Scientific Morality in Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a late nineteenth century novel about a scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates a living person from dead body parts and gives it life through the power of magic and alchemy. It serves as a cautionary tale that sheds light on the ethical boundaries of scientific experimentation and the potential consequences of ignoring those boundaries for the sake of knowledge alone. Although science is not inherently good or evil, it can be used as a tool for both in the hands of imperfect humans. Victor Frankenstein betrays the scientific code of ethics when he creates a man that society can never accept.
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In the scientific field, it often occurs that the consideration of whether or not we should do something is neglected and all that is left to consider is whether or not it is possible to do so. In this way, science can compromise humanity through ignorance and the belief that one could master nature. Victor cannot master his creation; therefore he cannot hope to fully master the ability of creating life.
As there is no intrinsic safeguard within the scientific method as to this question of advancement and what is beneficial to humanity, Frankenstein has a responsibility to regulate his own experimentation, which he ignores until it is too late. He performs his job and ultimately finds it to be lacking in this one area, the tragedy of course being that the knowledge that he gains comes as a result of great human suffering and loss. The following passage shows how Victor Frankenstein has changed the way he perceives scientific morality and the consequences of unregulated scientific experimentation:
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. (Shelley 31)
Victor Frankenstein regrets what he has done and wishes to wash his hands of it and go back to a simpler time in the past where he had less knowledge and less responsibility. His abandonment of the monster after its creation is out of fear. At first, it is simple fear of the creature’s appearance. Soon, he comes to the realization that he has erred in the creation of the monster, after the fact, and wants it to be gone. The results of his experiment will not prove that easy to erase.
Once the monster has been created, Frankenstein has a responsibility to try and assimilate the monster into the human society, and he abandons it instead out of fear. The monster is not, by any measure, a wholly evil creature. The creature many times attempts to pursue a peaceful life only to be thwarted by humanity’s fear of difference. The fact that the creature kills without remorse does not indicate bad intentions, but rather a lack of a conscience. In fact, the monster does not start out with the hatred of man or Frankenstein; it learns it from the humans that surround it. The issue of morality is also demonstrated from the perspective of the monster:
All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, they creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. (Shelley 65)