Creature: Extent of achievement of the Kantian Autonomy Principle
The creature is a character in Mary Shelley`s epistolary novel Frankenstein. It was created by the work`s main character Victor Frankenstein in his ambitious quest for fulfillment in higher science, a discipline in which he had been extensively schooled. The creature was intended to take on a human form, but instead appeared as a detestable caricature upon its completion, mostly due to its lanky eight foot frame and degenerate features borrowed from a variety of human and animal parts, so much as to fill the creator, Victor, will groom and regret (Frankenstein, pg 58-59). Victor finally used static electricity to `breath` life into it, and shortly withdrew from the room, upon seeing its yellowish, fluid filled eyes come to life, whereupon he felt overpowered by the contrast of the creature`s form and his vision of a beautiful creation. He abandoned it.
The creature abandoned and desolate, sort out to find compassion and identification with humankind, but instead, only found rejection and hostility. This paper looks at the life, thoughts and actions of the creature, with an aim to establish to what extent they achieve Kant`s principle of autonomy as laid out in Kant`s work, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. The Kantian autonomy concept holds that humans are capable of self governance. In the general concept rational beings are able to make decisions on their own, and therefore are governed by moral ideals which attach responsibility to their actions. According to Kant, human`s ability to reason acts as the basis for morality, a subject Kant extensively explores in his work Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Autonomity, according to Kant, is that property which gives an individual`s wills the status of being a law. In Frankenstein, the creature holds thoughts, or acts, or fails to act during its life of trying to find acceptance by man in ways that both obey and contravene Kant`s conception of morality and autonomity.
The creature in Mary Shelley`s novel Frankenstein obeys the Kantian autonomous principle to a great extent. The purpose of this entire discussion is to show how the creature fulfils the Kantian autonomous principle, while at the same time being subject to isolated morality environments in which rationality, in the concept of Kant, becomes invalid.
Ways through which Creature achieves Kantian Principle of Being Autonomous
According to Kant, an action born of good will is already moral, regardless of the consequences of such as action. Three instances of the creature`s own narrative to Victor of its experiences with people support the basis of goodwill as a basis for morality. Firstly, the creature narrates to Frankenstein its yearlong dwelling near the De Lacey family home, where the creature greatly admired the humans (Frankenstein, p. 133), and even willed to associate with them. When it approached the family, they, instead of showing it compassion, drove it away on the account of its form. This act of good will is in line with Kant`s definition of autonomous action. In addition, the creature narrates of how, in the night, it would clear the paths of snow, to the benefit of humans who did not know it existed. This deed, while benefiting others (humans), was of no immediate benefit to the creature. This, according to Kant, is a moral action in the sense that it is founded on a consideration that can in itself stand as a principle. A principle has the element of being made universal and applicable for everyone as a principle without a contradiction (p. 401-402).
In another instance, the creature rescues a drowning girl from a pool, purely out of good will. However, instead of appreciating it, a man pursues it while shooting at it with a gun. This action of rescuing the child is, to a large extent, in line with Kant`s conception of good will as a maxim of morality.
The action of rescuing the drowning child may have been born out of self-interest, and not out of good-will. This assertion maybe confirmed by a later incident where the creature engages Victor`s nephew with the view of identifying with him, but strangles him upon finding he is related to Victor. This consideration might rule out the creature`s good will.
Kant`s concept of morality is founded upon a priori existence of concepts that govern the actions of rational beings, as opposed to the development of such concepts from experience or some other finite frame of reference. For instance, the creature`s knowledge of death, and its association of certain occurrences such as drowning to it, has not been mentioned anywhere before the moment in which the creature saves a drowning child. In accordance with Kant`s point of view regarding duty where he says that acquisition of duty is not a result of observation of instances of duty from which we infer our own sense of it, thus the creature`s action of saving the drowning child was based on a sense of duty not learnt from any previous experience.
In addition, the creature, upon finding Victor in his retreat in the mountains, subjects itself to him, asking for mercy and understanding. The creature even suggests to Victor that the two establish an understanding in which victor-the creator, would perform his duties towards the creation and the creature would in return perform its duty towards him. This is in spite of the creature`s ability to kill Victor, something it had already done to several humans. While the creature had not previously been exposed to situations in which creation acknowledges the creator, in this episode it submits to a weaker being (victor), on the basis that he created it.
Kant`s account of a rational being is one who is able to act without influence by external factors, put purely on their own accord and in accordance with their own conception of laws (pg 412-414). In Frankenstein, the creature seeks to become self conscious using a variety of aids such as learning to read and studying books he could find. He also seeks to know his true form through observing himself in a pool. These actions depict a self-willed dedication of finding identity and knowing one`s form, which is the rational thing to do in the creature`s circumstances. In demanding of Victor that he builds of him a female companion, the creature demonstrates a conceptualization of laws when he says that even he is entitled to happiness (pg 174). This is in agreement with Kant`s requirement for rational action as being subject to existing law. Victor suggests that no amount of torture by the creature will make him create a companion for it, but the creature tells him, instead, that it does not wish to kill him, but to reason with him, which is reflective of Kant`s concept of rationality.
Ways in which the Creature Fails to Achieve Kantian Autonomous Principle
Revenge and Law
The entire of the creature`s life is dedicated to revenging against its maker for creating it so deformed, so extreme in form and size, and so alienated from humanity, the only earthly species which the creature closely resembles. From the foregoing discussion, the creature has exhibited clear properties of rationality, morality and even goodwill. Its frustrations, however, lead it to act in ways that defy the principles upon which its morality, according to the Kantian autonomy, is founded. The case of saving the drowning child, for instance, is contradicted by the creature`s act of strangling a child as well as by the numerous other killings it does. According to Kant, there is only one categorical imperative upon which morality is founded, which is to act with accordance to the maxim which one would will to become a universal law (p. 30).
As regards revenge, the actions of the creature in committing multiple murders are contradictory, since to will death- a vice, for each person with whom one disagrees, contradicts Kantian morality. According to Kant, any moral law based on fulfilling personal desires would negate the categorical imperative, and that moral law must therefore arise from rational will. Rational will in turn results, according to Kant, from one`s conceptualization of existing law. A fundamental question therefore arises: On what basis of law would a person without any knowledge of existing laws, such as the creature, base his concept of rationality? Prior to his limited reading of books he collects near the cottage, the creature is ignorant to all tenets of the human society, and, as such, not subject to any laws he knows of. In this respect, he fails to meet the Kantian principle of autonomy in that his concept of morality cannot be based on any laws.
Kingdom of Ends Principle
The Kantian concept of an autonomous agent depicts an agent which is able to self govern, founded upon rational will. He envisions a kingdom of ends in which the categorical imperative rules out some actions as immoral (p. 429 -431). For instance, if an individual uses others as a means to achieve his individualized end rather than embrace them as ends in themselves, his action can be described as immoral. To this end, the creature`s use of murder as a way to achieve his interest- which is to revenge against Frankenstein`s action of creating him deformed and unlikable- is immoral and fails to meet Kant`s description of a moral action as formulated by the categorical imperative.
The creature has no real basis of morality, and is therefore not bound by any morality structure as a frame of reference. This may be used to dismiss judgments on any actions that the creature engages in that were previously analyzed on the basis of morality, and therefore regard any actions the creature engages in as based on self-morality, making them moral.
The character Creature in Mary Shelly`s Frankenstein novel achieves the Kantian principle of autonomy to a great extent, while also failing in some respects to achieve it. In the issue of being self governing and being able to make independent, rational judgments, the creature shows a progressively weakening performance if the argument is taken from an entire human point of view, starting initially with a highly moral outlook towards his association with humans, and gradually degenerating into a revenge driven series of actions which fail to meet Kantian conceptualization of categorical imperatives. The creature`s rational judgement ability may arguably be seen not to decline if the discussion is held from the point of view that no moral guidelines exist for the creature, and therefore that no actions by the creature are irrational from its point of view. Also, to the end that agents drive their rational will from existing law, the creature fails to meet Kantian concept of being autonomous since the creature, initially, is unschooled, desolate, and ignorant of any existing laws, and cannot therefore be expected to have rational will. In contrast, some of his actions, such as submitting to his maker and having a self driven will to rescue a child, shows an inherent sense of duty which is in line with Kant`s concept of morality. The creature`s inherent sense of moral will seems to be universal in the sense that they may fail to be there any information to suggest that he learnt values from humans prior to the time he reads books in the old cottage.
Kant E. The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.
Shelly M. Frankeinstein.