Aujourd’hui, initions nos enfants à l’utilitarisme avec Il était un petit navire.
« Cette utilité est le principe de toutes les vertus humaines et le fondement de toutes les législations. Elle doit inspirer le Législateur, forcer les peuples à se soumettre à ses lois ; c’est enfin à ce principe qu’il faut sacrifier tous ses sentiments, jusqu’au sentiment même de l’humanité. L’humanité publique est parfois impitoyable envers les particuliers. Lorsqu’un vaisseau est surpris par un long calme et que la famine a, d’une voix impérieuse, commandé de tirer au sort la victime infortunée qui doit servir de pâture à ses compagnons, on l’égorge sans remord : ce vaisseau est l’emblème de chaque nation ; tout devient légitime et même vertueux pour le salut public. »
Helvétius, De l’esprit, Discours II, chap. VI
cité par C. Audard dans L’anthologie historique et critique de l’utilitarisme I, p. 149
Le pédagogue habile saura, bien entendu, conduire l’enfant à s’interroger sur la pertinence du tirage au sort pour désigner qui sera mangé, et peut être à retrouver par lui même la position défendue par William Godwin à propos de l’exemple de Fénelon et son valet :
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 valet, 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 further 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 he conceived the project of his immortal Telemachus, should have been promoting the benefit of thousands, who have been cured by the perusal of that work of some error, vice and consequent unhappiness. Nay, my benefit would extend further than this; for every individual, thus cured, has become a better member of society, and has contributed in his turn to the happiness, information, and improvement of others.
Suppose I had been myself the valet; I ought to have chosen to die, rather than Fenelon should have died. The life of Fenelon was really preferable to that of the valet. 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 valet to have preferred the archbishop to himself. To have done otherwise would have been a breach of justice.
Suppose the valet had been my brother, my father, 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 valet; 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 expense of the other. What magic is there in the pronoun “my,” that should justify us in overturning the decisions of impartial truth? My brother or my father may be a fool or a profligate, malicious, lying or dishonest. If they be, of what consequence is it that they are mine?”
William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Livre II, Chap.II: “Of Justice”
Le recours au tirage au sort peut, évidemment, se justifier par l’impossibilité d’identifier le membre de l’équipage le moins susceptible de contribuer au plus grand bonheur du plus grand nombre, mais on pourrait aussi faire valoir que c’est le mode de désignation du sacrifié qui serait choisi dans les conditions du voile d’ignorance de Rawls.