The Philodemic Room
April 7, 2016
In the 4th Annual Jessica Caroe Debate, the Philodemic gathered to discuss Resolved: Victor Frankenstein is responsible for the crimes of his monster. To commemorate Jessica Caroe (COL ’16), who passed away in 2012, in this debate, seniority is flipped, allowing the Society’s youngest members the chance to test their mettle on the floor. The 2006 graduating class of Georgetown endowed the Society with a medal, the Jessica Caroe Award for Progress in Eloquence, for the Philodemic Member inducted during that academic year who has demonstrated the greatest improvement in his or her extemporaneous floor speeches.
Keynoting for the affirmation, Ms. Alexandra Weissman (SFS ’18) of New York joined Mr. Andrew Boling (SFS ’18) of California, making his induction. On the negation, Mr. Adam Gonzalez (SFS’ 18) of Texas keynoted with Mr. James Jennings (COL ’19) of Massachusetts, making his induction.
Mr. Boling began by quoting the philosophical film Spy Kids 2, asking “Does God stay in heaven because he is afraid of what he created?” Yet this debate concentrated on another literary masterpiece, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Romantic novel in which Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates an intelligent being who is scorned by the world and kills Frankenstein’s brother and friends. Mr. Boling argued that the monster killed because Frankenstein shirked his responsibility as a creator, tormented the monster in the service of his own mad quest for power. Frankenstein created a female companion for the monster, then destroyed it, driving the monster mad with grief, which resulted in the murders.
Mr. Jennings cast the monster as “fundamentally a man,” with intelligence, altruism, high culture, and human morality. Thus, the decision to kill comes from his own mind – and Mr. Jennings emphasized that how the monster responds to his pain is his responsibility. To cast Victor as a God and hold him responsible ignores the monster’s free will, and assigns all our sins to our parents, which is a recursive argument. Mr. Jennings held that the monster holds sole responsibility for his actions because both are just men, trapped by the suffering of mankind.
Ms. Weissman centered her argument on the monster’s nature as an emotional and intelligent being abandoned in the cold snows, totally isolated. She argued that Frankenstein does not have empathy for his own creation, having destroyed his companion. This failure to provide and Frankenstein’s prejudice caused the embittering of the monster. She ultimately rooted the responsibility in Frankenstein’s quest to create life, something only a god could do.
Mr. Gonzalez greeted the Philodemic with a bit of Texas charm, and then dove into his argument that focused on the monster’s personal responsibility. He has free will and cannot change his environment, thus the one thing he can control is himself. The monster chose to become villainous to get vengeance, as such ‘man’ became his villain. Mr. Gonzalez claimed that no one ‘owes’ you anything, thus “you are who you choose to be.”
Opening up the floor, Mr. Mondolfi used his visit to a prison to emphasize the importance of circumstances in responsibility while Mr. Fernandez asked if there was a ‘disease’ of evil. Mr. Laposata highlighted the particular pain the monster experienced after being tortured by his Creator. However, Ms. Wilson questioned the link between abuse and a license to hurt others, as thousands are abused but live peacefully. “But there is only one of the monster,” Mr. Soltis replied, emphasizing the monster’s grotesqueness. Mr. Hinck argued that the only way to respond to a hostile world is to do the right thing. On the affirmation, Mr. Marrow spoke against his mentee, saying, “much like the monster, people cannot look past my mentee’s appearance!” and cast Mr. Jennings as much like himself, “really, really pretentious, but good quality.” Mr. Perez-Reyes spoke against both his mentees, claiming radical freedom as his standard while prancing around the floor wearing a hat. He closed with a wise recommendation: “Don’t listen to anything Jon Marrow says!”
Ms. Griffin argued that the monster is actually more human than Frankenstein, who betrayed him, who oppressed him. Thus, we should allow the monster to take control of his life and act against his oppressor. Opening up non-member speaking time, Ms. Madison Pravecek (SFS ’19) underlined that the monsters’ actions, not his intentions, mattered while Mr. Rahul Desai (MSB ’16) counterposed the monster’s inhuman features to illustrate the “unintended consequences” of creation. In contrast, Mr. Brody Ladd (SFS ’19) highlighted the flaws of Frankenstein, who had “good intentions.” Mr. Jackson Dolman (COL ’19), scrambling to speak for the affirmation, located Frankenstein’s crime not in creation but in his neglect of the monster.
Returning to member speaking time, Ms. Li posited that taking responsibility is part of becoming human, elsewise we don’t give others agency. Ms. Provost cited the enormous influence of her father on life, hypothesizing of the hugely negative effects of an evil parent. Mr. Easterling asked why Frankenstein could not give his creation the gift of love while Ms. Friedmann understood the monster as both Frankenstein’s creation and punishment. Ms. Young connected the monster’s outer ugliness to that present in everyone as Mr. McCarthy pleaded for the Society not to condemn the monster, who could not look to his creator for love, respect, or purpose. Vice President Little asked if perhaps the cold winters of Geneva, Switzerland might be responsible while Mr. Pennell contrasted the willingness of Jesus to die for mankind with Frakenstein’s hubris. Mr. Estes demanded that we ought to hold the monster to the same caliber as any human. Mr. Muran closed the floor by citing the parallel between an unloving God and Victor Frankenstein.
Mr. Gonzalez emphasized that just because God is all-loving does not mean He is always kind. He returned to his opening argument that personal responsibility does not give a license to hurt others because they hurt you. Maintaining that each person acts as an individual, Mr. Gonzalez argued that otherwise, it would devalue what it means to be human. He concluded by saying, “I have to be responsible for myself.”
Ms. Weissman highlighted Mary Shelley’s creative ability in writing the novel, seeing the debate as coming down to the issue of education. She emphasized the skepticism about scientific inquiry and cast Victor’s journey as a perverted one that sought only glory for himself. She argued that knowledge should be used as the monster does, not as Frankenstein employs it to evil ends. Ms. Weissman closed by giving a special thank-you to Sergeant Burke.
Mr. Jennings apologized for the ‘error’ of thanking Mr. Marrow. He pointed out several flaws in the affirmation’s argument, including their failure to explain the monster’s altruism and his later betrayal of that, and their varying ideas of what Victor is to the monster. He concluded by arguing that the monster clearly made his own choices, thus bears responsibility for his own crimes.
Mr. Boling closed out the night by asking why the same standard of responsibility was no applied to Frankenstein. He described the monster as more alone than anyone and Frankenstein as more present than any God. In this situation, Frankenstein was selfish, condemning his monster to his fate, changing his character. Thus the monster’s brutality was a direct result of the monster’s hubris.
The Society then voted to determine the new member who has made the most progress in eloquence over the past year. I heartily congratulate Ms. Sarah Griffin as the winner of the 4th Annual Jessica Caroe Medal! With a vote of 19 – 1 – 18, this resolution was closely affirmed!
Congratulations to our inductees and to our newest members for a great debate!