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Quelle: William Godwin, Enquiry concerning political justice, 1792, Buch 2, Kap. 2, S. 81-83.
»Justice is a rule of conduct originating in the connection of one percipient being with another. A comprehensive maxim which has been laid down upon the subject is, “that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.” But this maxim, though possessing considerable merit as a popular principle, is not modelled with the strictness of philosophical accuracy.
In a loose and general view I and my neighbour are both of us men; and of consequence entitled to equal attention. But in reality it is probable that one of us is a being of more worth and importance than the other. A man is of more worth than a beast; because, being possessed of higher faculties, he is capable of a more refined and genuine happineſs. In the same manner the illustrious archbishop of Cambray was of more worth than his chambermaid, and there are few of us that would hesitate to pronounce, if his palace were in flames, and the life of only one of them could be preserved, which of the two ought to be preferred.
But there is another ground of preference, beside the private consideration of one of them being farther removed from the state of a mere animal. We are not connected with one or two percipient beings, but with a society, a nation, and in some sense with the whole family of mankind. Of consequence that life ought to be preferred which will be most conducive to the general good. In saving the life of Fenelon, suppose at the moment when he was conceiving the project of his immortal Telemachus, I should be promoting the benefit of thousands, who have been cured by the perusal of it of some error, vice and consequent unhappiness. Nay, my benefit would extend farther than this, for every individual thus cured has become a better member of society, and has contributed in his turn to the happiness, the information and improvement of others.
Supposing I had been myself the chambermaid, I ought to have chosen to die, rather than that Fenelon should have died. The life of Fenelon was really preferable to that of the chambermaid. But understanding is the faculty that perceives the truth of this and similar propositions; and justice is the principle that regulates my conduct accordingly. It would have been just in the chambermaid to have preferred the archbishop to herself. To have done otherwise would have been a breach of justice.
Supposing the chambermaid had been my wife, my mother or my benefactor. This would not alter the truth of the proposition. The life of Fenelon would still be more valuable than that of the chambermaid; and justice, pure, unadulterated justice, would still have preferred that which was moſt valuable. Justice would have taught me to save the life of Fenelon at the expence of the other. What magic is there in the pronoun “my,” to overturn the decisions of everlasting truth : My wife or my mother may be a fool or a prostitute, malicious, lying or dishonest. If they be, of what consequence is it that they are mine?«
Wenn der Palast von Erzbischof François Fénelon in Flammen stünde, und man nur die Möglichkeit hätte, eine Person vor dem Tod zu retten: würde man den Erzbischof retten oder das Zimmermädchen? Der Erzbischof ist ein bedeutender Mann, dessen Leben wertvoller ist für die Menschheit, weil er ein großartiger Schriftsteller ist und einen untadeligen Lebenswandel hat.
Das Szenario habe ich in Tittles Sammlung gefunden. Dort ist es wiedergegeben nach der Auflage 1798, in dem der Wert des erzbischöflichen Lebens mit dem des Kammerdieners, nicht dem des Zimmermädchens verglichen wird.
Wie entschieden Godwin hier verneint, dass jedes menschliche Leben gleichen Wert hat, ist für heutiges Denken schon erstaunlich. Der erste Schritt ist dabei ausgehend von der Analogie, dass menschliches Leben wertvoller ist als tierisches, da Menschen in größerem Maße fähig sind, Glück (Happiness) zu empfinden. Das ist schon utilitaristisch gedacht. Der zweite gedankliche Schritt ist noch ein Stück stärker: denn hier geht es nicht um die individuelle Fähigkeit, Glück zu empfinden, sondern um den Beitrag, den das Leben des Einzelnen für das Glück der anderen hat.
Enthalten in: Tittle 2005, 148-149