More on Davy and the use of science

More on Davy and the use of science: In her excellent essay on the role of science in Franskenstein, Anne K.Mellor quotes an important passage from Davy's Discourse about the situation of the chemist, who is in possession of knowledge that:

has given to him an acquaintance with the different relations of the parts of the external world; and more than that, it has bestowed upon him powers which may be almost called creative; which have enabled him to modify and change the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments … For who would not be ambitious of becoming acquainted with the most profound secrets of nature; of ascertaining her hidden operations; and of exhibiting to men that system of knowledge which relates so intimately to their own physical and moral constitution?

quoted in Anne K. Mellor, `A Feminist Critique of Science' in Fred Botting (ed), Frankenstein: Contemporary Critical Essays (Macmillan, 1995, p. 111)

This passage demonstrates both the strength and weakness of Victor's situation:

  • Davy emphasises the power that the scientist derives from knowledge: a power that both aids further enquiry and also has the potential for action and creation
  • Davy's language is quite aggressive: he speaks of the scientist as being able to ‘interrogate nature with power', and ‘as a master, active with his own instruments', so that he can become ‘acquainted with the most profound secrets of nature' and capable of ‘ascertaining her hidden operations'
  • This suggests a kind of intervention on the part of the scientist that goes beyond discovery and description and could spill over into a desire to manipulate and control natural processes in ways that may not be beneficent.
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