Exploring Moral Dilemmas in Unique Thesis, Linking Dostoyevsky and Star Wars

LEXINGTON, Va. May 30, 2024 — Jackson Miller ’24 was drawn to a research topic as he approached his 1st Class year with strong philosophical and religious themes. The recent Virginia Military Institute graduate, who majored in English, has always had aspiration in the medical field, along with potential military service. He presented his research "Dostoyevsky and Star Wars: Understanding How Narratives Can Help Us Deepen Our Moral Awareness" during Honors Week in the spring semester. 

"The question is, do the ends justify the means? Is it okay to do bad things for the greater good?" Miller explained. This central question, often debated in historical and military contexts, resonated deeply with him. Jackson Miller '24 presents his senior thesis during VMI honors week.

"I watched 'Star Wars: Andor' after finishing 'Crime and Punishment' and was struck by how both works addressed the same ethical questions but arrived at different conclusions," he said.  

This juxtaposition sparked his interest in exploring the narratives further. 

During his thesis process, Miller was guided by Dr. Curry Kennedy, formerly of VMI, now teaching at Texas A&M, and later by Dr. Reshef Agam-Segal, associate professor of English, rhetoric, and humanistic studies. 

Both advisors played essential roles in shaping his research.  

"Dr. Kennedy initially helped me frame my project, while Dr. Agam-Segal provided further guidance and resources," Miller noted. 

His research journey was challenging.  

"I pitched the idea to Dr. Kennedy, unsure if it would be accepted. Thankfully, he and the department supported it," Miller said.  

Weekly meetings and extensive reading on ethics, literature, and storytelling helped refine his thesis. Miller's exploration went beyond literary analysis to personal growth. 

"Working with knowledgeable professors and delving into new subjects like rhetoric and philosophy was humbling. It forced me to confront my own conclusions about ethical dilemmas," he reflected. 

His work was academically rigorous and deeply relevant to the lives of VMI students and future military officers.  

"Especially for those who will be making critical decisions, understanding whether the ends justify the means is vital," he emphasized.  

The presentation stressed the importance of grappling with moral questions with real-world implications, particularly in military settings where officers must often weigh difficult choices — a likely scenario for some graduates of VMI. 

Looking ahead, Miller intends to spend a gap year working at Johns Hopkins University's research labs before pursuing medical school.  

"I'm going to be working there as a research tech, continuing to expand my knowledge and skills," he said. 

"My goal is to combine my passion for medicine with my desire to serve, potentially joining the military as a medical officer," he shared. 

Rhita Daniel
Communications & Marketing


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