"The Measure of a Man
" is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as part of the Star Trek franchise. Roddenberry, Rick Berman, and Michael Piller served as executive producers at different times throughout the production...
Commander Data must argue for his right of self-determination in order not be declared the property of Starfleet and deconstructed in the name of science.
While the Enterprise
is docked at Starbase 173 for routine maintenance, cyberneticist
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...
Commander Bruce Maddox pays Lieutenant Commander Data a visit, wishing to better understand how Data's creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, was able to overcome certain problems in designing and constructing Data's positronic brain
A positronic brain is a fictional technological device, originally conceived by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Its role is to serve as a central computer for a robot, and, in some unspecified way, to provide it with a form of consciousness recognizable to humans...
. It quickly becomes clear that Maddox has an ulterior motive of storing Data's positronic brain in the Starbase mainframe computer and shutting down and disassembling the android to learn how to recreate Soong's technology (though Maddox promises to restore Data after the analysis is complete). Data, aware of the delicate nature of this procedure and to prevent damage to himself, refuses to succumb to Maddox's desires, forcing Maddox to turn to Starfleet to order that Data submit himself to "experimental refit". Captain Picard stands up for Data, while Data believes the only way to avoid the order is to resign from Starfleet. Maddox, however, points out that Data is the property of Starfleet and not a sentient being, and as such Starfleet need not permit him to resign.
Picard requests Starfleet Judge Advocate General
Law in Star Trek refers to the legal procedures and processes as seen in the Star Trek fictional universe. In several TV episodes and films since its inception in the 1960s, Star Trek has used fictional legal constraints and consequences as a plot device both as a parable for contemporary society...
for the twenty-third sector, Captain Philippa Louvois, to hold a hearing to determine Data's legal status. Louvois agrees. However, as her office is understaffed at the moment, she drafts Commander Riker to represent Maddox's interests, and the position that Data is the property of Starfleet and therefore without the broad array of human rights accorded in the United Federation of Planets
The United Federation of Planets, also known as "The Federation" is a fictional interplanetary federal republic depicted in the Star Trek television series and motion pictures...
, and Picard to represent Data's interests, that Data is a sentient being with the choice to resign from Starfleet and to refuse to undergo Maddox's procedures. Riker, forced to prosecute against Data to prevent a summary ruling against him (to ensure the issue is accorded due process of law), enters the same argument Maddox had made years before, where Maddox was the sole dissenting vote as to Data's petition to attend Starfleet Academy and pursue a Starfeet commission.
Picard initially finds Riker's prosecution difficult to challenge. However, during a recess, Picard talks to Guinan who suggests that regardless of whether Data is a machine or not, Maddox's goal is tantamount to sanctioning slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...
. Picard uses this to defuse Riker's arguments when the court reconvenes. The discussion of Data's sentience turns to metaphysical matters. Picard points out that Data meets two of the three criteria that Maddox uses to define sentient life. Data is intelligent and self-aware, but Picard asks anyone in the court to show a means of measuring consciousness. With no one able to answer this, Louvois acknowledges that neither she nor anyone else can measure this in Data (nor in any other person present) and, as such, Data, as a matter of law, is a sentient being. She therefore rules that Data has the right to choose. Upon the court's ruling, Data formally refuses to undergo the procedure.
After the hearing, Data tells Maddox that his research remains intriguing to him and offers to help Maddox understand his workings better in less risky experimentation. Maddox, for his part, refers to Data for the first time as "he" rather than "it". Later, in the Observation Lounge on-board Enterprise, Data finds Riker, who is ashamed of having to argue against his friend in the hearing. Data cheers him up by telling him that his action was an act of self-sacrifice that gave Data the chance to win his freedom, and stated that had Riker not done so and refused to participate, Louvois would have been forced to render a summary judgement in favor of Maddox. Data summed it up by stating, "That action injured you and saved me. I will not forget it."