Moreau’s Law in "The Island of Doctor Moreau" in Light of Kant’s Reciprocity Thesis

  • Dan Paul Dal Monte Temple University
Keywords: free will, Kant, Wells, Moreau, reciprocity thesis, law


In this paper, I explore a tension between the Law in the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells, and Kant's reciprocity thesis. The Law is a series of prohibitions that Moreau has his beasts recite. Moreau devotes his time to transforming animals through a painful surgery into beings that resemble humans, but the humanized beasts are constantly slipping back into animalistic habits, and so Moreau promulgates the Law to maintain decorum. Kant's reciprocity thesis states that free will is the necessary and sufficient condition of moral practical laws. That is, in order for a moral practical law to be applicable, there must be free will, and, if free will is present, then there will be a moral practical law that sets a standard for the free will. However, in Wells's novel, the humanized beasts seem to lack free will. So, how can a law be applicable to them? By delving deeper into the mystery of Moreau's strange island, I will shed light on the otherwise cumbersome concepts of free will, natural impulses, and practical laws, as well as their interrelationships. The upshot will be a deeper understanding of personhood through an exploration of the instinctual nature of animals, moral law, and free will.

Author Biography

Dan Paul Dal Monte, Temple University
I am entering my fourth year in the doctoral program in philosophy at Temple University. I am very interested in Kant's theory of free will and it's applicabilty to a modern context. I see science fiction as a very exciting medium for exploring philosophical ideas, and I have written some of it myself.