Frankenstein: Scientific Research As A Moral Problem
There is a frequently repeated saying that human curiosity is the driver of progress. In most of the cases, people perceive this thesis in a positive context since scientific progress is associated with positive changes. However, knowledge and science have their dark sides and people do not often think about this fact. Marry Shelly was no of those who were not afraid of talking about it. In her infamous novel ‘Frankenstein’ she described the consequences which may follow uncontrolled human curiosity. Even though the novel was written two hundred years ago, the main message of the novel about the dark side of human knowledge and science is still valuable and actual today.
The main topic of the novel is the potential danger of uncontrolled science which harms not only the scientists but other people as well. Victor Frankenstein was very interested in medicine and science; he decided to experiment with making non-living matter alive. Such curiosity and blind desire were caused by his personal tragedy when his mother was dying and he could not do anything with that. Eventually, he creates a monster from the dead parts of the human body and becomes the victim of his creation. His family was killed by this monster and Victor decided to chase him and kill but he dies himself in these attempts. H. Davies claimed that ‘the novel Frankenstein provides insight as to how and why some scientists, enticed by scientific endeavors and their successes, can lose their moral perspective.’ (33).Thus, H. Davies underlines that uncontrolled science may have negative outcomes. Victor became the victim of his own uncontrolled curiosity, the absence of moral principles in medicine, and scientific experiments
The full title of the novel is ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’ there the first part is pretty logical and the second one is very interesting for analysis. On one the one hand, the monster may be related to Prometheus as far as two of them showed disobedience which had serious consequences: Prometheus to the goods and Frankenstein to Viktor. On the other hand, Prometheus may be interpreted as the hero who gave people knowledge in the form of fire but failed to explain that this knowledge should be used only for the sake of good and be limited in order not to harm. Philip A. Mackowiak, who is a doctor and researcher himself, supported this thesis: ‘Why are we so inclined to ignore medical science’s dark side? Partly, it is because as physicians we have serious conflicts of interest that compel us to do so. However, our patients have no such conflicts, and yet, in many ways, they are even more obsessed with medicine’s bright side than we are.’ (9).Thus, it should be remembered that knowledge has both a light and dark sides. The light side is to be used for the sake of the good; the dark side should be controlled
Even though the main hero became the victim of his own irresponsibility, Marry Shelly did not concentrate only on this drawback of human nature. The author provided a very bright quote for this idea: ‘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’ (Shelly, p.53). This quote is connected to a character who decided not to blindly follow his curiosity for scientific discoveries and understood that sometimes it is better not to know something. It is the Capitan of the ship who saves Victor in the North Pole, Robert Walton. When he realized that the experiment became too dangerous for him and the crew, he decided to refuse from their aim and come back home.
Nevertheless, humankind could not and cannot survive without science and new knowledge: ‘None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies, you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.’ (Shelly, p. 50). As people suffer new challenges, they need new solutions and scientific knowledge can provide them with such answers. Scientific curiosity is the thing that drives smart people in their longings to make discoveries and conduct experiments.
People are still to find the answer to the question about the good and the bad in science. There are many papers and books written on the matter of research and medicine ethics, however, they fail to give absolute and universal pieces of advice on how to behave in a particular situation, where the exact border between the good and the bad is, etc. Most probably, people will never find these answers since there may be no correct answers for such questions and medical and scientific ethics become not the matter of disciplines but the problem of doctors and researchers.
Victor Frankenstein was the one who did not find the answers to these questions and most probably he even did not try to do it. He was so mesmerized by this idea that nothing could stop him and, alas, he understood this mistake when it was too late. His example is a good illustration that some mistakes cannot be corrected and it is always better to think for one more time before doing anything. Fortunately, Capitan Robert Walton did not repeat the same mistake. The author showed these two characters in the framing of the story and their interaction looks more like a juxtaposition of two approaches to discoveries, rational embodied in Walton and emotional symbolized by Frankenstein.
To make a conclusion, ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’ by Marry Shelly is still very valuable for modern people despite the fact that it was written two centuries ago. The problems of scientific knowledge and human eagerness to make discoveries are still in the focus of modern philosophy and ethics. The novel is a perfect illustration that uncontrolled curiosity and unlimited science may have a devastating effect not only on those who are closely connected but to the people who cannot protect themselves from these consequences. Marry Shelly did not provide a clear answer to the question when curiosity becomes a danger. The readers are to find the answer on their own.
Davies, H. ‘Can Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein be read as an early research ethics text?’ Medical Humanities, vol. 30, no. 1, 2004, pp. 32-35
Mackowiak, Philip A. “President’s address: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the dark side of medical science” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, vol. 125, 2014, pp. 1-13.
Shelly, Marry. ‘Frankenstein’ . Planet Ebook, 1818
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