Prompt:3) One of the most enduring legacies of Discourse on Method is the idea of "Cartesian Duality," or, as Matthews and Platt put it, Descartes' "division between the material world and the human soul or mind." Moreover, Descartes privileges the mind/soul over the physical body as the place where true humanity resides. This view brings interesting questions to Frankenstein, wherein Mary Shelley uses a human-created being, a machine of sorts, to explore human nature. Using specific detail from both texts (and any others that seem appropriate), compare and contrast both views of humanity, considering the implications of Victor's experiment in considering the nature of the mind.
Descartes believes all human beings are born with an equal extent of reason; moreover he says "the diversity of our opinions does not arise from the fact that some people are more reasonable than others, but solely from the fact that we lead our thoughts along different paths and do not take the same things into consideration."(1 Discourse on Method) On the contrary, Mary Shelley believes humans are naturally innocent at birth and also are born as a blank slate or as put by John Locke a 'tabula rasa'. Differences on the subject of humanity among both Descartes and Shelley may arise from the periods in which they lived.
According to Descartes dualism, the mind and body are two completely different entities with the former residing in the res cogito and the latter in the res extensa. By deducing these two realms, Descartes discovered his most famous philosophical statement; cogito ergo sum or "I think therefore I am." A human being therefore must be created with ingredients from both the res extensa as well as the res cogito. Our limbs, eyes, ears and all other body parts come from the res extensa while our mind and soul are derived from the res cogito. But who has the power to create a soul and mind; two things that are eternal and in that sense divine.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor understands the implication of creating a human being and even says "no father could claim the gratitude of his child as completely as I should deserve theirs."(Chapter 4) Once Victor has finished assembling together the body parts of his creation he goes to sleep which is akin to the biblical passage of Genesis in which God creates man, the earth, and everything in it in six days and rests on the seventh. Befuddled Victor is awaken by the Monster who utters "inarticulate sounds" similar to a baby vouching for his parents attention. Instead of tending to the creature Frankenstein runs away abandoning his child and wishing that he had never created it [the monster] in the first place. At this time the creature does not yet have the skill to speak, read, and write all of which require the ability to think and therefore the ingredients that reside in the res extensa.
Victor's abandonment combined with mistreatment from society motivated the creature to commit hostile actions even murders against Victor's loved ones. Victor encounters the monster while he is heading back home to attend the funeral of his younger brother, William. The creature confesses that he killed William out of anger; however all the creature claims to want is to be loved, accepted, and receive some sort of compassion. Unfortunately Victor stubbornly refuses to comply with the creatures demand for a companion of his same nature. Rejection, abandonment, and mistreatment ultimately lead the creature to kill Victor's loved ones. From this perspective, it is clear that Shelley believes humans are naturally innocent and only made evil by the corruptness of the world around them.
By the end of the novel the creature has the ability to speak, read, and write. How did Victor get a hold of the ingredients in the res extensa; or more simply how did Victor create a mind and soul? There are two solutions to this question the former being rather ludicrous and the later quite spooky. First, it is possible that Victor was the omnipotent God. Secondly, it is possible that Descartes dualism is incorrect. What if Descartes belief that the mind and the body are two different things was not true? Human beings are merely temporal creatures who do not have a soul? Perhaps this is the most frightening part of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley was a monist whereas Descartes was a dualist. Shelley's central message in Frankenstein is that monism, the belief that the mind and body are one entity, is the correct philosophy which was abated by Descartes and many other philosophers after him. However, dualism has been proven by hypnotic experiments. For instance, "Hilgard and Orne, psycologists at Stanford university and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, placed participants in a hypnotic trance and through unconscious hypnotic suggestion told the participants they would be touched with a "red hot" piece of metal when they were actually touched with a pencil. The participants in a deep trance had a skin reaction (water blisters) just as if they had been touched with burning metal (Simply Pyschology). This is an example of the mind controlling the body's reaction. This experiment goes against the monism approach in that the body should not react subconsciously to things that are happening outside of the mind.
In Shelley's eyes, humans are naturally afraid of differences as seen in chapter 6 when Frankenstein's monster goes to the Old man's house and asks to be a part of his family. Once the old man's children walk through the door they rage towards the creature and beat him. They do not beat the creature because they are naturally evil or sinful, but because they're afraid and do not want to lose their father or their own lives. This sort of fearful behavior has persisted throughout history as seen in the civil rights movement during the 1950's as well as various other upheavals due to differences in race, religion, politics, and beliefs.
In Discourse on Method, Descartes says "The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues."
Unlike Shelley, Descartes believed that man is easy to err when they make decisions based on their own judgments or common sense. Descartes derives a set of four principals which he says is essential to discovering the truth in the world. Descartes completely sets aside perception when seeking the truth. In fact he believes that truth can only be obtained by deductive reasoning, arriving at a specific conclusion by starting out with a very broad or general statement.
Victor Frankenstein's view of humanity is ambiguous. He loves his family and gives counsel to Captain Walton in his search for knowledge but fails to admit his flaw to others and take care of his creation. While Victor's creature had an ugly outward appearance his soul was innocent and beautiful. In contrast Victor appeared to be a normal human being but his soul was dark, wicked, and deceitful. Unlike his creation Victor had never felt pain or grieve from the loss of a loved one. However, once the monster was able to get revenge, he took away from Victor that which was most precious to him; his family and dearest friend Henry Clerval.
A creature that was made by human was then and still is very scary. However, it must be noted that the timeframe in which Shelley wrote Frankenstein, was the gothic era and Shelley amongst a few other individuals of her time firmly believed that all problems in society are created by human beings. The monster in her story was created by Victor, a human being, and a human being is the only person capable of satisfying the creature's appetite. Similar to Mary Shelley's beliefs that all problems in society are manmade Descartes tries to avoid from creating any problems by following the three maxims he laid out in his Discourse on Method. He also was cognizant that human senses are easily deceived and thus maintained much disciplined rules in searching for the truth and happiness in life.