Ethics, Responsibility and Science in Brecht’s
In the opening stages of a new annihilation of human life in the modern, highly technically advanced world, Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo” and Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s “The Physicists” sound like fatal prophecies about human irrationality and madness come true. The inventions in science serve the power-driven Authorities to enslave and to destroy, if needed, human beings. In “Galileo” the scientist realizes the dangers of abuse of his discoveries, but the author still believes that the individual strength of the inventor could prevent catastrophic outcomes.
In “The Physicists”, Duerrenmatt faces the reader with the “worst possible turn”1 of science abuse and shows the utter helplessness of a scientist to take a moral stance about the implications of his inventions. Both plays critique the exclusion of science and scientists from the realm of ethics, perpetuated by the powerful of the day in the minds of ordinary people. Duerrenmatt reveals the complete annihilation of personal choice; the individual scientist is fused with the amorphous mass and is left to the mercy of the authorities to exist or to be destroyed.
Responsibility is intertwined with the issues of being able to make a voluntary choice, which is to be respected and respecting society. Civilization introduces to society besides the few amenities in everyday life with weapons of mass destruction of human life and natural life, Duerrenmatt reveals the tragic of his protagonist Moebius, who is responsible for inventions that will harm greatly humanity.
Moebius withdrawal from the “real” world and his own conviction as a danger to mankind, do not cancel out his responsibility towards it and his personal failure to protect humanity from his own inventions proclaim the inevitability of comprehensive disaster. The paradoxes of life serve as indicators that show the urgent necessity for individuals to reclaim and actively to use their right to make choices in accordance to their ethical and moral code which is tightly related with the fate of mankind.
The coherence of society depends on the relations of individuals in it, therefore the individual’s interest is subordinated to the interest of the whole, and so the survival of the society is guaranteed. The scientist is an individual whose gift (or instinct, or drive) is directly belonging to all people and his achievements should be in harmony with their existence. But Duerrenmatt’s pessimism reveals the inevitable dangers science is posing on everyone and the doomed to failure humanity of escaping the consequences.
The incredible and brutal lightness with which the leaders in every society and without the consent of the people usually, abuse the newly made scientific inventions and their catastrophic implications, are harshly critiqued by both plays. Nevertheless for Brecht science still can be a vehicle for human betterment as long it is used for the good of all people. Brecht believes in the goodness in human beings, he is positive that scientific inventions in their nature are not harmful to society if they are applied to benefit the masses.
But Brecht’s trust in the “good” scientist who assumes responsibility and realizes the ethical dimensions of his discoveries has been betrayed many times after his play was written. Nowadays the paradoxes play the decisive role in guiding mankind into the “ever getting better and more prosperous” future of scientific inventions. Duerrenmatt’s catastrophic prophecy for humanity, especially when the paradox blooms in its full capacity, is being again confirmed with the war on terrorism, where human lives will be lost by pressing a button.
Science is part of human nature, according to Brecht, one of the many instincts humans are trying to satisfy, and according to Duerrenmatt it is not to be left to the individual to decide the fate of mankind. Civilization cannot, obviously, be put on hold and scientists forbidden to discover and strive for new knowledge, human beings will not deliberately retreat from the achievements that have become inseparable part of their lives, and undermine the notion of progress they are instilled with by their peers for centuries.
But the problematic nature of new scientific inventions and the responsibility towards mankind will remain an issue and will continue to trouble intellectuals.
BIBLIOGRAPHY F. Duerrenmatt, 1964. The Physicists. Translated by James Kirkup, Grove Press, New York. Bertolt Brecht, 1966. Galileo, English version by Charles Laughton, Grove Press, New York. Rolf Geissler, Zur Interpretation des Modernen Dramas: Brecht-Duerrenmatt-Frisch, Zweite Auflage, Verlag Moritz Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bonn. 1 F. Duerrenmatt, 1964. The Physicists. Translated by James Kirkup, p. 95.