Phrenology, heredity and progress in George Combe's Constitution of Man

William Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Constitution of Man by George Combe (1828) was probably the most influential phrenological work of the nineteenth century. It not only offered an exposition of the phrenological theory of the mind, but also presented Combe's vision of universal human progress through the inheritance of acquired mental attributes. In the decades before the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, the Constitution was probably the single most important vehicle for the dissemination of naturalistic progressivism in the English-speaking world. Although there is a significant literature on the social and cultural context of phrenology, the role of heredity in Combe's thought has been less thoroughly explored, although both John van Wyhe and Victor L. Hilts have linked Combe's views on heredity with the transformist theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In this paper I examine the origin, nature and significance of his ideas and argue that Combe's hereditarianism was not directly related to Lamarckian transformism but formed part of a wider discourse on heredity in the early nineteenth century.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2015

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