Johnson, Galen [faculty advisor, Department of Philosophy]




humans; animals; machines; relations; nature; philosophy; Frankenstein


From Plato to Descartes and Kant and now to modern day, there is a general idea that pervades Western society. This idea is about the uniqueness and superiority of the human being. We are rational and conscious beings that apparently stand alone in the world, separated intellectually from animals and biologically from machines. The relationship between humans, animals, and machines is a tumultuous one and it is not easily definable. For many classical philosophers, this relationship has always been a hierarchy. Humans are on the top and animals and machines fall somewhere below. These beliefs have created a distinct category for the three terms that leaves no room for overlap. Because of the great disparity between these groups, the animal and machine have come to be known as the “Other.” This title demonstrates that they are markedly disregarded and disrespected.

All of the points indicated in regard to the relationship between humans, animals, and machines can be seen in the Frankenstein novel. Victor Frankenstein, the maker of the creature, has all of the typical ideas about the rarity and dominance inherent in humans. When working on his creature, he thinks of everything mechanistically. The human remains that he has collected are simply parts in the machine he wants to build. The whole creation is just a scientific procedure. What Frankenstein is doing is trying to make an artificial human or a cyborg. Once his experiment is complete, the creature becomes alive. He is not human-like in appearance and he cannot talk. Frankenstein flees in terror from the monster that he has brought into existence. He treats his work as some sort of animal not worthy of his attention any more. The creature runs away as well and is treated by everyone like a demon. He hides and it is during this time that he learns to read, write, and speak. He has learned what humans prize the most as something that is their own: language. At this point in time when the creature is most clearly human, he still has the qualities of animal and machine. Frankenstein’s creature has blurred the distinct categories of humans, animals, and machines. By analyzing the most contemporary philosophical writing on the boundaries between humans, animals, and machines as well as recent critical analyses on Frankenstein regarding these categories, a more unified view of the separate groups emerges.