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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4



The present work appears in the form of Lectures, which were composed under the following circumstances:—

In 1832, an Association was formed by the industrious classes of Edinburgh, for obtaining instruction in useful and entertaining knowledge, by means of lectures, to be delivered in the evenings after business-hours. These lectures were designed to be popular with regard to style and illustration, but systematic in arrangement and extent. One evening in each week was devoted to Astronomy; two nights to Chemistry; and I was requested to deliver a course on Moral Philosophy, commencing in November 1835, and proceeding on each Monday evening, till April 1836. Thus, there were delivered twenty consecutive lectures on Moral Philosophy, on the Monday evenings; fifty lectures on Chemistry, on the evenings of Tuesdays and Fridays; and twenty-five lectures on Astronomy, on the Thursday evenings. The audience amounted to between five and six hundred persons of both sexes.

In twenty lectures, addressed to such an audience, only a small portion of a very extensive field of science could be touched upon. It was necessary also to avoid, as much as possible, abstract and speculative questions, and to dwell chiefly on topics simple, interesting, and practically useful. These circumstances account for the introduction of many local topics of illustration, and of such subjects as Suretiship, Arbitration, Guardianship, and some others, not usually treated of in works on Moral Philosophy; and also for the occasional omission of that rigid application of the principles on which the work is founded, to the case of every duty, which would have been necessary in a purely scientific treatise. These principles, however, although not always stated, are never intentionally departed from.

A large number of my auditors had studied Phrenology, and many of them had read my work on "The Constitution of Man," in which it is extensively applied to subjects connected with human conduct and duty: I did not hesitate, therefore, to assume the principles of this science as the basis of a sound system of moral philosophy. As, however, my hearers were not, in general, regular students, but persons engaged in practical business, who could not be supposed to have always at command a distinct recollection of their previous knowledge, it became necessary for me to restate these principles at considerable length. This is the cause of a more extensive repetition, in these Lectures, of views already published in "The Constitution of Man," and in my phrenological writings, than, in ordinary circumstances, would have been admissible.

The Lectures were reported, by one of my hearers, in the Edinburgh Chronicle newspaper, and excited some attention. Still, however, I did not consider them worthy of being presented to the public as a separate work, and they did not, for some years, appear in this form in Britain. I transmitted a copy of the "Report" to a friend in Boston, U. S., where they were reprinted by Messrs Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, in a small duodecimo volume. The edition was speedily purchased by the American public; and, encouraged by this indication of approval, I published the entire Lectures in that city, during my residence in America, in 1840, with 6uch additions and improvements as they appeared to stand in need of. Since my return to Scotland, I have subjected the volume to another revision, and now offer an improved edition to the British public.

I am aware that, in founding Moral Philosophy on Phrenology, I may appear to those persons who stand in a different position from that of my audience, and who have not ascertained the truth of the latter science, to be resting human duty on a basis of mere conjecture.

In answer to this objection, I respectfully remark, that scientific truths exist independently of human observation and opinion. The globe revolved on its axis, and carried the pope and seven cardinals whirling round on its surface, at the very moment when he and they declared the assertion of such a fact to be a damnable heresy, subversive of Christianity. In like manner, the brain performs its functions equally in those who deny, and in those who admit, its influence. I observe that in one anti-phrenologist, in whom the anterior lobe is small, the intellect is feeble; and that in another, in whom it is large, and well constituted, the intellect is powerful, altogether independently of their own belief in these facts. I have remarked, also, that when the brain of an anti-phrenologist has been diseased in a particular organ, he has become deranged in the corresponding faculty, notwithstanding his denial of all connection between them. The fact, therefore, that many persons do not admit the truth of Phrenology, does not necessarily render it an imaginary science. The denial by Harvey's contemporaries of the circulation of the blood, did not arrest the action of the heart, arteries, and veins.

In Phrenology, as in general Physiology and other sciences, there are points still unascertained, and these may hereafter prove to be important; but the future discovery of the functions page iv of the spleen, will not overturn the ascertained functions of the lungs or spinal marrow; and in like manner, the disclosure of the uses of certain unknown parts at the base of the brain, will not alter the ascertained functions of the anterior lobe and coronal region. I consider the phrenological principles on which the following Lectures are founded, to be established by such an extensive induction of facts, as will enable them to sustain the severest scrutiny, and not be found wanting; and I shall, with becoming resignation, abide by the verdict of those, who, by study and observation, shall have rendered themselves competent to judge of their merits.

In claiming for Phrenology, in the following pages, the merit of having unfolded new truths for the guidance of human conduct, I have no wish to go a step beyond the limits warranted by the most rigid induction. I am aware that Phrenology has created no new quality, and that every faculty and influence of which it treats existed and operated before Dr Gall was born. Phrenology professes to be nothing more than an accurate description of objects that exist, and their relations. It is equally certain that descriptions, more or less accurate, of the general characters and modes of operation of many of the faculties may be found in the works of even the earliest authors. Still, however, owing to their having possessed no certain means of distinguishing between what is really a primitive faculty, and what is only a mode of action common to many faculties, and owing also to their ignorance of the organs of the mind, and of the effects of size in the organs on the powers of manifestation, their knowledge never assumed the certainty and consistency, nor reached the practical character, of a science. The discovery by Dr Gall of the functions of the brain accomplished for the philosophy of mind what the discoveries of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton had previously done for Astronomy; it substituted a basis of facts, ascertainable by observation, for hypothesis and conjecture. It brought to light several elements of human nature which the metaphysicians had failed to discover; gave certainty to the existence of several which had been with them subjects of dispute; while it shed a new light on the effects of the combinations of the faculties in different degrees of relative strength in different individuals. It also enabled philosophers to trace the relations between the mind and the external world more successfully than when the mental organs were unknown. It is in reference to these improvements that I speak, in the following pages, of Phrenology having unfolded new truths for the guidance of human conduct.

Edinburgh, 1st October 1840.