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Professor looks at great thinkers through pop-culture lens

February 6, 2013

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849

Matthew Tedesco describes one of his new courses as one that will “boldly go where some of the greatest thinkers in history have gone before.”

The associate professor of philosophy is referring to Introducing Philosophy through Star Trek, a course he most recently taught in the spring of 2013.

“I’ve always thought as I teach Introduction to Philosophy, ‘There’s a Star Trek about this.’ Why not just make that explicit and bring these two together?” he said.

Tedesco, who first taught the course in 2012, screens episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation during class and then uses those as jumping off points to discuss the philosophical issues it raises.

For example, the episode “Measure of a Man” is about the debate that ensued after a Starfleet member wanted to disassemble the android, Lieutenant Commander Data, to figure out how he works. The characters held a hearing over whether or not Data is a human and if his interests and wishes should matter.

Tedesco asserts this episode raises the philosophical question of what makes someone a person. “Is Data a person? Is a fetus a person? Is a chimpanzee a person?” he asks. “You can see how this abstract question about the fictional character Data can launch into some interesting real world philosophical questions.”

Philosophical issues are not, however, limited to Star Trek. Tedesco says there are publishers that specialize in connecting popular culture with philosophy. In fact, he has written essays for facebook and Philosophy What’s on Your Mind? (Open Court, 2010), James Bond and Philosophy: Questions are Forever (Open Court, 2006), and Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords (Wiley, 2012). 

“I’m pretty supportive of these efforts that reach out to speak about philosophy to a broader audience, and this pop culture medium is a nice way to do it,” Tedesco said. “If I can reach more people and say something interesting, I think that’s sort of meaningful.”

SOURCE:  Matthew Tedesco is an associate professor of philosophy and chair of the department of philosophy and religious studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University and his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Colorado. Tedesco’s research interests are broadly in ethical theory (especially consequentialism) and practical ethics (especially biomedical ethics). He has long had an interest in partiality, particularly in the context of relationships, and his current interests focus on questions surrounding parenting, severe impairment, and euthanasia. Tedesco can serve as a media resource on topics related to his teaching and research interests.