Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890

By Jenny Taylor; Sally Shuttleworth | Go to book overview
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2. Phrenology

ON THE FUNCTIONS OF THE BRAIN

Franz Joseph Gall, On the Functions of the Brain ( 1822-5), trans. Winslow Lewis , 6 vols. ( Boston: Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, 1835), ii. 42-44, v. 261-2, 263-5, vi. 307, 309-10.

The ideas of Gall and his disciple J. G. Spurzheim were already thoroughly disseminated in England when this English translation was published. It remains, however, the most authoritative statement of the theories of the founder of phrenology. The extracts illustrate Gall's hostility to Lavater's physiognomy and his own endorsement of a materialist theory of the brain as the organ of the mind. They also reveal the proselytizing fervour of the nineteenth-century scientist, convinced that the foundations for social and moral progress lay in the acquisition of material, empirical knowledge.

The physiology of the brain makes us acquainted with our entire dependence on the primitive laws of the creation; the source of moral good and evil; the cause of the diversity and of the opposition of our propensities; of the strength or weakness of our understanding; the internal motives of our will and of our actions. Instructors, moralists, legislators, and judges, cannot, with impunity, neglect the influence of the organization over our propensities, passions, and talents. It proves to them, that there is no certain quantum, either of the power of doing good, or of avoiding evil, or of the degree of moral liberty with which each individual is endowed. It therefore possesses a general interest for all intelligent classes of society.

It explains to us the modifications of our propensities and faculties at different ages, their successive and gradual development, their stationary state, their gradual decline down to the imbecility of old age; and thus it shows us to what degree, and under what conditions, we are capable of apprehending the lessons of education and experience.

It explains to us not only the diversity of the moral and intellectual character

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