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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

Lecture VIII

Lecture VIII.

Theories of philosophers respecting the origin of society-Solution afforded by Phrenology—Man has received faculties the spontaneous action of which prompts him to live in society—Industry is man's first social duty—Labour, in moderation, is a source of enjoyment, and not a punishment—The opinion that useful labour is degrading examined—The division of labour is natural, and springs from the faculties being bestowed in different degrees of strength on different individuals—One combination fits for one pursuit, and another for another—Gradations of rank are also natural, and arise from differences in native talents, and in acquired skill—Gradations of rank are beneficial to all.

I proceed now to consider those social duties and rights which are not strictly domestic. The first subject of inquiry is into the origin of society itself. On this question many fanciful theories have been given to the world. It has engaged the imagination of the poet and the intellect of the philosopher. Ovid has described mankind as at first in a state of innocence and happiness during what is termed the golden age, and as declining gradually into vice and misery through the silver, brazen, and iron ages:—

"The golden age was first, when man, yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew;
And with a native bent did good pursue.
Unforced by punishment, unawed by fear,
His words were simple, and his soul sincere.

* * * * *

No walls were yet; nor fence, nor moat, nor mound
No drum was heard, nor trumpet's angry sound :
Nor swords were forged; but void of care and crime.
The soft creation slept away their time.

* * * * *

The flowers unsown, in fields and meadows reigned,
And western winds immortal springs maintained.
In following years, the bearded corn ensued,
From earth unasked, nor was that earth renewed.
From veins of valleys milk and nectar broke,
And honey sweating through the pores of oak."

To this succeeded too rapidly the silver, the brazen, and the iron ages; which last, the world had reached in the days of Ovid, and in which, unfortunately, it still remains.

Rousseau, who was rather a poet than a philosopher, has written speculations "on the origin and foundations of the existing inequalities among men,' which have powerfully attracted the attention of the learned. He informs us that he "sees man such as he must have proceeded from the hands of Nature, less powerful than some animals, less active than others, but, taking him on the whole, more advantageously organized than any. He sees him satisfying his hunger under an oak, quenching his thirst at the first rivulet, finding his bed under the trees whose fruit had afforded him a repast, and thus satisfied to the full of every desire."*

"It is impossible," continues he, "to conceive how, in this original condition, one man could have more need of another than a wolf or an ape has of his fellows; or, supposing the need to exist, what motive could induce the other to satisfy it; or how, in this latter case, the two could agree upon the terms of their social intercourse."

* Discours sur l'Origine et les Fondemens d'Inégalité parmi les Hommes. 4to edit. Geneva, 1782, p. 48.

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From these premises, Rousseau draws .the conclusion, that "the first who, having enclosed a piece of ground, took upon himself to call it 'mine? and found individuals so foolish as to believe him, was the true founder of civil society." What crimes, what wars, what murders, what miseries and horrors, would he have spared to the human race, who tearing up the land-marks, or filling up the ditches, had cried to his equals, ' Beware how you listen to this impostor! You are undone if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all, and the soil to none!' "P. 87.

The fundamental error in Rousseau's speculation consists in his endowing man, in his primitive condition, with whatever faculties he pleases; or rather, in bestowing upon him no principles of action except such as suit his own theory. Numerous antagonists have combated these speculations, and among others, Wieland has written half a volume on the subject; but their absurdity is so evident, that I do not consider it necessary to enter into any lengthened refutation of them. The mistake of such theorists is, that they assume the mind to be altogether a blank—to have no spontaneous desires and activity; they imagine it to be similarly constituted to the ear, which, in a state of health, hears no sounds till excited by the vibrations of the air, and ascribe the origin of almost all our passions and inclinations to the circumstances which first evolve them.

This mode of philosophizing resembles that which should account for an eruption of Mount Vesuvius by ascribing it to the rent in the surface of the mountain, through which the lava bursts, instead of attributing it to the mighty energies of the volcanic matter buried beneath its rocks.

Other philosophers besides Rousseau have theorized on the constitution of society, without previously investigating the constitution of the human mind. Mr Millar, in his "Observations concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society," proceeds at once "to shew the effects of poverty and barbarism with regard to the passions of sex, to the general occupations of a people, and the degree of consideration which is paid to the women as members of society," without at all inquiring into the innate tendencies and capacities of man, from which the facts, for which he wishes to account, proceed. However interesting such a work may be, as a contribution to the natural history of man, it throws no light on the question, whence the conditions which it records have arisen. It leaves the mind unsatisfied on the general and fundamental question, Whether society, such as it has existed, and such as it now exists, has arisen from human institutions, arbitrary in their origin, and controllable by the human will; or whether it has sprung from instincts referable to nature itself?

Lord Kames, one of the shrewdest and most observant philosophers of the old school, has taken a more rational view of the origin of society. Perceiving that man has been endowed with natural aptitudes and desires, he founds upon these every institution which is universal among mankind. He attributes the origin of society to "the social principle." Men became hunters from a natural appetite to hunt, and by hunting appeased their hunger. They became shepherds from seeing that it was easier to breed tame animals than to catch wild ones, after hunting had made them scarce. Being shepherds, population increased, and necessity made them desire an increase of food. They saw the earth in some climates producing corn spontaneously, and the idea arose that by forwarding its growth and removing obstructing weeds, more corn could be produced; hence they became agriculturists. The idea of property sprang from the "hoarding appetite." Lord Kames ascribes the various institutions which exist in society to principles innate in the mind, and not to chance or factitious circumstances.

Locke and some other writers have assigned the origin of society to reason, and represented it as springing from a compact by which individual men surrendered, for the general welfare, certain portions of their private rights, and submitted to various restraints; receiving, in return, protection and other advantages arising from the social state. This idea also is erroneous. Society has always been far advanced before the idea of such a compact began to be entertained; and even then it has occurred only to the minds of philosophers. What solution, then, of this problem, does Phrenology offer?

It shews that man possesses mental faculties endowed with spontaneous activity, which give rise to many desires equally definite with the appetite for food. Among these are several social instincts, from the spontaneous activity of which society has obviously proceeded. The Phrenologist, then, follows on the same track with Lord Kames; but with greater precision. By studying the organs of the mind, he has ascertained the faculties which are really primitive, their spheres of action, and the differences in their relative vigour produced by differences in the relative size of the organs in different individuals. These are important additions to our means of arriving at sound views of the origin of society.

From the three faculties of Amativeness, Philoprogenitiveness, and Adhesiveness, the matrimonial compact derives its origin. Adhesiveness has a yet wider sphere of action: it is the gregarious instinct, or propensity to congregate; it desires the society of our fellow-men generally. Hence its existence indicates that we are intended to live in the social state. The nature and objects of other faculties besides Adhesiveness, lead to the same conclusion. Neither Benevolence, which prompts us to confer benefits,—nor Love of Approbation, whose gratification is the applause and good opinion of others,—nor Veneration, which gives a tendency to respect, and yield obedience to, superiors,—nor Conscientiousness, which holds the balance between competing rights,—has full scope, except in general society; the domestic circle is too contracted for their gratification.

The faculty of Conscientiousness, in particular, seems necessarily to imply the existence of other individuals in the social state. To give rise to the exercise of justice, and the fulfilment of duty, there must necessarily be two parties,—the one to perform, and the other to receive. Conscientiousness would be as little useful to a solitary human being, as speech to a hermit; while, even in the domestic circle, the faculties of Benevolence, Philoprogenitiveness, and Veneration, are more directly called into play than it. The head of the family bestows through affection and bounty; the dependents receive with kindliness and respect; and when these emotions act with great and spontaneous energy, the feeling of duty, on the part of either, rarely mingles its influence. The sphere in which Conscientiousness is most directly exercised is that in which the interests and inclinations of equals come into competition. Conscientiousness, aided by intellect, then determines the rights of each, and inspires them with the feeling that it is their duly to perform so much, and to demand no more. Phrenology enables us to prove that Conscientiousness is not a factitious sentiment, reared up in society, as many moral philosophers and metaphysicians have taught,—but a primitive power, having its specific organ. This fact is essential to the argument; and, in the "System of Phrenology," I have stated the nature of the evidence by which it is established.

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The adaptation of the intellectual faculties to society is equally conspicuous. The faculty of Language implies the presence of intelligent beings, with whom we may communicate by speech. The faculties of Causality and Comparison, which are the fountains of reasoning, imply our associating with other intellectual beings, with whose perceptions and experience we may compare our own. Without combination, what advance could be made in science, arts, or manufactures? As food is related to hunger, and light to the sense of vision, so is society adapted to the social faculties of man. The presence of human beings is indispensable to the gratification and excitement of our mental powers in general. What a void and craving is experienced by those who are cut off from communication with their fellows! Persons who are placed in remote and solitary stations on the confines of civilization, become dull in intellect, shy, unsocial, and unhappy. The most atrocious criminals, when placed in solitary confinement without work, lose their ferocity, are subdued, and speedily sink in health and vigour. The stimulus yielded to their faculties by the presence of their fellow-men, is wanting.

The balmy influence of society on the human mind may be discovered in the vivacious and generally happy aspect of those who live in the bosom of a family, or mingle freely with the world, contrasted with the cold, starched, and stagnant manners and expression of those who retire from social sympathies and life.

A man whose muscular, digestive, respiratory, and circulating systems, greatly predominate in energy over the brain and nervous system, stands less in need of society to gratify his mental faculties, than an individual oppositely constituted: he delights in active muscular exercise, and is never so happy as with the elastic turf beneath his feet, and the blue vault of heaven over his head. But where the brain and nervous system are more energetic, there arise mental wants which can be gratified only in society, and residence in a city is felt indispensable to enjoyment: the mind flags and becomes feeble when not stimulated by collision and converse with kindred spirits. Hence, the social state appears to be as natural to man as it is to the bee, the raven, or the sheep. This question being set at rest, the duties implied in the constitution of society are next to be considered.

The first duty imposed on man in relation to society is industry—a duty, the origin and sanction of which are easily discoverable. Man is sent into the world naked, unprotected, and unprovided for. He does not, like the lower animals, find his skin clothed with a sufficient covering of hair, feathers, or scales, but must provide garments for himself; he cannot perch on a bough or burrow in a hole, but must rear a dwelling to protect himself from the weather; he does not, like the ox, find his nourishment under his feet, but must hunt or cultivate the ground. To capacitate him for the performance of these duties, he has received a body fitted for labour, and a mind calculated to animate and direct his exertions; while the external world has been created with the wisest adaptation to his constitution.

Many of us have been taught, by our religious instructors, that labour is a curse imposed by God on man as a punishment for sin. I remarked in the first Lecture, that philosophy cannot tell whether sin was or was not the cause which induced the Almighty to constitute man such as we now see him, an organized being, composed of bones, muscles, bloodvessels, nerves, respiratory and digestive organs, and a brain calculated to manifest a rational mind,—and to confer on external nature its present qualities, adapted to give scope and exercise to these powers,—but that, constituted as we actually are, labour, which, in its proper sense, means exertion, either bodily or mental, for useful purposes, is not only no calamity, but the grand fountain of our enjoyment.* Unless we exercise our limbs, what pleasure can they afford to us? If we do not exercise them, they become diseased, and we are punished with positive pain: hence the duty of bodily exertion is a law of God, written in our frames, as strikingly as if it were emblazoned on the sky. Constituted as we are, it is not labour, but inactivity, which is an evil,—that is, which is visited by God with suffering and disease. The misery of idleness has been a favourite theme of moralists in every age; and its baneful influence on the bodily health, has equally attracted the notice of the physician, and of general observers. Happiness, in truth, is nothing but the gratification of active faculties; and hence, the more active our faculties are, within the limits of health, the greater is our enjoyment.

"Life's cares are comforts; such by heaven designed:
He that has none must make them, or be wretched.
Cares are employments, and without employ
The soul is on a rack, the rack of rest,
To souls most adverse—action all their joy. "

The prevalent notion that labour is an evil must have arisen from ignorance of the constitution of man, and from contemplating the effects of labour carried to excess.

Bodily and mental activity, therefore, being the law of our nature and the fountain of our enjoyment, I observe, first, that they may be directed to useful or to useless purposes; and that they may be carried to excess. Exertion for the attainment of useful objects, is generally termed labour; and because of its utility, men have, with strange perversity, looked upon it as degrading! Exertion for mere capricious self-gratification, and directed to no useful end, has, on the other hand, been dignified with the name of pleasure, and is esteemed honourable. These notions appear to be injurious errors, which obtain no countenance from the natural laws. Indeed the proposition ought to be reversed. Pleasure increases in proportion to the number of faculties employed, and it becomes purer and more lasting, the higher the faculties are which are engaged in the enterprise. The pursuit of a great and beneficial object, such as providing for a family, or discharging an important duty to society, calls into energetic action not only a greater variety of faculties, but also faculties of a higher order, namely, the moral sentiments and intellect, than those frivolous occupations, miscalled pleasures, which are directed to self-indulgence and the gratification of vanity alone.

The reason why labour has so generally been regarded as an evil, is its very unequal distribution among individuals—many contriving to exempt themselves from all participation in it (though not to the increase of their own happiness), while others have been oppressed with an excessive share. Both extremes are improper; and the hope may reasonably be indulged, that when society shall become so far enlightened as to esteem that honourable which God has rendered at once profitable and pleasant,—and when labour shall be properly distributed, and confined within the bounds of moderation,—it will assume its true aspect, and be hailed by all as a rational source of enjoyment.

Regarding bodily and mental activity, therefore, as institutions of the Creator, I observe, in the next

* A prisoner in the jail of Ayr, on being permitted to labour, observed that "he never knew before what a pleasant thing work is."—Fifth Report of the Inspector of Prisons, p. 4.

page 46 place, that, as man has been destined for society, a division of occupations is indispensable to his welfare. If every one were to insist on cultivating the ground, there would be no manufacturers, carpenters, or builders. If all were to prefer the exercise of the constructive arts, we should have no agriculturists and no food. The Creator has arranged the spontaneous division of labour among men, by the simplest, yet most effectual means. He has bestowed the mental faculties in different degrees of relative strength on different individuals, and thereby given them at once the desire and the aptitude for different occupations. Phrenology renders clear the origin of differences of employment. The metaphysicians treat only of general powers of the mind. They enumerate among the active principles ambition, the love of power, the love of kindred, and so forth, while their catalogue of intellectual faculties embraces only Perception, Conception, Abstraction, Attention, Memory, Judgment, and Imagination. Many of them deny that individuals differ in the degrees in which they possess these powers; and ascribe all actual differences to education, association, habit, and a variety of accidental circumstances.

With their philosophy for our guide, we are called on to explain by what process of arrangement, or chapter of accidents, the general powers of Perception, Memory, Judgment, and Imagination, fit one man to be a carpenter, another to be a sailor, a third a merchant, a fourth an author, a fifth a painter, a sixth an engineer; and how they communicate to each a special predilection for his trade. How comes it to pass, according to their views, that some who utterly fail in one pursuit, succeed to admiration in another? and whence is it that there was no jostling in the community at first, and that very little harsh friction occurs now, in arranging the duties to be performed by each individual member? We next require a solution of the problem—by what cause one man's ambition takes the direction of war, another's that of agriculture, and a third's that of painting or making speeches, if all their native aptitudes and tendencies are the same, both in kind and degree;—how one man delights to spend his life in accumulating wealth, and another knows no pleasure equal to that of dissipating and squandering it?

I do not detain you with the ingenious theories that have been propounded by the metaphysicians, as solutions of these questions, but come at once to the explanation afforded by the new philosophy. Phrenology shews that man has received a variety of primitive faculties, each having a specific sphere of action, and standing in specific relations to certain external objects, that he takes an interest in these objects in consequence of their aptitude to gratify his faculties; and that the same is the case also in regard to the lower animals. If a hare and a cat, for instance, were lying in the same field, and a mouse were to stray between them, the hare would see it pass without interest,—while the cat's blood would be on fire, every hair would bristle, and it would seize and devour it. The cat possesses a carnivorous instinct, of which the mouse is the external object, and hence the source of its interest. The hare wants that instinct, and hence its indifference.

Every sane individual of the human race enjoys the same number of faculties, but each power is manifested by means of a particular portion of the brain, and acts with a degree of energy, (other things being equal,) corresponding to the size of that part. These parts, or organs, are combined in different relative proportions in different individuals, and give rise to differences of talents and dispositions. Hence, the individual in whom Combativeness and Destructiveness are the largest organs, desires to be a soldier; he in whom Veneration, Hope, and Wonder are the largest, desires to be a minister of religion; he in whom Combativeness, Weight, and Form are largest, desires to be a mechanician; and he in whom Constructiveness, Form, Colouring, Imitation, and Ideality predominate, is inspired with the love of painting.

The Creator, by bestowing on all the race the same number of faculties, and endowing them with the same functions, has fitted us for constituting one common family. In consequence of our common nature, we understand each other's instincts, desires, talents, and pursuits, and are prepared to act in concert; while by the superiority in particular powers conferred on particular individuals, variety of character and talent, and the division of labour, are effectually provided for.

The division of labour, therefore, is not an expedient devised by man's sagacity, but a direct result of his constitution; exactly as happens in the case of some of the inferior animals, which live in society and divide their duties without possessing the attribute of reason. The differences in relative size in the cerebral organs of different individuals afford another proof that man has been created expressly to live and act as a social being.

When we compare the corporeal frames of men, we find that they also differ in stature, strength, and temperament; some are large, strong, active, and energetic; while others are small, feeble, or sluggish. In a world in which the means of subsistence can be gained only by vigorous exertion, these differences alone would give rise to inferiority and superiority among individuals. But when we examine the brain, on which the mental qualities depend, and perceive that differences in regard to the size of the mental organs are, equally extensive and striking; the fact of differences in social condition being an institution of nature is determined. In one man the brain is large, the temperament is active, and the three regions of the animal, moral, and intellectual organs, are all favourably developed; such a person is one of nature's nobility. He is endowed with native energy by his temperament, and mental power by his brain; and he needs besides, only knowledge, with a fair field of action, to attain the highest prizes which are offered-by a bountiful Creator to human virtue, industry, and talent. Another individual has inherited from birth the lymphatic temperament, and is constitutionally inert, or he has received a small brain, which is incapable of vigorous manifestations. In a scene where valuable objects can be attained only by capacity and energy, such a person must, of necessity, give place to him who has been favoured with higher endowments. A third individual, perhaps, has received several organs developed in a superior degree, which fit him to acquire distinction in a particular department of life; but he is deficient in other organs, and is in consequence unfit to advance successfully in other walks. Such a man may, if he choose his vocation wisely in relation to his special endowments, assume a high station; if unwisely, he may stand low in the scale of social consideration. These differences give rise to differences in social condition, altogether irrespective of human arrangements.

Gradations of social condition being thus institutions of God, those men are wild enthusiastic dreamers, and not philosophers, who contemplate their abolition. This proposition, however, does not imply approval of artificial distinctions of rank, independent of natural endowments. These are the inventions of ignorant and selfish men; they are paltry devices to secure, by means of parchments, the advantages of high qualities, without the necessary possession of them. As civilization and knowledge page 47 advance, these will be renounced as ridiculous, like the ponderous wigs, cocked hats, laced coats, and swords, of bygone centuries. It is unfortunate for society when a fool or rogue is the possessor of high rank and title; for these attract the respect of many to his foolish or vicious deeds, and to his erroneous opinions.

Nature has instituted still another cause of social differences. Man has received faculties, or capacities, adapted to external nature, but he has not been inspired with information concerning the qualities and adaptations of objects, or with intuitive knowledge of the best manner of applying his own powers. He has been left to find out these by observation and reflection. If we select twenty men whose brains, temperament, and bodily constitution, are alike, but of whom ten have sedulously applied their faculties to the study of nature and her capabilities, while the other ten have sought only pleasure in trivial pursuits, it is obvious that in all social attainments the former will speedily surpass the latter. If both classes wished to build a house, you would find the observing and reflecting men in possession of the lever, the pulley, the hammer, the axe, and the saw; while the hunters and the fishers would be pushing loads with their hands, or lifting them with their arms, and shaping timber with sharp-edged stones. In civilized society the same results appear. An individual who has learned how to use his natural powers to the best advantage,—in other words, who has acquired knowledge and skill,—is decidedly superior to him, who, Although born with equal native talents, has never been taught the best method of applying them.

When we view Nature's scheme of social gradation, we recognise in it an institution beneficial to all. The man who stands at the bottom of the scale, does so because he is actually lowest either in natural endowments, or in acquired skill; but even in that lowest rank he enjoys advantages superior to those he could have commanded by his talents, if he had stood alone. He derives many advantages from the abilities and acquirements of his fellow-men. In point of fact, an able-bodied, steady, and respectable labourer in Britain, is better clothed, better fed, and better lodged, than the chief of a savage tribe in New South Wales.

I anticipate that it will be objected, that although this may be a correct exposition of the origin of gradations of ranks; and although, if the principles now explained were alone allowed to determine the station of individuals, none could have just cause at complaint, yet that the practical result is widely different; because weak, wicked, and indolent men, are often found in possession of the highest gifts of fortune and the loftiest social positions; while able, good, and enlightened individuals, stand low in the scale. I shall consider this subject in the next lecture.