Well, we have to start by asking the question of why the Enterprise crew aspired to save the population of planet earth in the first place?
They did so because some of the crew called planet Earth home. Captain Kirk, for example. But, admittedly, to the best of my knowledge, it is never really made clear what these relationships with the folks back home actually consisted of. For all I know none of them had been back there for years.
After all, on a minimalist version of the Golden Rule, they had no ethical obligation to do so. The Golden Rule forbade them from doing anything to the people of Earth that they would not want done to themselves, but it did not require them positively to intervene to assist them when danger threatened from another source.
Yes, but surely the Golden Rule can be construed to mean, "do unto others now as you would want them to do unto you later." If your own life is endangered and others can
save it if they will
save it you'd want them to. Now, whether there is an ethical duty to save it can only be in the mind of a particular beholder. It depends on the circumstances involved and the manner in which they are interpreted by folks who view them from differing vantage points.
But Peter Singer highlights the inadequacy of this minimalist Golden Rule by proposing a scenario in which a toddler is drowning in a pond. You could easily and safely wade in and save the toddler, but in doing so you would ruin your nice new shoes. We have no hesitation in saying that preferring the shoes over the child would be profoundly unethical; therefore we acknowledge an ethical obligation which goes beyond merely not causing direct harm to others.
Yes, but, again, in a world sans God, there is no way to demonstrate that any
human behavior is necessarily
unethical. Even throwing the toddler in the pool and drowning him yourself is not necessarily
That, in my view, is why, in large part, Gods are invented. Most folks need to believe there is a point of view that unerringly judges human behavior as either
bad. And, in turn, a Creator that possesses an all powerful capacity to punish
I think it’s telling that the screenwriters chose the population of Earth for this scenario, rather than the population of a fictional planet. We, of course, identify ourselves with the population of Earth and, since we think of the crew of the Enterprise as (mostly) human, we understand that the crew does too. There would be no dilemma unless the crew felt conflicting obligations towards Chekhov and the population of Earth.
The crew members loved Chekhov in the here and in the now. They lived with him day in and day out and shared many experiences with him. But, again, we are not apprised of any relationships they might have had with the folks back on earth. And, thus, this being a Hollywood script, that sort of complex ambiguity and ambivalence was never going to be explored in depth.
In my view, there is no unequivocally right answer here. But that can never be acknowledged. They must clearly do the right thing. But many no doubt were appalled with the choice they actually made. The friend I watched it with was apoplectic. Not so much with the decision itself but the manner in which it was crammed down the viewers throat. As though no sane and civilized person could have possibly considered abandoning Chekhov.
I don’t see that the obligation towards Chekhov was entirely emotional, while the obligation towards the people of Earth was entirely rational. Chekhov had particular ethical claims on them because of his deeper relationship with them; they had more in common with their friend Chekhov – personal knowledge, shared experience, shared loyalties, etc – than they had with the population of Earth, but they had shared experiences, knowledge, etc with the population of Earth as well.
Yes, that's my point. The fact that this was never raised at all
as something they should
Balancing competing obligations of this kind is extremely difficult, and there is no obvious and simple rule that we can follow which will always produce the “right” answer. Is it ethical for me to buy my child an ice-cream when another child, somewhere else in the world, is starving to death? One one level this seems extremely difficult to justify. On another, what lesson would I be teaching my child about the meaning and significance of close personal relationships if I constantly denied them even simple pleasures and treats for the benefit of people I had never met and never would meet?
That's the world we live in. We make choices knowing there might well be a better choice to make. But we would choose nothing at all if we had to certain always of making the right choice. We do the best we can.