Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Showing Feelings of an Almost Human Nature"

Dennis Madden
The Humanity of the Creature
                   Victor Frankenstein fancied himself as a god while he was creating his masterpiece. As his promethean endeavors proceeded, he achieved what none other had done before him: the successful birthing of a patchwork life form, built in his image (albeit with a few modifications) and endowed with what was presumably a previously intact human brain. As the Creature rises from the operating table and assumes direct control of its own cognition, its humanity is in question.

                   In setting aside the particular biological and phylogenetic intricacies commonly employed by scientists to designate an organism as a member of the ‘human species’, my analysis will consider the term ‘humanity’ as meaning ‘human in person’ opposed to ‘human in a biological terms’.  Peter Singer, in his essay discussing  the concept of ‘person’ with regards to the human embryo (which shares many similar characteristics with the Creature itself), claims, “If we are considering whether it is wrong to destroy something, surely we must look at its actual characteristics, not just the species to which it belongs” (Singer, 86).  Based on this premise, a benevolent and intelligent alien race, for example, should be treated with the respect a human person would garner, regardless of its biological composition. It is not appropriate to abolish an organism’s ‘humanity’ as a function of species, be it human, alien, or reanimation. Instead, it is of more utility to designate that “an organism possess humanity and a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity” (Tooley, 206). Frankenstein’s Creature obviously had a continuing awareness of itself; its desire to exist is exemplified by the statement, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it” (Shelly, 107). If something as unaware as a human [species] embryo can be defended based on its potential to become a human person, then it hardly seems inane to assign the Creature the same protection. The Creature is a person now.
                   It is possible that at this point my argument could attract criticism from those who would consider the Creature’s humanity revoked based on its profound disdain of existence. After the cottagers so beloved by it fled in exile and disgust, the Creature exclaimed “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?” (Shelly, 151).  If the Creature so horribly hated its life, how could it be interested in the continuation of itself as the sum of its conscious experiences?  My answer comes in the form of two of the four noble truths of Buddhism.  The first noble truth relates that, to be human [in the sense of ‘person’], is to desire, and to desire is to suffer. The suffering referred to by the first noble truth is not simply the condition of biological pain, but instead it is a more complicated phenomenon defined by the second noble truth: Suffering arises from sensory experiences which provide highly valent feelings, including the craving to have future existence, or conversely, the craving ‘not to have existence’ (Keown, 46-51). It is the lack of fulfillment of these desires that creates the suffering. The Creature experiences both the suffering resultant from the desire for exist, as well as the converse suffering from being “sometimes resolved to quit the world and its miseries forever” (Shelly 161) Due to its immeasurable suffering through these desires, the Creature may very well be more human than any of us.
It is clear that the Creature is a rational self-perceiving entity interested in the continuation of its own conscious experiences, as well as a being suffering by virtue of desire. By my hybrid definition of humanity as personhood, I formally conclude that the Creature was not only human in person, but also that its very humanity resulted in its persecution.  The Creature, while initially peaceful, was corrupted by desire. It was the resultant suffering that caused the Creature to commit the murder of William and the framing of Justine. Had the Creature remained uneducated and unaware in the forest, left to subsist off of berries and roots, it may have never experienced the human desires that led to its hatred.  The Creature was not deprived of humanity: it was consumed and destroyed by it.

The Trial” by the band Pink Floyd says it wonderfully “The prisoner who now stands before you, was caught red handed showing feelings. Showing feelings of an almost human nature. This will not do.”


Keown, D. (1996). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
Pence, G. E. (1997). Classical Works in Medical Ethics (Essays Singer and Tooley). McGraw Hill.
Shelly, M. (2009). Frankenstein: Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Dover Publications.
Pink Floyd, "The Trial" 


Jake Stambaugh said...

I think that this post does well in addressing the humanity of Frankenstein's Creature. The second paragraph clearly stated what definitions of "human" and "person" you were using to measure the Creature against. You then use a wide variety of sources to support your claim that the Creature fits this definition, leading to what I feel is a very successful argument. I especially feel that the quote from Tooley is used well to articulate the monster's humanity.

One piece of criticism that I have is in the third paragraph where the noble truths of Buddhism are discussed. On my first reading of the essay this section seemed jumbled, but I think that this was a symptom of the structure because the logic is sound. I think that the point of the paragraph was to define the Creature as human by the definition outlined in the noble truths, but by quoting the passage before discussing the noble truths you defend a point that you haven't clearly made yet. Simply reordering some passages in the third paragraph so that you bring up Buddhism first and then support it could make the point "land" better.

Overall I enjoyed the essay and thought it answered the prompt clearly and thoroughly.

Adam said...

There's no reason to think that the monster was created as a patchwork, or that an intact human brain is involved - these are Hollywood interpretations. Reread the material in question. There is, at least, an interpretive stretch involved in making the Hollywood interpretation.

I think using Singer here is an excellent approach, although you aren't entirely clear about it. What I think you're trying to do - and what I know Singer would do - is argue that we should be worrying not about humanity (presumably a biological category) but about personhood (a more philosophical category). It's an excellent approach, but you're both a little long-winded and a little unclear as you approach it.

Your use of Buddhism is both very interesting and a little sloppy. I like the approach, even admire it, but you need to transition from Biology to Singer to Buddhism in a way that makes a little more sense. I absolutely think that it's workable, but it might be better to focus on Buddhism *or* Singer if you can't move articulately from one to the other.

Is this an essay or is it really a wonderful but rather disconnected set of thoughts which could lead to an essay? It's a little bit of both, really. You have the material here to do outstanding work, but it needs to be more clearly structure in terms of thesis & evidence, with the relationship among your sources/ideas being more articulate. It has great potential for revision, but is very messy as it stands.