The enlightenment task – Liam Beaton

The philosophers of the 18th century, the spark that burned to become a fire. Idea’s spawned from the minds of those who think differently will go on to create highly used topics in modern society.  The dawn of the enlightenment period was the dawn of science. How this came to be, is a story that involves many important people.  We are going to focus on one of those philosophers and how their work, philosophies and beliefs, relate to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” and what her intentions are with creating such an ambitious story.

A man by the name of David Hume. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, May 7th, 1711. His study involved looking into how humans prefer reason over emotion when determining outcomes either being general, political or scientific. His idea was that when dealing with any matter, we need to use passion and emotion rather than logic or reason. With that he stated we are more motivated by emotion rather than hate, logic or reason. Hume stated that “We assume that we’re meant to train our mind to use logic over reason; to be devoted to evidence and logical reason and committed to to preventing our feelings getting in the way”.  Further more, Hume stated “reason is the slave of passion”.  How this relates to the book “Frankenstein” By Mary Shelley is in the character of Victor Frankenstein, a man trying in vein to nullify the effects of death on the human body. His motivation was born out of anger and pain because of the loss of his mother that fell ill to scarlet fever.  He wanted the human race to transcend death. No loss, no pain. He was to create a perfect being, but with doing so meant great repercussions.  Driven by hate and anger, he used his reason and logic to attempt to break the boundary between life and death. Mary’s intentions with Victor in this case is that he turns to his overwhelming knowledge and reasoning instead of letting his emotions take over, to let himself let go of his pain of his mothers passing. With that he breaks even more emotional bonds such as his friends and family when tirelessly working on the ‘perfect being’ which requires his knowledge and rationality to succed.

Hume’s view on point religion was that no living being should try and play god, theoretically or religiously. By that he meant, never try and push against the will of nature it’s self. Hume wasn’t religious entirely. He swayed between  agnosticism ( There be a god, I’m not sure) and mild theism ( There is a god, but that doesn’t make much of a difference to me.  He believed wholly that there wasn’t any compelling evidence that suggested there was a deity and it wasn’t rational to believe in such a thing.  What his philosophy has to do with “Frankenstein” is the underlying topic of playing god and how Victor Frankenstein is essentially playing god by creating the ‘monster’. Hume’s main statement was that religion isn’t the product of reason and we shouldn’t treat those who disagree with our religion as rational people that have made an error of reasoning and need to be corrected, but rather as passionate emotion-driven creatures that should be left to their own devices so long as they do the same for you.  The time period that Victor Frankenstein lived in based most concepts and decisions whether that be how the universe came to be or how to treat someone.  Victor created the ‘monster’ in attempt to create a human that was stronger and would live forever, to essentially make humanity immortal.  Human’s was not made to live forever. It’s how our cells start to break down at a certain point. It’s what nature or ‘God’ had intended. To prevent the body from decaying was ‘playing God’. To against what the human body is capable of and altering it could have repercussions.  Victor wasn’t religious and was willing to break morals for the sake of the human’s race salvation out of hate and anger for the loss of his mother.  Victor’s actions seemed to be out of passion and anger for the loss of his mother as he thought he could of prevented it. So he then vowed he would transcend the human the race to that of a level above death.  His science also based mainly on theoretical experiments, he invested a lot of faith into his work. Shelley’s overall message in terms of religion is that going against the grain and ‘playing God’ will always have repercussions.

Although Hume had many idea’s he delved into, he took a great interest in the philosophical topic of ethics.  A conundrum of how humans can be good. He argued that morality,  the main principles that concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour, isn’t actually about having moral ideas.  He insisted that it’s about being trained from a young age in the art of decency expressed through emotion. Being good, is getting into good habits of feeling. Hume was a great advocate of having qualities such as wit, good manners and sympathy.  Those are the qualities that make people pleasent to be around, outside of any rational plan to be good. It suprised him how someone can be ostensibly rational yet not that nice or likeable.  Being able to understand a complex conversation or argument or deduce tredns from data won’t make you sensitive to suffering of others or skilled at heeping your temper.  Hume believed these qualities are the work of our feelings. This all relates to Mary Shelley’s intentions within frankenstein is the use of how victor interacts with his friends and family whilst working on the monster.  He isolates himself from society in his laboratory/basement do focus all his energy into creating the monster, however when someone comes and tries to convince him that he should go outside he replies in rage or hatred towards the person as he is frustrated that he could be using his time to work on the monster. His rationality suggests he should create the monster to make humanity better, where as he ignores his emotions and breaks his emotional bonds with his loved ones which his orginal intentions was to keep the bonds forever though immortaltiy.  Through Hume’s work, Shelley is implying through Victor Frankenstein breaking morals concerning the creation physically and theoretically of the monster.

To conclude, the philsophical work of David Hume has a large part to play in describing actions of Victor Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s intentions with the novel named “Frankenstein”. We have explored some of Hume’s work in the topics under the roof of emotion and rationality. We have explained how Hume’s belief that the using emotion rather than logic or reason greatly benefits decision making and how Victor’s desire to create the monster was born out of hate and anger and fueled then by logic and reason. Then we delved into Hume’s outlook on religion and how Victor was essentially playing god and the repercussions involved. Then finally we looked at Ethics and how victor broke ethics and morals and in turn implemented his knowledge and ignored emotion. All over, Mary Shelley’s intentions are clear. Her goal was to address topics otherwise not talked about.  The topics Hume addressed were all very prominent in the text of “Frankenstein”.








One Reply to “The enlightenment task – Liam Beaton”

  1. Hi Liam,

    You are absolutely on the right track. I would now expect you to further develop the analysis of how Shelley demonstrates/reflects this theory in her work.

    Remember the advice I gave to the class: for the moment, focus on getting your ideas down (what you want to say) and then come back to edit your work and focus on HOW you say what it is you are saying.

    Mrs. P

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