Spock’s Principle: The Many, The Few, The One
or…”Ethics and Emotions”
There’s been quite some interest in new scientific evidence about “the Heart ruling the Head“. But I haven’t read any mention of its extreme consequence: the extraordinary, apparently illogical moral code we reserve for the special persons in our life.
A new study published in Nature has hinted on the fact that ethical decisions are a combination of emotional and rational choices:
[Some] philosophers […] psychologists and neuroscientists [argue that] when faced with a moral dilemma […] we rely on emotional reactions as well as our powers of reasoning. In a study of brain damage […] neuroscientists report evidence that emotions indeed exert a powerful influence on moral judgments.
Paradoxically, of all the fictional characters ever imagined, the one that comes nearest to declare as much is logic-fixated Mr. Spock, when in the second Star Trek movie uses this line to justify his sacrifice to save others:
“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one.”
In fact, one can easily follow the reasoning about “the many” vs. “the few”…but was there any need to specify “the one“?
There was. Because it’s easy to speak in general terms, but much more difficult if we are personally involved in the outcome.
For example, more or less everybody will declare that bringing down an airplane of 100 is morally justifiable if such an action will save the life of 4,000 (even if the German Constitutional Court was not impressed by similar thoughts last year). It is much harder if not impossible to follow the same line of thought, when the plane is carrying is one of your special Ones, a close friend or family member.
Who could honestly say that they’d kill without any doubt or ado their mother or son or husband or daughter or father or wife, or best friend?
Even when things may rationally be clear-cut, we are likely to end up emotionally scarred. In the movie I, Robot Will Smith’s character Del Spooner cannot bear the thought of having been rescued by a robot that abandoned a little girl instead on the basis of survival chances: a little girl that became for a few, very important moments the One for Spooner.
Is this because of innate tribal solidarity? Would life be bearable otherwise? Whatever the reason, we are indeed hard-wired to this apparently “irrational” behaviour. And so, in the third Star Trek movie, Kirk tells the resurrected Spock how little he actually cares about the latter’s original thought.
Because the needs of the One really outweigh “the needs of the many“.
(this expands on my previous blog The One And The Many – The Truth Behind Spock’s Principle)