Thursday, May 5, 2016

Prowling Tigers

Aristotle classified knowledge as theoretical, productive, and practical.  Theoretical knowledge is metaphysics, physics, and mathematics, the study of what humans can think, reason, and do.  Productive knowledge is art, science, and engineering, the study of how humans create.  Practical knowledge is ethics and politics, the study of why we do the things we do.

According to Aristotle, Man is a moral agent by use of his reason and creativity acting under the guidance of ethics.  He considered ethics of primary importance.  Without an adequate understanding of why we do what we do, humans risk devolving into beasts - tigers.

Theodore Dreiser wrote:  "Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.  On the tiger no responsibility rests."

The real monster - the tiger - in Mary Shelley's gothic tale Frankenstein is not the creature he made.  It is Dr. Frankenstein himself who had the theoretical and productive knowledge to create but lacked the ethics to ask himself "why?"  Why would he make a such a being - a man longing for the human connection that all humanity would shun because of his monstrous appearance?  Dr. Frankenstein never once considered the lonely hell to which he was condemning his great creation.

As our theoretical and productive knowledge grows exponentially, our practical knowledge is hard pressed to keep pace.  Just because we can conceive it and achieve it, does not mean that we should.  Without the guidance of ethics, what will prevent our self-will from running riot?  How do we deal with the tigers now prowling among us?

2 comments:

  1. Indeed. Or the ravenous lions? It's interesting that Shelley created her "monster" as a sensitive, intelligent, and poetic soul who was far more ethically and morally aware than Victor Frankenstein. Of course, she intended the monster as a true Romantic hero.

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  2. Indeed. Or the ravenous lions? It's interesting that Shelley created her "monster" as a sensitive, intelligent, and poetic soul who was far more ethically and morally aware than Victor Frankenstein. Of course, she intended the monster as a true Romantic hero.

    ReplyDelete