George Combe, The constitution of ma

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George Combe, The constitution of man. 3rd American edition, Boston, 1834.

[note this text has been corrected up to page 113 only]

The History of Phrenology on the Web

By John van Wyhe.
Pagination has been carefully preserved to make the text as quotable as the original though line hyphenation has been removed.
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Vain is the ridicule with which one sees some persons will divert themselves finding lesser

pains considered as instances divine punishment. There is no possibility of answering or

evading the general thing here intended, without denying all final causes.— Butler's Analogy.


THE author of the following work is known in this country by his Essays on Phrenology. Few men in Great Britain have discovered more sincere devotion to this subject itself, or more zeal in communicating it to others, than Mr. Combe. He shows every where in what he has written on phrenology a full conviction that his favourite science is founded in nature; that it will aid the study and progress of intellectual philosophy; that for want of its aids this philosophy has hitherto necessarily been imperfect; that, in short, phrenology is susceptible of a wide and useful application, and is destined to exert an important influence over the whole circle of human interests.
The following essay on the Constitution of Man is founded on phrenology; at least, the phrenological classification of the human faculties is adopted by the writer as the basis of his observations. This can hardly be objected to. To those who have studied phrenology it will be a recommendation; and to those who know it only by name, sufficient is brought into view in the volume to give them a general notion of a science which has engaged many able minds, and which in its measure belongs to the intellectual labours of the age. Mr. Combe does not appear to use it, in order to make converts to the phrenological faith; but rather brings it in to promote the great object of his present publication. This object is human happiness in an extended use of the term. He says, in amount, to lessen misery and increase happiness is his great purpose, and to accomplish this, his labour has been to discover as many of the contrivances of the Creator, for effecting beneficial purposes as possible; and secondly to point out in what manner by accommodating our conduct to these contrivances we may attain one great end of our being.


In prosecution of this design, Mr. Combe’s first inquiries are directed to the external world. He regards things first, as they are; and secondly, the purposes of their creation. These inquirers involve many very interexting views relating to the world without us; the actual condition of things; their mutual influences, whether remote or near; whether contingent or necessary. The circumstances under which phenomena take place, or with the author, the established and constant modes or processes according to which phenomena are produced, are laws, rules of action; and the first part of his work treats of natural laws. In the second chapter, Mr. Combe treats of the constitution of man, and its relation to external things. In the first place man is regarded as a physical being, compossed of physical elements, and to a certain extent, and under like circumstances, exhibiting like phenomena with the objects of the external material world. In the next place he is viewed as an organized being, and the laws of his organization, together with the correspondences and differences between these and the natural laws are pointed out. The moral and intellectual constitution of man are treated under precisely similar aspects. The whole subject is developed with great skill, and made clear and interexting by a great variety of very happy illustrations.
The main design of this work is never lost sight of. This is to make men happier and better,—to show how the human race may be as happy as the constitution of man actually fits it to be. To do this, the author assumes that this constitution was designed to harmonize perfectly with itself in all its parts; and also with the whole creation so far as it is capable of being brought into relations with it. In the next place he labours to show that in order to the accomplishment of this design, sufficiently varied and active powers have been committed to man, and if he fail of the happiness for which he was designed here, it is not because he wants capacity of felicity, but because he has misused the powers with which he

has been blessed. Human happiness then consists in an exact accordance of all the laws which are in operation within us, and again of these with all the laws which govern the external world. Human misery is the direct and necessary consequence of an infringement of these laws, or of some of them. The same skill is shown in treating this part of the work which has been noticed as charac-

tevizing the other. The same felicity of illustration is every where discoverable. The earnestness of truth is the prevailing characteristic, and a truly benevolent purpose marks every page.
Mr. Combe’s work should be placed with those, of which so many, within a few years have appeared, which are devoted to the absorbing topic of Education. It treats of moral, intellectual, and physical education. This is not formally done under so many distinct heads. But the whole course of reasoning of the author, and the whole array of his illustrations, have it always obviously in view to show how the highest cultivation of each of these may be most surely brought about.
The publishers have printed this edition from a belief that there is much in the work to interest the community. It has novelty to reward the general inquirer, and it presents the well known under novel aspects. There is one class amongst us who may study it with much advantage. Scholars are referred to, a class here too small to form a distinct order with habits of their own, and who insensibly fall into those which although not mischievous to the multitude on the score of health, too often make ill health the portion of the sedentary student, and bring upon him premature decay. To all classes it is recommended, and the various learning and acuteness of the author well fit him to write a book which addresses instructions to the whole community.


THIS Essay would not have been presented to the public, had not I believed that it contains views of the constitution, condition, and prospects of Man, which deserve attention; but , I trust, are not ushered forth with anything approaching to a presumptuous spirit. I lay no claim to originality of conception. My first notions of the natural laws were derived from an unpublished manuscript of Dr. Spurzheim, with the perusal of which I was honoured some years ago; and all my inquiries and meditations since have impressed me more and more with a conviction of their importance. The materials employed lie open to all. Taken separately, I would hardly say that a new truth has been presented in the following work. The parts have all been admitted and employed again and again, by writers on morals, from SOCRATES down to the present day. In this respect, there is nothing new under the sun. The only novelty in this Essay respects the relations which acknowledged truths hold to each other. Physical laws of nature, affecting our physical condition, as well as regulating the whole material system of the universe, are universally acknowledged, and constitute his elements of natural philosophy and chemical science. Physiologists, medical practitioners, and all who take medical aid, admit the existence of organic laws; and the science
of government, legislation, education, indeed our whole train of conduct through life, proceed upon the admission of laws in morals. Accordingly, the laws of nature have formed an interexting subject of inquiry to philosophers of all ages; but, so far as I am aware, no author has hitherto attempted to point out, in a combined and systematic form, the relations between these laws and the constitution of Man; which must, nevertheless, be done, before our knowledge of them can be beneficially applied. The great object of the following Essay is to exhibit these relations, with a view to the improvement of education, and the regulation of individual conduct.
But, although my purpose is practical, a theory of Mind forms an essential element in the execution of the plan. Without it, no comparison can be instituted between the natural constitution of man and external objects. Phrenology appears to me to be the clearest, most complete, and best supported system of Human Nature, which has hitherto been taught; and I have assumed it as the basis of this Essay. But the practical values of the views now to be unfolded does not depend on Phrenology. This theory of Mind itself is valuable, only in so far as it is a just exposition of what previously existed in human nature. We are physical, organic, and moral beings, acting under the sanction of general laws, let the merits of Phrenology be what they may. Individuals will, under the impulse of passion, or by the direction of intellect, hope, fear, wonder, perceive, and act, whether the degree in which they habitually do so, be ascertainable on phrenological principles or not. In as far, therefore, as this Essay treats of the known qualifies of Man, it may be instructive even to those who contema Phrenology as unfounded; while it can prove
useful to no one, if it shall depart from the true elements of mental philosophy, by whatever system these may be expounded.
I have endeavoured to avoid all religious controversy. ‘The object of Moral Philosophy,' says Mr. STEWART, 'is to ascertain the general rules of a wise and virtuous conduct in life, in so far as these rules may be discovered by the unassisted light of nature; that is, by an examination of the principles of the human constitution , and of the circumstances in which Man is placed.'* By following this method of inquiry, Dr. HUTCHESON, Dr. ADAM SMITH, Dr. REID, Mr. STEWART, and Dr. THOMAS BROWN', have, in succession, produced highly interexting and instructive works on Moral Science; and the present Essay is a humble attempt to pursue the same plan, with the aid of the new lights afforded by Phrenology.
Edinburgh, 9th June, 1828.
* Outlines of Moral Philosophy, p, 1.


ON NATURAL LAWS, . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Section I. Man considered as a Physical Being, . 17

II. Man considered as an Organized Being,

III. Man considered as an Animal—Moral—and Intellectual Being, 24

IV. The Faculties of Man compared with each other; or the supremacy of the Moral Sentiments and Intellect, 28

V. The Faculties of Man compared with External Objects, 46

VI. On the sources of Human Happiness, and the conditions requisite for maintaining it, . . 69

VII. Application of the Natural Laws to the practical arrangements of Life, . . . . . 65

Section I. Calamities arising from infringements of the Physical Laws, . . . . . . . 71

II. On the Evils that befall Mankind, from infringement of the Organic Laws, . . . . 78

III. Calamities arising from infringement of the Moral Law, 141

IV Moral advantages of Punishment, 178



Note I. Natural Laws, [Text, p. 1.l . . . . . 207

II. Organic Laws, [Text, p. 76.l . . . . 211

III. Death, Decreasing Mortality, [Text, p. 128.l . 216

IV. Moral Law, [Text, p. 159l . . . 219

A STATEMENT of the evidence of a great intelligent First Cause is given in the ' Phrenological Journal,' and in the ‘System of Phrenology.' I hold this existence capable of demonstration. By NATURE, I mean the workmanship of this great Being, such as it is revealed to our minds by our senses and faculties.
In natural science, three subjects of inquiry may be distinguished. 1st. What exists? 2dly. What is the purpose or design of what exists; and, 3rdly. Why was what exists designed for such uses as it evidently subserves? For example,—it is matter of fact that arctic regions and torrid zones exist,—that a certain kind of moss is most abundant in Lapland in mid-winter,—that the rein-deer feeds on it, and enjoys high health and vigour in situations where most other animals would die; further, it is matter of fact that camels exist in Africa,—that they have broad hooves, and stomachs fitted to retain water for a length of time, and that they flourish amid arid tracts of sand, where the rein-deer would not live for a day. All this falls under the enquiry, What exist? But in contemplating the foregoing facts, it is impossible not to infer that one


object of the Lapland moss is to feed the rein-deer, and one purpose of the deer is to assist man: and that, in like manner, broad feet have been given to the camel to enable it to walk on sand; and a retentive stomach to fit it for arid places in which water is not found except at wide intervals These are enquiries into the use or purpose of what exists. In like manner, we may enquire, What purpose do sandy deserts and desolate heaths subserve in the economy of nature? In short, an enquiry into the use or purpose of any object that exists, is merely an examination of its relations to other objects and beings, and of the modes in which it affects them; and this is quite a legitimate exercise of the human intellect. But, 3dly. we may ask, why were the physical elements of nature created such as they are ? Why were summer, autuma, spring, and winter introduced? Why were animals formed of organized matter ? These are inquiries why what exists was made such as it is, or into the will of the Deity in creation. Now, man's perceptive faculties are adequate to the first inquiry, and his reflective faculties to the second; but it may well be doubted whether he has powers suited to the third. My investigations are confined to the first and second, and I do not discuss the third.
A law, in the common acceptation, denotes a rule of action; its existence indicates an established and constant mode, or process, according to which phenomena take place; and this is the sense in which I shall use it, when treating of physical substances and beings. For example, water and heat are substances; and water presents different appearances, and manifests certain qualities, according to the altitude of its situation, and the degree of heat with which it is combined. When at the level of the sea, and combined with that portion of heat indicated by 32° of Fahrenheitys thermometer, it freezes or becomes solid; when

combined with the portion denoted by 212o of that instrument, it rises into vapour or steam. Here, water and heat

were the physical elements of nature created such, as are the substances,—the freezing and rising in vapour are the appearances or phenomena presented by them; and when we say that these take place according to a Law of Nature, we mean only that these modes of action appear, to our intellects, to be established in the very constitution of the water and heat, and in their natural relationship to each other; and that the processes of freezing and rising in vapour are their constant appearances, when combined in these proportions, other conditions being the same.
The ideas chiefly to be kept in view are, 1st. That all substances and beings have received a definite natural constitution; 2dly. That every mode of action, which is said to take place according to a natural law, is inherent in the constitution of the substance, or being, that acts; and, 3dly, That the mode of action described is universal and invariable, wherever and whenever the substances, or beings, are found in the same condition. For example, water, at the lever of the sea, freezes and boils, at the same temperature, in China and in France, in Peru and in England; and there is no exception to the regularity with which it exhibits these appearances, when all its conditions are the same: For caeteris paribus is a condition which pervades all departments of science, phrenology included. If water be carried to the top of a mountain 20,000 feet high, it boils at a lower temperature than 212o, but this again depends on its relationship to the air, and takes place also according to fixed and invariable principles. The air exerts a great pressure on the water. At the level of the sea the pressure is nearly the same in all quarters of the globe, and in that situation the freezing points and boiling points correspond all over the world; but on the top of a high mountain the pressure is much less, and the vapour not being held down by so great a power of resistance, rises at a lower degree of heat than 212°. But this change of appearances does not indicate a change in the constitution of the water and the heat, but only a variation of the circumstances in which
they are placed; and hence it is not correct to say, that water boiling on the tops of high mountains, at a lower temperature than 212o, is an exception to the general law of nature: there never are exceptions to the laws of nature; for the Creator is too wise and too powerful to make imperfect or inconsistent arrangements. The error is in the human mind inferring the law to be, that water boils at 212o in all altitudes; when the real law is only that it boils at that temperature, at the level of the sea, in all countries; and that it boils at a lower temperature, the higher it is carried, because there the pressure of the atmosphere is diminished.
Intelligent beings exist, and are capable of modifying their actions. By means of their faculties, the laws impressed by the Creator on physical substances become known to them; and, when perceived, constitute laws to them, by which to regulate their conduct. For example, it is a physical law, that boiling water destroys the muscular and nervous systems of man. This is the result purely of the constitution of the body, and the relation between it and heat; and man cannot alter or suspend that law. But whenever the human intellect perceives the relation, and the consequences of violating it, the mind is prompted to avoid infringement, in order to shun the torture attached by the Creator to the decomposition of the human body by heat.
Similar views have long been taught by philosophers and divines. Bishop BUTLER, in particular, says:—' An Author of Nature being supposed, it is not so much a deduction of reason as a matter of experience, that we are thus under his government, in the same sense as we are under the government of civil magistrates. Because the annexing pleasure to some actions, and pain to others, in our power to do or forbear, and giving notice of this appointment beforehand to those whom it concerns, is the proper formal notion of government. Whether the pleasure or pain which thus follows upon our behaviour, be owing to the Author of Nature's acting upon us every moment
which we feel it, or to his having at once contrived and executed his own part in the plan of the world, makes no alteration as to the matter before us. For, if civil magistrates could make the sanctions of their laws take place, without interposing at all, after they had passed them, without a trial, and the formalities of an execution; if they were able to make their laws execute themselves, or every offender to execute them upon himself, we should be just in the same sense under their government then as we are now; but in a much higher degree and more perfect manner. Vain is the ridicule with which one sees some persons will divert themselves, upon finding, LESSER PAINS CONSIDERED AS INSTANCES OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT. THERE IS NO POSSIBILITY OF ANSWERING OR EVADING the general thing here intended, WITHOUT DENYING ALL FINAL CAUSES. For, final causes being admitted, the pleasures and pains now mentioned must be admitted too, as instances of them. And if they are, if GOD annexes delight to some actions, with an apparent design to influence us to act so and so, then he not only dispenses happiness and misery, but also rewards and punishes actions. If, for example, the pain which we feel upon doing what tends to the destruction of our bodies, suppose upon too near approaches to fire, or upon wounding ourselves, be appointed by the Author of Nature to prevent our doing what thus tends to our destruction; this is ALTOGETHER AS MUCH AN INSTANCE OF HIS PUNISHING OUR ACTIONS, and consequently of our being under his government, as declaring, by a voice from Heaven, that, if we acted so, He would inflict such pain upon us, and inflict it whether it be greater or less’.*
If, then, the reader keep in view that GOD is the creator; that Nature, in the general sense, means the world which He has made; and, in a more limited sense, the particular
*BUTLER’S Works, vol. i. p. 44. Similar observations by other authors will be found in the Appendix, No 1.
constitution which he has bestowed on any special object, of which we may be treating, and that a Law of Nature means the established mode in which that constitution acts, and the obligation thereby imposed on intelligent beings to attend to it, he will be in no danger of misunderstanding my meaning.
Every natural object has received a definite constitution, in virtue of which it acts in a particular way. There must, therefore, be as many natural laws, as there are distinct modes of action of substances and beings, viewed by themselves. But substances and beings stand in certain relations to each other, and modify each other's action in an established and definite manner, according to that relationship; altitude, for instance, modifies the effect of heat upon water. There must, therefore, be also as many laws of nature, as there are relations between different substances and beings.
It is impossible, in the present state of knowledge, to elucidate all these laws: countless years may elapse before they shall he discovered; but we may investigate some of the most familiar and striking of them. Those that most readily present themselves bear reference to the great classes into which the objects around us may be divided, namely, Physical, Organic, and Intelligent. I shall therefore confine myself to the physical laws, the organic laws, and the laws which characterise intelligent beings.
1st. The Physical laws embrace all the phenomena of mere matter; a heavy body, for instance, when unsupported, falls to the ground with a certain accelerating force, in proportion to the distance which it falls, and its own density; and this motion is said to take place according to the law of gravitation. An acid applied to a vegetable blue colour, converts it into red, and this is said to take place according to a chemical law.
2dly. Organised substances and beings stand higher in the sale of creation. and have properties peculiar to them-

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