A child is drowning, and four men who stand upon the bank see it struggling in the water, One of them does not stir, he is a partisan of “Each one for -himself,” the maxim of the commercial middle-class; this one is a brute and we need not speak of him further The next one reasons thus: “If I save the child, a good report of my action will be made to the ruler of heaven, and the Creator will reward me by increasing my flocks and my serfs,” and thereupon he plunges into the water. Is he therefore a moral man? Clearly not! He is a shrewd calculator, that is all. The third, who is an utilitarian, reflects thus (or at least utilitarian philosophers represent him as so reasoning): “Pleasures can be classed in two categories, inferior pleasures and higher ones, To save the life of anyone is a superior pleasure infinitely more intense and more durable than others; therefore I will save the child.” Admitting that any man ever reasoned thus, would he not be a terrible egotist? and, moreover, could we ever be sure that his sophistical brain would not at some given moment cause his will to incline towards an inferior pleasure, that is to say, towards refraining from troubling himself? There remains the fourth individual. This man has been brought up from his childhood to feel himself one with the rest of humanity: from his childhood he has always regarded men as possessing interests in common: he has accustomed himself to suffer when his neighbours suffer, and to feel happy when everyone around him is happy. Directly he hears the heart. rending cry of the mother, he leaps into the water, not through reflection but by instinct, and when she thanks him for saving her child, he says, “What have I done to deserve thanks, my good woman? I am happy to see you happy; I have acted from natural impulse and could not do otherwise!”
Can anyone else find an even earlier example? To fit the bill, it’s gotta be a drowning, and it’s gotta be a kid. Choking adolescents and old women in burning buildings don’t count, even if the philosophical lessons are the same.