Doctor Frankenstein and his Colleagues

General topics of this course are bioethics and philosophy of medicine. Yet, our investigation of bioethical and philosophical issues in medicine shall be based on a close reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus where we find a paradigmatic model of modern scientist with all his ethical and philosophical problems. As the subtitle of Shelley’s chef-d’oeuvre suggests, Frankenstein is to be read as a myth – in fact, it is the only modern myth, and this myth reveals the destiny of modern science and modern thought. Along the lines sketched by Mary Shelley, we should thus ask what it means to be responsible, and not to escape from one’s own responsibility, in the situation where all traditional ethical principles are surpassed. For the problem of doctor Frankenstein wasn’t that he created his monster, but that he left it alone giving up his responsibility for the creature to which he gave life. The field of our investigation must be therefore situated between the concept of monstrosity (Canguilhem, Foucault and others) and the notion of bare life (Agamben). This brings us also to the difference between life and death which plays a crucial role in Shelley’s novel. Only a precise analysis of all these concepts can help us to orientate ourselves in the uncertain field of responsibility without ready-made guidelines.


List of topics:

- Frankenstein’s theoretical background: from the Renaissance medicine to the modern medicine

- problem of monstrosity

- notion of bare life

- situation of the monster – the monster as the outlaw

- what does it mean to be nameless?

- monster’s self-education

- realm of life and the realm of death – death as an eternal coldness

- responsibility as a capacity not to escape



Since this course is finished by exam, every student should give a paper in the seminar and submit a final essay.



Agamben, Giorgio: The Open. Man and Animal. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2004.

Agamben, Giorgio: Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1998.

Canguilhem, Georges: “La monstruosité et le monstrueux,” in La connaissance de la vie. Vrin, 2nd revised edition, Paris,1992.

Certeau, Michel de : Heterologies. Discourse on the Other. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1986.

Foucault, Michel: Les anormaux. Gallimard, Paris, 1999.

Fukuyama,  Francis: Our Posthuman Future : Consequences of the Biotechnological Revolution. Farrar,Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002.

Kahn, Axel, Lecourt, Dominique: Bioéthique et liberté. Quadrige/ PUF, Paris, 2004.

Koyré, Alexandre: Mystiques, spirituels, alchimistes du XVIe siècle allemand. Gallimard, Paris, 1971.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques: Frankenstein: mythe et philosophie. PUF, Paris, 1997.

Lecourt, Dominique: Humain. Posthumain. PUF, Paris, 2003.

Lecourt, Dominique: Contre la peur, PUF, Paris, 1999.

Lecourt, Dominique: L’avenir du progrès. Textuel, Paris, 1997.

Lecourt, Dominique: Prométhée, Faust, Frankenstein. Synthélabo Groupe, 1996.

Nancy, Jean-Luc: L’Intrus. Galilée, Paris, 2000.

Shelley, Mary : Frankenstein. A Northon Critical Edition, New York, London, 1996.