based ruling.
2. Judging non-sentience in error will have consequences akin to slavery, which undermines the meaning and purpose of Federation law.

He 'proves' 1 first (flimsy), and proceeds to claim 2. Given the time constraints of the episode, I think this is solid writing. Louvois' comments cement this purpose of the writers, in my opinion. She cannot hope to logically decide whether or not Data has sentience (or a 'soul', whatever she means by that), and so the only recourse is to "err on the side of caution."
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 7:56pm (UTC -5)
Yanks, a scene can have two meanings or purposes at the same time. The better the episode is, the more likely it will feature such scenes (or perhaps it's the other way round).
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 9:15am (UTC -5)
Robert / msw188,

I think you're basing your argument on Mattox's potential for success which by Data's own admission was slim at best; hence his refusal to participate. (and protexting his memories) I don't even think we know about Lore yet at this point in the series (could be wrong there).

And, if Data doesn't get the right to choose (loosely based on sentience) "he" IS no different than a toaster, or a computer driven assembly plant etc.

Funny how this very same issue was brought up many times before I chimed in and no one had any issues, but I bring up the truth about Guinan (watch the scene in 10F if you don't believe me, it's plain as day) and folks all of a sudden have objection.

The potential for a "race" only exists if Data wins. It had no place in this hearing aside from courtroom fluff.

I enjoy the discussion with you folks. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this issue.


Sure ... or not. :-)
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 9:26am (UTC -5)
By your own admission though, your issue with it is that it's fluff in the courtroom. But I think the whole point of THIS court case was just to make us think.

On the whole I chimed in because if anyone's argument was fluff and irrelevant it was Riker's and you didn't complain the same about that. I mean... one can detach and reattach your arm too (although perhaps not so easily), and with certain drugs I can turn you on and off as well.

His strength and processing capabilities are also irrelevant, I have a strength (though not so great) and processing speed (again, not so great) as well :P I assume you and I are sentient though!

And I totally agree with you about Guinan/Whoopi and the 4th wall breaking being the reason for the conversation. To me personally though, that doesn't detract from the episode (and perhaps improves it), but you can find it jarring if you do... obviously we can disagree :)

As for Riker, I suppose in headcannon we can pretend he was making an argument that looked impressive but had no substance so that Picard could easily beat him.
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 10:43am (UTC -5)
"And, if Data doesn't get the right to choose (loosely based on sentience) "he" IS no different than a toaster, or a computer driven assembly plant etc... The potential for a "race" only exists if Data wins."

I think this is the base cause for my disagreement with you. This attitude seems to suggest that when a conclusion is reached in a court, it is automatically correct. But if Data is declared to be a toaster by the court, while in fact being sentient, then the potential for a "race" does exist. It is this possibility that has the worst possible ramifications, regardless of how slim its chances are (and that slimness is in the eyes of Data only, not the Judge). In the absence of a workable definition for sentience and/or race, the avoidance of this possibility becomes the focus of Picard's argument, and I don't think that's out of place for a courtroom.

I don't have a strong opinion on the Guinan issue. It felt a little bit contrived to me to make sure that the black person brought this up on the Enterprise, but it does fit the in-universe characters. Guinan is wise and thinks about the bigger picture, not about singular logic. Picard trusts Guinan and always values what she has to say. They're also the two best actors in the series, and this is meant to be a big 'turning point' scene. If one is willing to allow potential consequences into a courtroom in cases where definitions are unclear (as I am), than Guinan's scene fits in the plot of the episode just fine regardless of the 'message' for today's audience. And that's the way such messages should be handled, I think.

PS: I only just found this website on the day I posted my first response (if there's some way to check, you can see it's my first ever post here). I can't say for sure if I would have brought any of this up before the Guinan comment, but I think I would have if you had ignored that part and just put forward the "trial should focus on Data and only Data" argument.
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 1:37pm (UTC -5)

Just hate that being thrown in our faces. Too much like real life "news". But you’re right, probably just me.

I thought Riker aptly made his case, hell even the Judge said Data was a machine. While I'm not attorney, when I watched this Riker seemed to lay it all out there, very clearly. I mean without a clear definition of what sentience is how would he disprove data having it? Probably better to not bring it up and let Picard climb that mountain if he chooses.


One can click on your name and see all your posts. (great points about 'Yesterday's Enterprise' and 'The Offspring' BTW)

I tend to be brutally honest :-) A failing I'm sure and you are correct, there are politically correct ways to express observations, I just chose to "post from the heart" :-)

When I first watched MoM early in 2002 (I think) it didn’t faze me, but now that Woopie is on The View etc… It changed my “viewing pleasure” I guess.
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
Cool, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad somebody might feel similarly about Yesterday's Enterprise.

Measure of a Man is one of those episodes that I'm pretty certain I saw back in the late 80s or 90s, but I didn't really remember. It was probably a bit over my head then. Looking at it now, and after all of this discussion, I think I'd give it a solid 3.5 stars. The arising of the conflict strains believability, and even though I think Guinan's remarks fit into the story and courtroom well, they still feel just a bit too much on the nose. The episode asks some very worthwhile questions and explores them well enough for me, but it still lacks the purely emotional element that the best episodes do carry.

For comparison, I'd currently give 4 stars to Offspring, Best of Both Worlds, and Darmok. I'm in mid-season 5 at the moment.
Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 4:13pm (UTC -5)

I'm currently just finished watching DS9 and am trying to catch up with my reviews. When I get to TNG, Offspring will most definitely get 5 of 4 stars. I'm a sap and tear up everytime I watch it. :-)
Sat, Dec 13, 2014, 3:49pm (UTC -5)
A lot of lively discussion here. I wish I'd been around to partake!

As for this episode, it's TNG's "Duet" as far as I'm concern. The "so this show IS worth watching" moment. Even barring that, a fantastic hour. 4 stars easy. Top tier Trek.
Sat, Dec 20, 2014, 8:39pm (UTC -5)
I finally got the chance to see the extended version of this episode on Blu-Ray. I must echo ReptilianSamurai's comments. I didn't think it was possible to improve on a classic, but I was spellbound. Of particular interest is a scene where Riker and Troi discuss whether their view of Data's sentience is true or imagined (whether they anthropomorphize him). Even as a telepath, Troi isn't sure. This scene makes Riker's arc much more involving, and I paid much greater attention to Frakes' performance.

All in all, I think this episode matches BSG's "Pegasus" in emotional impact and social relevance.
Wed, Jun 17, 2015, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
I've just caught up with this discussion following my original comments from years ago. I still hate the episode but appreciate that I'm in the minority. Incidentally, I liked the suggestion of using the Vulcan neck pinch on Riker. Much kinder than my earlier suggestion of a baseball bat!

I didn't know the writer of the ep. was a lawyer. One day I'd like to have a discussion with her as to the fairest form of judicial system for a post-scarcity society. However, I'll refrain from commenting on Measure of a Man again.

Anyone interested in alternative depictions of future legal systems could do worse than to check out Frank Herbert's 'The Dosadi Experiment' which always appealed to me when I was practising.
Sat, Jul 18, 2015, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
Disclaimer: I've only scanned through the comments above so sorry if this has already been discussed.

I revisited this episode yesterday after starting to watch the excellent Ch4/AMC series 'Humans'. A series about robotic servants who gain self awareness.

I thought Picard's arguments were excellent but I was interested to note that the judge only ruled that Data has the right to choose, not that he is a sentient life form. I'm scratching my head about a later episode of TNG that deals with this issue in more depth. Maybe someone can help me out?

I was also interested in one of Maddox' arguments that was largely ignored by the episode. That if data was a box on wheels with largely the same skills and ability to communicate would we be having this debate?

Are the crew motivated by the fact that Data looks like them and would they fight with the same zeal if data looked like the robot from Lost in Space?
Sun, Aug 23, 2015, 3:05pm (UTC -5)
OK, I'm also an attorney but I can't say I care that the legal "procedures" may seem unrealistic - it's Star Trek and there are so many things that we could nitpick in any episode, many of them considerable improbabilities. Admittedly this is an individual thing, depends on how some episodes strike us, and sometimes I'm the nitpicker as well ...

The subject matter is compelling. Re-watching this episode I kept thinking of Blade Runner ... which very much taps into the "slavery" issue. That's an emotionally powerful angle, although the most intriguing aspect for me is simply that dividing line between humanity and AI, and how we envision an ultimate future when that line is blurred ... thus why's it's been the subject of so much sci fi over the decades.
Diamond Dave
Mon, Aug 24, 2015, 3:36pm (UTC -5)
A brave episode, tackling as it does some deep philosophical points that reaches its climax in the static form of a courtroom drama. It grounds itself in a thorough examination of both arguments - a particular highlight is Riker's unwilling but devastating critique. But more so is Picard's absolute certainty of Data's right to choose and his willingness to support him. And perhaps this is one theme that isn't explored - that as a human, we would feel no emotional attachment to a toaster, or a ship's computer, but would when serving with Data. And is that not a measure of Data's sentience?

To my mind the episode does have flaws - the presence of a handy legal officer who, surprise, has a back story with Picard, as well as the flimsy excuse to pit Riker and Picard against each other. But in its intelligent examination of the issues, this is a cut above the average episode. 3.5 stars.
Sat, Sep 12, 2015, 10:32am (UTC -5)
I'm here in 2015 watching it and just wanted to say that I dropped some tears. Really. Enough said.
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 5:55pm (UTC -5)
And then a decade later a race of disposable beings were put to work by Starfleet, scrubbing plasma conduits.
Thu, Sep 24, 2015, 9:53pm (UTC -5)
This is TNG's first great episode but it is hardly TNG's "Duet."
Mon, Oct 19, 2015, 6:39am (UTC -5)
I love that there are actual lawyers above me discussing the legalities of this trial! I think they raise good points, but I still love this episode.

To me, this episode is much more about friendship than law, or Data's sapience. I teach history, and I actually show this episode to my students to demonstrate how important it is to be able to argue the other side of your thesis. If you do not recognize the strength of the claims on the other side, you cannot effectively argue your own case. If Riker could not put aside his belief to make the argument, his friend might have been lost.

I have one nitpick about this episode, though I recognize it is a common mistake made by many people, and is so common that the OED might as well change the definition. Data has no sentience at all because sentience refers to the ability to feel. What he DOES have is sapience--the ability to think. Self-awareness is a component of sapience. Even many animals have sentience, but do they have sapience?

Mon, Nov 2, 2015, 3:56pm (UTC -5)
I love the arguments presented in the episode, but you really need to take off your lawyer hat before watching. And Star Trek is notorious for misunderstanding the law, from this episode to "The Drumhead" to "Rules of Engagement".

I'll just make one writing critique before I move onto the good. Forcing Riker to litigate against his friend and fellow officer is terribly forced and unnecessary drama. There's a huge conflict of interests between Riker losing a valuable officer which is going to make him perform his role badly no matter what threats some JAG officer throws out, so why does she even put him in that position to begin with? And, if Maddox was so apt on winning, why didn't he present the case on his own, or hire a professional who he could trust over Riker.

That aside, this episode is great because of the morality issues Jammer brought up in his review. Patrick Stewart's speech is well-delivered, and convincing despite his character's admitted misgivings towards law. Finally, this episode brings out a lot of interpersonal relationships Data has among the crew, and shows just how much of an impact the possibly-sentient android has.
Tue, Mar 22, 2016, 9:49am (UTC -5)
As Data behaves as if he is sentient - he passes the Turing Test with flying colors - and has been accepted as a sentient being by the Federation and Star Fleet to this point, the burden of proof lies with Riker to prove Data is not sentient. Riker establishes that Data was built by a human, that Data is physically stronger than a human, and that unlike a human, Data can be turned off demonstrates that merely that Data is not human, which is neither in dispute nor relevant. It does not demonstrate that Data is not sentient. I suppose it would have been unsatisfying to simply rule in Data's favor because Riker failed to make the case that Data was sentient. Data maintains a presumption of sentience, so the slavery analogy remains relevant.
Tue, Mar 22, 2016, 11:02am (UTC -5)
"Its responses dictated by an elaborate software programme written by a man"

This part at least is relevant. I personally would not consider anything to be sentient if this was true. Riker is wrong, in "In Theory" Data adds his own subroutines for dating. And it's not the only time.

Computer programs that can improve/learn might be sentient. Computer programs whose "responses dictated [SOLELY] by an elaborate software programme written by a man" are not IMHO. I think what Riker was going for was that it was all a really convincing "act".

That said, he has no proof for that. And certainly not removing his arm or turning him off. Doctor Crusher could turn Riker off with a hypospray.

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