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Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century: Cerebral Localization and Its Biological Context from Gall to Ferrier


Robert M. Young


[ Contents | Preface | Introduction | Chapter: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Bibliography ]



Like art, science is born of itself, not of nature. There is no neutral naturalism. The artist, no less than the writer, needs a vocabulary before he can embark on a 'copy' of reality.

E. H. Gombrich, 1962.

...no less than the scientist

To understand events as experienced by actual men and institutions we must be concerned with the history of errors and false starts as well as successes-although we make this distinction on the basis of what we now know of the tradition of success. As we go back in time the uncertainty of the outlook and of the objectives of scientific inquiries increases. The essence of the scientific movement is research. The answers to the essential question, what to do in scientific research-what questions to put to nature, by what methods to get answers, what to count as satisfactory answers-became clear only by the accumulation of successes and the marking of failures.

A. C. Crombie, 1963.

Synthesis of Associationism and Sensory-Motor Physiology

Alexander Bain was probably the first modern thinker whose primary concern was with psychology itself He has been credited with writing the first 'comprehensive treatise having psychology as its sole purpose'.[1] His two-volume systematic work, The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859), was the standard British text for almost half a century, until Stout's replaced it.[2] He also founded Mind (1876-), the first psychological journal in any country. His work requires close attention, because it is the meeting-point of experimental sensory-motor physiology and the association psychology. His influence on the conceptions of later workers was direct and extremely important. Ferrier studied classics and philosophy under Bain at Aberdeen (first class honours, 1863). When he and Jackson acknowledge their intellectual debts or make references to psychology, the names most often mentioned are Bain and Spencer-the figures whose work was the culmination of the association psychology in its traditional form. Ferrier and Jackson strongly influenced each other, and together they

1 Murphy, 1949, p. 107.

2 Boring, 1950, p. 235.



provided the sensory-motor psychophysiology for the new research on cerebral localization.

Bain's work provided a completely novel approach in English associationist psychology. Locke had disclaimed any interest in physiology in the second paragraph of his Essay.[1] Like Locke, Hume had elected not to enquire into the causes of the phenomena of association. He regarded association as a 'gentle force' arising from the qualities of resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect.[2] The basis of association was a kind of attraction, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to show itself in as many and as various forms. Its effects are everywhere conspicuous; but, as to its causes, they are mostly unknown, and must be resolved into original qualities of human nature, which I pretend not to explain.[3]

He had decided 'that we must in the end rest contented with experience' and not indulge in specious and plausible' physiological hypotheses involving 'imaginary dissection of the brain'.[4] When he does depart (apologetically) from this maxim, his speculations involve ‘ideas’ which the powers of the mind excite or ‘rouse up’. The mind despatches the ’animal spirits’ running into ‘traces’ and ‘rummaging the cell’ which belongs to the idea, while incidentally exciting contiguous and related ones.[5] Hartley’s theory of vibrations, while more detailed, was also pure speculation, and such speculations frightened away Reid Stewart, and Brown. Returning to the main line of the associationist tradition, it will be remembered that James Mill echoed Lock’s agnosticism about the brain.

It is against this background that Bain's psychology must be viewed. In 1851, he wrote to J. S. Mill from Paris as follows:

I have been closely engaged on my Psychology, ever since I came here. I have just finished rough drafting the first division of the synthetic half of the work, that, namely, which includes the Sensations, Appetites and Instincts. All through this portion I keep up a constant reference to the material structure of the parts concerned, it being my purpose to exhaust in this division the physiological basis of mental phenomena. I have been able to attain a pretty level explanation of the whole of the phenomena thus included, and that to a greater depth than I could have supposed attainable in the present state of our knowledge. And although I neither can, nor at

1 Locke, 1961, 1, 5. Quoted by James Mill, above p. 98.

2 Hume, new ed ., 1911, 1, 19.

3 Ibid., I, 21.

4 Ibid., 1, 65.

5 Ibid.



present desire to carry Anatomical explanation into the Intellect, I think at the state of the previous part of the subject will enable Intellect and Emotion to be treated to great advantage and in a manner altogether different from anything that has hitherto appeared. There is nothing I wish more than so to unite psychology and physiology that physiologists may be made to appreciate the true ends and drift of their researches into the nervous system, which no one man that I have yet encountered, does at the present moment. . . . In fact I feel pretty confident of being up with the nervous physiology in its Psychological bearings, as it stands at present, though I am satisfied that if I had that familiar and perfect grasp that belongs to a professional Anatomist, I might do a vast deal more in the way of pushing forward my own subject.[l]

Four years later, in the Preface to the first edition of The Senses and the Intellect, he says,

Conceiving that the time has now come when many of the striking discoveries of Physiologists relative to the nervous system should find a recognised place in the Science of Mind, I have devoted a separate chapter to the Physiology of the Brain and Nerves.[2]

J. S. Mill is lavish in his praise of this new departure.

Mr. Bain possesses, indeed, an [sic] union of qualifications peculiarly fitting him for what, in the language of Dr. Brown, may be called the physical investigation of mind. . . . Having made a more accurate study than perhaps any previous psychologist, of the whole round of the physical sciences, on which the mental depend both for their methods, and for the necessary material substratum of their theories. . . . This is especially true of the science most nearly allied, both in subject and method, with psychological investigations, the science of Physiology: which Hartley, Brown, and Mill had unquestionably studied, and knew perhaps as well as it was known by any one at the time when they studied it, but in a superficial manner compared with Mr. Bain.[3]

The chapter on the nervous system which so impressed Mill is about fifty pages long, and consists mostly of lengthy quotations from Sharpey's contributions to the fifth edition of Quain's Anatomy and from Todd and Bowman's Physiology. In the first three editions of Bain's work (i.e. up to 1868) the section on the functions of the cerebral hemispheres echoes Flourens and denies cerebral excitability.

1 National Library of Scotland. MS. 3650, ff. 165-6. I am indebted to Samuel Greenblatt for informing me of the existence of this letter, and to Thomas I. Rae, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, National Library of Scotland, for making copies of Bain's MS. letters available to me.

2 Bain, 1855, p. v.

3 Mill, 1867, pp. 116-7.



Bain does not seem to have thought at all carefully about cerebral localization, and his statements on the subject are confused and even contradictory. In the first edition of The Senses and the Intellect he does not mention the issue at all. Six years later, in his discussion of phrenology, he grants the phrenological localization of a number of cerebral organs, including sex,[1] language,[2] benevolences,[3] colour,[4] and tune. He has various objections to details of the phrenological faculties themselves, but he accepts their cerebral localization. His statement about the faculty of music or tune is a fair example.

Phrenology has very naturally laid hold of this faculty, and has, with confidence, assigned its local habitation. Musicians are found to agree in an enlargement of the lateral parts of the forehead. The analysis of the musical faculty has been made with great care, and we believe with success, by the leading phrenologists....... No objection can be taken to the tracing out of a cerebral conformation agreeing with this peculiar sensibility.[5]

Throughout his book on Character, Bain accepts not only the principle of cerebral localization but also the validity of the cranioscopic method, if rigourously applied. Although he grants some of the phrenological localizations, he is more interested in localizing the cerebral bases of his own classification of functions. 'It would be interesting to know if the different modes of the mental manifestations-feeling, will, intelligence-have different seats or portions of the cerebral mass assigned to them.'[6] The psychological doctrine of the book will be considered below. For the present, attention should be confined to Bain's statements about cerebral localization. His argument parallels his attempted transformation in the psychology of phrenology in order to bring it into conformity with his own associationist view and his three basic categories of Intellect, Feeling, and Will.

The most carefully considered discussion of cerebral localization in his writings is concerned with the cerebral basis of feeling and will.

Thus while the modes of FEELING-the pleasures, pains, emotions, sentiments, affections, passions-are many, the WILL may be considered as one. We may regard it as the collective muscular machinery of the system controlled by a certain portion of the cerebrum; having a character peculiar to itself, disposed to operate of its own accord, but practically at the service of whatever feelings are uppermost in the mind. If this view be correct,

1 Bain, 1861, p. 222.

2 Ibid., p. 165.

3 Ibid., pp. 111-12; 298.

4 Ibid., p. 155. Cf. Bain, new ed., 1875, p. 98.

5 Bain, 1861, p. 162.

6 Ibid., p. 21. He offers some tentative speculations on this issue in Bain, 11th ed., 1910, p. 103.



there ought to be in the development of the head a region of Will and a region of the various Emotions-the one indivisible, the other containing many subdivisions. For, although there are a variety of phenomena, or different aspects of Volition, constituting different subjects of consideration such, for example, as desire, conflict of motives, deliberation, resolution, effort, ability and inability, belief-they would not properly occupy distinct centres, but would be merely the various modes and circumstances under which the one power shows itself. We should then convert the phrenological propensities and sentiments into one common group of emotions, abstraction being made of those that imply pure Activity, which last, if they could be concentrated into one locality, would represent the Will. There is nothing in the views of phrenologists essentially repugnant to this amendment. They admit that the present classification is only provisional. Combe says-'It appears impossible to arrive at a correct classification until all the organs, and also the primitive faculty or ultimate function of each, shall be definitely ascertained, which is not at present the case.' The foregoing doctrine of the multiplicity of emotion and the unity of volition is the view of the present writer, expounded at great length in the treatise on the Emotions and the Will. In the detailed criticism of the organs, and in the succeeding expositions, it will prominently reappear.[l]

It should be noted that Bain had made no observations on brains or on the behaviour of individuals (or, for that matter, on crania). His views on localization are deductions from his associationist principles and from introspection.

In other parts of the book Bain speculates about the localization of centres for muscular movements, spontaneous energy, and sensory modalities.

We must here, as in other cases, carry the explanations as far as the brain, and imagine some endowment in the centres in immediate relation to the muscular movements; something in the quantity or the quality of the part of the brain that actuates the larger masses of muscle.[2]

If we were to venture, after the manner of Phrenology, to specify more precisely the locality of the centres of general energy, I should say the posterior part of the crown of the head, and the lateral parts adjoining-that is, the region of the organs of Self-Esteem, Love of Approbation, Cautiousness, Firmness, and Conscientiousness-must be full and ample, if we would expect a conspicuous display of this feature of character. The fore-part of the head would not appear to have the same bearing upon the active disposition as the hinder parts.[3]

In his discussion of the senses of taste and smell, he says,

Without local organs in the scheme of Phrenology, they must still be conceived as having each a relation with a definite mass of the cerebrum, on

1 Bain, 1861, pp. 46-7.

2 Ibid., p. 221.

3 Ibid., p. 195.



whose quantity or quality the energy of their discriminating function is dependent.[1]

At one point in the book, Bain came very close to a conception that was not fully appreciated until nine years later. It was a corollary of his attempt to make phrenology conform to his own view. The faculty of Weight had not been included in Gall's classification and was introduced by Spurzheim to account for ideas of weight, resistance, consistency, density, softness, and hardness.[2] George Combe, the leading exponent of phrenology in Britain, had restricted its domain to the appreciation of small variations in weight and exquisiteness of touch.[3] Bain set out to transform the faculty into a general sense of movement and voluntary activity.

We have no difficulty in admitting the susceptibility to different degrees of expanded energy-whether in raising weights, in resisting moving bodies, or in putting tools in motion,-as an ultimate power of the human mind, and unequally manifested among individuals. We consider it as related to the so-called 'muscular sense', or the feeling connected with muscular exertion.[4]

The faculty involves the muscularity of 'the hands, arms, and the body generally'. It includes all muscular regions except 'the eyes, features, jaw, and voice'. It is also involved in coordination, and amounts to a 'general endowment of our voluntary activity'.[5] Having transformed the phrenological faculty of weight in this manner, Bain felt that the phrenological localization of its cerebral organ did not do justice to the importance of the altered conception of the faculty. It was dependent physically upon the cerebral centres that give origin to the anterior, or motor, roots of the spinal nerves taken collectively. That a high development of those centres should be apparent merely as a small swelling in about one-fourth part of the extent of the eyebrow, is exceedingly improbable.[6]

He notes that what is known about the cerebellum goes part-way towards explaining the mechanical skills and coordination associated with the faculty but goes on to say that

We must not, however, stop short of the hemispheres in our explanation of the control of the voluntary muscles, and it is not consistent with other facts to locate an energy so extensive and complicated in such a limited mass...

1 Bain, 1861, pp. 303-4.

2. Spurzheim, 2nd ed., 1815, pp. 361-2.

3 Bain, 1861, p. 150.

4 Ibid., p. 151.

5 Ibid., p. 151-3.

6 Ibid., p. 153.



It would be an exceedingly interesting result, if we could allocate with certainty the cerebral centres whence emanate the impulses to our voluntary movements, and which, when largely developed, give sensibility and delicacy of graduation to those movements; but we cannot say that phrenology has even started a plausible conjecture on this matter.[1]

The above passage might have provided the key to developments which occurred in the next decade, but in all his other writings Bain did 'stop short of the hemispheres' in his explanation of the control of voluntary movements. His book on Character is the only place where he makes extensive remarks on cerebral localization. If he had developed his views on the localization of centres for sensations, movements, and other functions, his work might have played a significant part in the history of cerebral localization. What happened, though, was that Bain never pursued many of the ideas raised in this work and, perhaps more important, the book itself sank rapidly into oblivion. When Bain next refers to the topic of cerebral localization, he expresses the orthodox position of the experimental physiologists of the time.

The attempt to localize the mental functions in special portions of the cerebral mass, has been thwarted by observations of a remarkable kind. The phrenologists noticed cases where the destruction or disease of one hemisphere was unaccompanied with the entire loss of any function; the inference being that the hemispheres were duplicate bodies performing the same office, like the two eyes, or the two halves of the nostrils. But cases have been recorded of disease of large portions of the brain in both hemispheres at once, without apparent loss of functions; which would require us to extend still farther the supposition of a plurality of nervous tracks for a single mental aptitude.[2]

However, four years later he shows that the topic still intrigues him and that, on the whole, he thinks that cerebral localization is a reputable hypothesis.

It would be interesting, if we could assign distinct mental functions to different parts of this large and complicated organ [i.e., the cerebral hemispheres]; if we could find certain convolutions related to specific feelings, or to specific intellectual gifts and acquirements. This Phrenology attempted, but with doubtful success. Yet, it is most reasonable to suppose that, the brain being constituted on a uniform plan, the same parts serve the same functions in different individuals.[3]

Bain's remarks on cerebral localization are significant in two ways. First, they show that the associationists were beginning to evolve some

1 Bain, 1861, p. 153.

2 Bain, 1868, p. 46.

3 Bain, 1875, p. 10.



sort of working relationship between their own views and those aspects of phrenology which were useful. The phrenologists themselves were extremely polemical and used their journals as a platform for launching a ferocious attack upon anyone who deviated from loyalty to all their views. They knew only two reactions: refutation and incorporation. If a man was not a wholehearted phrenologist he was either a fool or was saying something that the phrenologists had said all along.[1] Bain's work on character and his sympathetic remarks about cerebral localization show that orthodox scientists were beginning to defy this reaction. His treatment of the subject is symptomatic of the growing importance of the concept of cerebral localization in the psychological and physiological thinking of the period. It was being applied to neurology by Broca (in the same year that Bain's book on character was published), and formed the basis of his conception of speech pathology.[2] It had already been transformed by Spencer and used in his psychology of evolutionary associationism.[3] The concept of cerebral localization was being dissociated from the excesses of phrenology and applied to more orthodox conceptions in psychology, neurology, and physiology. However, Bain's failure to pursue his earlier speculations about cerebral localization in his major treatise, and his easy acceptance of the orthodox view show equally well the timidity with which scientists approached anything that could be construed as advocacy of phrenology in the 1850's and 1860's. One suspects that the failure of Bain's book on character to sell well enough to justify a second edition, and the silence about it in his own writings and the work of others, indicate that he had gone farther toward accepting phrenology than the climate of opinion in the 1860's would allow.

Bain's scattered remarks on cerebral localization do not seem to have had any direct influence on the work of the main figures in British localization research, Jackson and Ferrier. The concept of cerebral localization which they employed was also ultimately derived from phrenology, but the specific version which influenced them will be seen to come from Spencer. Although Bain remained friends with his former pupil and visited with him on his last trip to London,[4] he reacted against the findings of the experimentalists. He upheld the older methods in the face of Ferrier's new, objective approach involving direct experimentation on animal brains. For Bain, introspection was 'the alpha and the omega of psychological inquiry: it is alone supreme,

1 See the early volumes of George Combe's Phrenological Journal.

2 See below, Chapter 4.

3 See below, Chapter 5.

4 Bain, 1904, p. 415.



everything else subsidiary. Its compass is ten times all the other methods put together, and fifty times the utmost range of Psycho-physics alone'.[l] He was also sceptical about the significance for psychology of the findings of Ferrier and others on cerebral localization.

A considerable amount of scientific interest has been aroused by these laborious inquiries; but they have added nothing to the explanation of our intellectual workings; while in Physiology the interest is purely theoretical. Possibly, they may be the beginning of great results on both sides; but, if we were to insist on the ideal of the subjective purists, we should make no mention of them in Psychology proper.[2]

These remarks were written in 1891, thirty-five years after the appearance of his own seminal work. It is surprising that Bain took so little interest in the localizing work on cerebral physiology which drew so heavily on his psychological conceptions. He neither grasped its significance nor attempted to integrate it with his own thought. This is even more remarkable in Bain than it might be in others. Two of his main theses were the importance of integrating physiology and psychology, and the central significance of will and movement in psychology. Yet the third edition of The Emotions and the Will (1875), which appeared five years after the discovery of the electrical excitability of the motor areas of the cerebral cortex by Fritsch and Hitzig, made no mention of their work or that of Ferrier. This is in striking contrast to William Carpenter, who had added a special appendix on 'Dr Ferrier's Experimental Researches on the Brain' to his Principles of Mental Physiology (1874). The whole treatise was in type when Ferrier's first results appeared, and Carpenter held up publication in order to take account of these important findings.[3] The fourth edition of The Senses and the Intellect (1894) contained a new chapter on the nervous system which included a general picture of the results of localizing studies on the brain, but Bain did not undertake to write it. It was contributed by Dr W. Leslie Mackenzie.[4]

Bain's failure to appreciate the significance of the findings of his former pupil is the more remarkable because the conception of cerebral functions which Ferrier put forward was so obviously a confirmation of Bain's earlier speculations. In fact, the statement which Mackenzie included in the chapter he contributed to Bain's own work bears a

1 Bain, 1903, p. 242.

2 Ibid., pp. 187-8. Cf. Bain, 1894, p. x.

3 Carpenter, 1874a, p. 709. See below, pp. 214-5.

4 Bain, 1894, p. vii.



striking similarity to the passages on localization of sensory and motor functions in Character.

In its simplest and most practical form the Doctrine of Localisation may be stated as follows: Certain limited areas of the Cortical Grey Matter are associated with certain definite movements; certain other areas are associated with certain sensations. The movements concerned are roughly named ‘voluntary', a designation that indicates a 'variable spontaneity' of occurrence, and marks them off from movements due solely to the lesser grey centres. In like manner the sensations, being sensations proper, are marked off from mere excito-motor afferent impressions.[l]

In other respects Bain had revised his treatise meticulously. For example, he had attempted to bring his own views into close harmony with the theory of evolution. He responded to Spencer's criticism (1860) [2] that he had ignored evolution, by keeping back the second edition of The Senses and the Intellect as long as possible in order to be in possession of Spencer's latest utterances in the Principles of Biology[3] He included a postscript on Darwin's studies on emotional expression in later printings of the third edition of The Senses and the Intellect (1868; Postscript, 1873), and a chapter on mental evolution in the third edition of The Emotions and the Will.

Bain's major influence on Jackson and Ferrier lay in his juxtaposition of associationism with sensory-motor physiology, and in his view of the elements of mind. Jackson says,

To Prof. Bain I owe much. From him I derived the notion that the anatomical substrata of words are motor (articulatory) processes. (This, I must mention, is a much more limited view than he takes.) This hypothesis has been of very great importance to me, not only specially because it gives the best anatomico-physiological explanation of the phenomena of Aphasia when all varieties of this affection are taken into consideration, but because it helped me very much in endeavouring to show that the 'organ of mind' contains processes representing movements, and that, therefore, there was nothing unreasonable in supposing that excessive discharge of convolutions should produce that clotted mass of movements which we call spasm.[4]

Ferrier, in turn, drew his sensory-motor view of brain and mind, as well as his theory of volition, from Bain and Jackson.[5]


1 Bain, 1894, p. 50.

2 See below, pp. 183-6.

3 Spencer, edited Duncan, 1908, p. 115.

4 Jackson, edited Taylor, 1931, I, 167-8. Jackson's emphasis is irrelevant to my point.

5 Ferrier, 1886, pp. 425-6, 443.



The theories of Bain which had these effects on clinical and experimental findings which he himself discounts are the result of a union association psychology with the sensory-motor physiology of Magendie and Mueller. J. S. Mill's review of Bain's work indicates the significance Bell-Magendie law both for Bain and for the associationist tradition.

What may be called the outward action of the nervous system is twofold,-sensation and muscular motion; and one of the great physiological discoveries of the present age is, that these two functions are performed by means of two distinct sets of nerves, in close juxtaposition; one of which, if separately severed or paralysed, puts an end to sensation in the part of the body which it supplies, but leaves the power of motion unimpaired; the other destroys the power of motion, but does not affect sensation. That the central organ of the nervous system, the brain, must in some way or other co-operate in all sensation, and in all muscular motion . . . [except for reflex responses] is also certain; [for if continuity with the brain is interrupted, sensation and motion in that part cease to exist].[l]

Mill’s last sentence reflects the prevailing confusion over how far the sensory-motor analysis should be extended up the neuraxis. Bain was quite clear about the functional division of the spinal nerve roots and of higher centres as far up as the medulla oblongata.[2] In the first edition of The Senses and the Intellect he considered the functions of the lesser grey centres of the brain undetermined (except for the association of the corpora quadrigemina with vision). 'The thalami optici and corpora striata, from their size, and the amount of grey matter they contain, are likely to be influential bodies, but what precise purpose perform is a subject of uncertain speculations.’[3] By 1868 he had satisfied himself that the thalamus was primarily a sensory ganglion, while the corpora striata were 'believed to contain principally the motor fibres’.[4]

The collective reflected fibres of all the ganglia at the base of the brain, together with the cerebellum, are considered as making up a department or region, which is the seat of reflex acts, and of a large number of grouped or associated movements, involved alike in voluntary action and in emotional expression. It is not unlikely that consciousness accompanies the reflected, as well as the transmitted, currents of this whole region.[5]

This view had been put forward by Todd and Bowman in 1845. Their work on The Physiological Anatomy and Physiology of Man was one

1 Mill. 1867, p. 117.

2 Bain, 1855, pp. 40-7.

3 Ibid., p. 53.

4 1868, p. 44.

5 Ibid., pp. 44-5.



of the two main sources of Bain's information on physiology. In presenting their conclusions on the functions of the corpora striata and optic thalami, they made it clear that their conception was an extension of the Bell-Magendie law.

The corpora striata and optic thalami bear to each other a relation analogous to that of the anterior to the posterior horn of the spinal gray matter. The corpora striata and anterior horns are centres of motion; the optic thalami and posterior horns, centres of sensation.[1] And it must be admitted that the intimate connection of sensation and motion, whereby sensation becomes a frequent excitor of motion,-and voluntary motion is always, in a state of health, attended with sensation,-would à priori lead us to look for the respective centres of these two great faculties, not only in juxtaposition, but in union at least as intimate as that which exists between the corpus striatum and optic thalamus, or between the anterior and the posterior horns of the spinal gray matter.[2]

William Carpenter, who shared their view, credits Todd and Bowman with being the first to point out this important analogy.[3] Thereby, the sensory-motor analysis of the nervous system was extended one step further up the neuraxis. It had been applied to the peripheral nerves since the beginning of the study of anatomy and physiology. Bell and Magendie had demonstrated its applicability to the spinal nerve roots, Flourens and Mueller applied it as far rostral as the medulla oblongata, and Todd and Bowman extended it into subcortical structures. However, it stopped there and was extended no further until just before 1870. Todd and Bowman provide a convenient summary of the orthodox position.

It is quite established as a result of all the experiments upon the cerebral convolutions and the white matter of the centrum ovale, that mechanical injury to them occasions no pain, nor disturbance of motion. The endowments of the nerve-fibres which form the fibrous substance of the cerebral convolutions appear to be quite distinct from those of sensitive or motor nerves. They are internuncial between parts which are beyond the immediate influence of the ordinary physical agents, and which have no direct connections with muscular organs. And if, under the influence of morbid irritation, they do excite pain or convulsion, which is frequently the case in disease of the cerebral meninges, this is effected through a change produced in the corpora striata or optic thalami propagated to the origins of motor and sensitive nerves.[4]

1 Todd and Bowman, 1845, p. 350.

2 Ibid., p. 351.

3 Carpenter, 1855, p. 490; Carpenter, 1846, p. 505. Cf. below pp. 210-20.

4 Todd and Bowman, 1845, p. 364.



They say nothing beyond this except to provide an elaborate version of Gall's second and third postulates, that the moral and intellectual faculties depend on organic supports, and the brain is the organ of the mind.

It may be laid down as a just conclusion that the convolutions of the brain are the centre of intellectual action, or more, strictly, that this centre consists in that vast sheet of vesicular matter which crowns the convoluted surface of the hemispheres. This surface is connected with the centres of volition and sensation (corpora striata and optic thalami), and is capable at once of being excited by, or of exciting them. Every idea of the mind is associated with a corresponding change in some part or parts of this vesicular surface.[1]

The actions of the convoluted surface of the brain, and of the fibres connected with it, are altogether of the mental kind. The physical changes in these parts give rise to a corresponding manifestation of ideas; nor is it likely that any thought, however simple, is unaccompanied by change in this centre.[2]

Though they grant these major premises of phrenology, they are careful to dissociate themselves from its organology. Nothing specific could yet be said with any certainty about the functions of the hemispheres or about cerebral localization.

In considering the truth or falsehood of Phrenology, it is absolutely necessary to separate the metaphysical question-as to the existence of certain faculties of the mind-from what has been admitted as a physiological fact before the foundation of the phrenological school, that the vesicular surface of the brain is the prime physical agent in the working of the intellect. A physiologist may hold the validity of this latter doctrine, and yet think as we do, that many of the so-called faculties of the phrenologists are but phases of other and larger powers of the mind; and that the psychologist must determine what are, and what are not, fundamental faculties of the mind, before the physiologist can venture to assign to each its local habitations.[3]

This was the state of physiological thinking when Bain set out to unite physiology with the association psychology. His brief discussion of the functions of the hemispheres is a straightforward expression of the orthodox position. He says that 'Mind is..... pre-eminently associated with the cerebral hemispheres'.[4] At the same time, experimental evidence excludes them from the sensory-motor paradigm.

When irritation is applied to the hemispheres, as by pricking or cutting, we find a remarkable absence of the effects manifested in the other centres.

1 Todd and Bowman, 1845, p. 365.

2 Ibid., pp. 365-6.

3 Ibid., pp. 366-7.

4 Bain, 1855, p. 54.



Neither feeling nor movement is produced. This marks a very great distinction between the hemispheres and the whole of the ganglia and centres lying beneath them.[1]

His position did not change from the one he expressed to Mill in 1851. He neither could, nor wanted to, specify any details for the physiological basis of intellect. Only one thing was certain: it was not sensory-motor. This view has already been met in the work of Flourens and Magendie. It was still orthodox in 1868. The inconsistency between an otherwise thoroughgoing sensory-motor analysis and a vague treatment of the hemispheres was a constant feature of psychophysiological writings at least until 1870. Although Bain adhered to it in his own work, his conceptions provided much of the basis for its eventual abandonment. The only place Bain departs from this view is in his aberrant work on Character. The remarks he made there remained undeveloped by him or by those he influenced, even though they pointed the way later research actually took.

Bain, Mueller, and the Place of Motion in Psychology

Bain provided a discussion of motor phenomena which gave the association psychology a balanced sensory-motor view. The bias of the Lockean tradition had been toward the sensory side, and ran the risk of a passive sensationalism. Neglect of spontaneous activity, motor phenomena, and overt behaviour was a natural consequence of the epistemological interests of the empiricists and their commitment to sensation as the primary (ultimately the only source of knowledge. Condillac's radical sensationalism had led his followers to criticize his almost total neglect of motion. The Idéologues, Erasmus Darwin, Brown, and James Mill had included one aspect of motion in their analyses-the sensory aspect of movements or the so-called 'muscle sense' and its role in our knowledge of extension.[2] 0f the main figures in the associationist tradition Hartley was the exponent of a more balanced view, but he had no empirical knowledge of sensory-motor physiology to support it. Bain's analysis of motor phenomena was the first union of the new physiology with a detailed association psychology in the English, tradition and he thereby laid the psychological foundations of a thoroughgoing sensory-motor psychophysiology.

Bain's emphasis on movements was a new departure for the associationists and is in striking contrast to James Mill's views. Brett argues

1 Bain, 1855, pp. 53-4.

2 Halévy, 1952, pp. 441-5.



that after James Mill, British psychology turns from passivity to activity. Bain and J. S. Mill disagreed with James Mill's whole treatment of mind.

Their fundamental protest against the imputation of 'passivity' is only saved from being a rejection of James Mill's whole work by being diplomatically adapted to the neutral and colourless parts of the work. The new note in the school was activity, combined with an extension of the physiological groundwork that is strikingly in contrast with Mill's perfunctory notes on the sense-organs.[1]

Bain prefaces his work with an explicit statement of how far his analysis goes beyond the doctrine of the muscle sense.

In treating of the Senses, besides recognising the so-called muscular sense as distinct from the five senses, I have thought proper to assign to Movement and the feelings of Movement a position preceding the Sensations of the senses; and have endeavoured to prove that the exercise of active energy originating in purely internal impulses, independent of the stimulus produced by outward impressions, is a primary fact of our constitution.[2]

He begins by arguing for the fundamental importance of the muscle sense and of movement: 'Action is a more intimate and inseparable property of our constitution than any of our sensations, and in fact enters as a component part into every one of the senses, giving them the character of compounds while itself is a simple and elementary property.’[3] Spontaneous movements are a feature of nervous activity prior to and independent of sensations.[4] The acquired linkages of spontaneous movements with the pleasure and pains consequent upon them, educate the organism so that its formerly random movements adapted to ends or purposes. Bain defines volition as this compound of spontaneous movements and feelings.[5] The coordination of motor impulses into definite purposive movements results from the association of ideas with them.

Bain argues that no previous 'writer on the human mind' had advanced the concept of spontaneous actions nor their connection with voluntary actions; 'but the following interesting extracts from the great physiologist, Mueller, will show that he has been forcibly impressed with

1 Brett, 1953, p. 441. The epistemological issues involved in the introduction of muscular motion into sensationalist philosophy are discussed by Hamlyn, 1961, Chapter 9.

2 Bain, 1855, pp. v-vi.

3 Bain, 1868, p. 59.

4 Ibid., pp. 64-73.

5 Ibid., pp. 296-306.



both the one and the other of these views'.[l] Mueller traces the development of volition from the spontaneous movements of the foetus and infant and the consequent sensations.

Thus a connection is established in the yet void mind between certain sensations and certain motions. When subsequently a sensation is excited from without in any one part of the body, the mind will be already aware that the voluntary motion which is in consequence executed will manifest itself in the limb which was the seat of the sensation; the foetus in utero will move the limb that is pressed upon, and not all the limbs simultaneously. The voluntary movements of animals must be developed in the same manner.[2]

Mill calls this passage from Mueller 'the germ of' Bain's theory.[3] It is more than that. The context of the quotations which Bain took from Mueller is most remarkable, for it shows that Mueller, thinking primarily as a physiologist, had worked out a full-fledged motor view on associationist lines and related this to his understanding of the functional organization of the nervous system.

Mueller's motor theory[4] is a synthesis of the sensory-motor physiology of Bell-Magendie and Flourens, with a view of the laws of association of voluntary movements taken from Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia (1894-6)[5] and J. C. Reil. Following Flourens, Mueller held that the medulla oblongata was the highest motor centre,[6] the seat of the action of the will, and 'the source of all the voluntary movements'.[7]

The fibres of all the motor, cerebral, and spinal nerves may be imagined as spread out in the medulla oblongata, and exposed to the influence of the


1 Bain, 1868, p. 296. Cf. Bain, 1855, p. 289. Boring (1950, p. 238) says of Bain that 'It is also probable that he did not know Johannes Mueller's psychological physiology'. He bases this allegation on Bain's ignorance of German. It is, of course, Baly's translation of Mueller that Bain quotes and explicitly makes the basis of his motor theory-the central argument of his work on the will and his most important contribution to the association psychology. There are innumerable references to Mueller in both volumes of Bain's treatise, beginning with the table of contents. Although Bain's discussion of spontaneous energy is drawn from Mueller, he reports in his Autobiography that the concept occurred to him while he was attending Professor Sharpey's lectures on the brain and nervous system in April, 1851. Sharpey discussed some speculations of Faraday on the character of the nerve force as illustrated by his electrical researches. 'I did not preserve the exact tenor of the speculation; but it operated upon my mind in the way of suggesting the doctrine of Spontaneity as a necessary supplement to the recognized circle of the nervous current from sense to movement. I had not embodied this addition in any previous sketch of either Sense or Instinct, but introduced it somehow into the draft that was in my hands at the time.' (Bain, 1904, pp. 218-9.) Sharpey also revised the chapter on the nervous system for the first edition of The Senses and the Intellect (Ibid., p. 240).

2 Mueller, 1842, pp. 936-7. Quoted in Bain, 1855, pp. 290-1. (Bain's italics.)

3 Mill, 1867, p. 121.

4 Mueller, 1842, pp. 931-50.

5 Erasmus Darwin's views were in many respects derived from those of Hartley. See E. Darwin, 1794-6, sect. XXXIX and vol. II.

6 Mueller, 1838, p. 828.

7 Mueller, 1842, p. 934.



will like the keys of a piano-forte. The will acts only on this part of the nervous fibres; but the influence is communicated along the fibres by their action, just as an elastic cord vibrates in its whole length when struck at any one point. It is in the present state of out knowledge-and perhaps always will by-impossible to determine how by an exertion of the will on the medulla oblongata the nervous fibres are excited to action. All that we can do is, to consider the fact on its greatest simplicity.[1]

The first voluntary movements of the foetus are produced by random action of the will on the medullary fibres. These movements give rise to sensations, and the association of effect with cause gradually leads to deliberate control of movements: 'an act of volition is nothing else than the voluntary and conscious direction of the nervous principle in the brain upon different cerebral apparatus'.[2] Complex finely coordinated voluntary motions are acquired through practice, 'and the more frequently certain groups of fibres are excited to action by the influence of the will, the more capable do they become of isolated action; this is exemplified in performers on the piano-forte, etc.’[3]

Compound voluntary movements were defined by Mueller as ‘all combinations of movements in determinate groups, which the mind has a share in producing'.[4] His discussion of them is conducted in terms of the laws of association of movements as outlined by Erasmus Darwin. The relative lack of impact on association psychologists prior to Bain of Darwin's treatment of associations among movements, and of ideas with movements, highlights the sensory bias of earlier medical writers. Darwin's interests were primarily physiological and biological and thus naturally included behaviour and motion. These had an important influence on Mueller's physiological theories while they had little on those of the English psychologists. Mueller acknowledges his debt to Darwin and notes that 'The laws of the association of voluntary movements have been so frequently explained, that they are now very generally recognized, even in writings on practical medicine'.[5] Prior to Bain this commonplace of physiology was ignored by psychologists. Though quarrelling with some of his examples, Mueller adheres to Darwin's view. The principle is: 'Practice diminishes or annuls the innate tendency to involuntary association of movements, while it renders the voluntary association of several muscles in action more easy’.

The law laid down by Darwin is, that 'all the fibrous motions, whether muscular or sensual, which are frequently brought into action together,

1 Mueller, 1842, p. 934.

2 Ibid., p. 938.

3 Ibid., pp. 938-99.

4 Ibid., p. 939.

5 Ibid., p. 942.



either in combined tribes or in successive trains, become so connected by habit, that when one of them is reproduced the others have a tendency to succeed or accompany it.' (Zoonomia, p. 49.)[1]

Turning to the association of ideas and movements, Mueller holds that

The connection between ideas and movements is sometimes as close as that between different ideas; thus, when an idea and a movement have frequently occurred in connection with each other, the idea often excites the involuntary production of the movement. . . . It is a general rule that the more frequently ideas and movements are voluntarily associated together, the more prone are the movements to be excited by those ideas rather than by the will, or to be withdrawn from the influence of the will. This kind of association plays as important a part as the association of movements with each other in the production of mechanical dexterity and perfection in the mechanical arts.[2]

Finally, Mueller relates these motor and ideo-motor phenomena to the nervous system.

The association of movements with each other can only be accounted for on the supposition of a more ready path being developed in the brain for the communication of nervous influence in a certain direction, and the concatenation of ideas and movements seems to indicate that every idea in the mind gives rise to a tendency to action in the nervous apparatus of the movement which expresses that idea, and that this tendency to action is by practice and habit so exaggerated that the mere disposition which exists in ordinary cases becomes, each time that the idea occurs, a real action.[3]

The discussion closes with an argument for the coordination of the movements of locomotion being dependent on the functional organization of the spinal cord and cerebellum as indicated by the experiments of Bell-Magendie and Flourens.

Although the movements of locomotion are dependent on the will, the appropriate combination of the separate muscular acts necessary for them appears, nevertheless, to be rendered more easy by some internal disposition of the nervous system, and there seems to subsist between the nervous centres, the groups of muscles and their nerves, a harmony of action dependent on original structure. This idea is suggested by the experiments on the functions of the cerebellum and spinal cord..... it appears, therefore, that there is some organic arrangement in the central organs which favours the co-ordinate action of certain nervous fibres.[4]

To the twentieth century observer, the above theory and its detailed exposition seem to be painful elaborations of the obvious. This reaction

1 Muller, 1842, p. 243.

2 Ibid., p. 944.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., p. 949.



helps to make the important point about the significance of Mueller's work for the association psychology. These were new topics for the major figures in the associationist tradition. Movement, the nervous system, and the importance of inborn patterns of coordination had largely been ignored or given cursory treatment by associationists prior to Bain. His ideas were far from original, but their introduction into the context of associationist psychology was almost completely novel. Hartley had stressed them, but his followers had not.

With the incorporation of Mueller's motor theory into Bain's psychology, the union of sensory-motor physiology with associationism is in principle, complete. After Bain, associationism turned directly to physiological experiments. Warren points out that the linking of motor phenomena to the traditional issue of sensation by Bain 'justifies he investigation of physiological processes by association psychologists. In Hartley the reference to brain activity is rather an analogy brought in from another science. With Bain it admits of translation into psychological terms, and thus interpreted it forms an integral part of psychology'.[l] Murphy adds that 'In Bain we have for the first time physiological explanations sufficiently elaborate to be taken seriously. The psychologist was beginning to think of experimental physiology as fundamental to his science'.[2] In fact, Bain set a precedent with his chapter on the nervous system. Although the psychological sections of his Logic had little to say on the subject, Mill immediately grasped the importance of Bain's new departure and said that

. . no rational person can doubt the closeness of the connexion between functions of the nervous system and the phenomena of mind, nor can think any exposition of the mind satisfactory, into which that connexion does not enter as a prominent feature.[3]

No matter how little relevance it had to the rest of the work or how little it actually explained the psychological processes under discussion, future writers almost invariably included a chapter on the structure and physiology of the nervous system. By 1873 the force of this precedent clear enough to lead Ribot to say,

Every study of experimental psychology, whose object is the exact description of facts, and research into their laws, must henceforth set out with a physiological exposition, that of the nervous system. Mr Bain has done this, and also Mr. Herbert Spencer (in his latest edition of the Principles of Psychology),

1 Warren, 1921, p. 167

2 Murphy, 1949, p. 105

3 Mill, 1867, p. 110.



This is the obligatory point of departure, not resulting from a passing fashion, but from nature itself, because the existence of a nervous system being the condition of psychological life, we must return to the source, and show how the phenomena of mental activity graft themselves upon the more general manifestations of physical life.[1]

Almost to the present day, students of psychology have been encouraged to know something about the nervous system and have felt vaguely ignorant if they did not. Bain's integration gave psychology the sensory-motor paradigm that was later elaborated into the reflex basis for most psychological theorizing. It was not until the second quarter of the present century that some justification arose for a knowledge of physiology so that the student felt specifically ignorant if he knew nothing of its findings.

Boring rightly remarked that Bain 'represented the culmination of associationism and the beginning of its absorption into physiological psychology'.[2] The associationist tradition had moved from Locke's physiological agnosticism to a sensory-motor psychophysiology, and from a passive sensationalism (equivocal in Locke, explicit in Condillac) to an emphasis on activity as a primary psychophysiological fact. The nature of the association psychology had changed radically from an epistemological science to a psychophysical science of feeling, knowing, and willing. The early associationists had neglected motion because of an overriding interest in how we come to know. The assumption was that we learn through sensory experience. Bain showed that knowing was the result of experiences consequent upon doing. Once an important role had been found for motion in learning, interest in the topic naturally spread to behaviour itself. The new biological context for associationism (which was beginning to manifest itself in Spencer's work on psychology which appeared in the same year as Bain's first book and in Charles Darwin's work which appeared simultaneously with Bain's second book) greatly advanced the development of an interest in behaviour and the adaptation of organisms to their environments. Still, it is Bain who has been credited with being ‘the principal agent in putting psychology among the natural sciences'.[3] Once it was there, it had to find its proper place, and the evolutionists supplied that.

In 1868 there was one major impediment to the full integration of the association psychology with sensory-motor physiology: the cerebral hemispheres. The intellect and its cerebral substrate were still set apart.

In Mueller, for example, the will somehow 'played on' lower centres.

1 Ribot, 1873, p. 198.

2 Boring, 1950, p. 236.

3 Brett, 1953, p. 643.



The analysis of intellectual phenomena was not an extension of his motor theory. Instead, he devoted a separate part of his treatise to mind. Given his earlier analysis much of it was redundant, and the significant fact is that he did not grasp this. Nor did Bain, who attempts a much closer integration of psychology and physiology. He sets out to examine each fact of mental life from both its psychological and its physiological aspect, yet when he comes to the cerebral cortices he draws back.

In order to extend the sensory-motor view to the cortex, it was necessary to integrate the work of the associationists, as enriched by Bain, with clinical findings about brain diseases and to have available new experimental results which eliminated the anomaly whereby the cortex, alone among nervous structures, was unresponsive to irritation. Such findings would naturally combine easily with the groundwork laid by Magendie, Mueller, and Bain and eliminate the duality of sensory-motor function on the one hand and intellect and will on the other. In the decade 1860-1870, Broca and Fritsch and Hitzig provided the findings, and Jackson (basing his ideas on the conceptions of Spencer and Bain) provided their sensory-motor context in the cortex itself. Jackson's chief target would be the dualism in the theories of the major figures in experimental physiology beginning with Flourens.

Bain on Phrenology and the Study of Character

The sources of Bain's specific doctrines should be clear from the foregoing analysis: his associationism came from Hartley and the Mills, and his physiology partly from French and German sources (primarily Flourens and Mueller) and partly from the English works of Carpenter, Sharpey, and Todd and Bowman. However, one would also like to know how he first became interested in psychology and how he arrived at the position that a close integration between psychology and physiology was of fundamental importance. Unfortunately, Bain is not very forthcoming about the development of his ideas. His Autobiography is concerned with dates and events more than with ideas and their significance. Nevertheless, the evidence that is available points to phrenology as an important source of his interest in psychology and in its integration with physiology. His first contact with psychology was through phrenology. He studied George Combe's Constitution of Man at the Mechanics' Mutual Instruction Class in Aberdeen for two or three years, beginning in 1835, when he was seventeen. Phrenology was then in full flower in Edinburgh and had some votaries in Aberdeen.[1]

1 Bain, 1904, pp. 27-8.



Bain reports that he was involved in controversy about the supposed materialism of phrenology, but says no more. He also mentions George Combe and Robert Chambers[l] as members of his circle of acquaintances in Edinburgh between 1844 and 1850, and describes a visit with James Straton, a friend who was a phrenologist and was experimenting with head measurement.[2] This would be little evidence were it not for the fact that Bain also wrote a book on phrenology. The fact that he wrote the book attests to his continuing interest in the subject, and its contents provide useful information about Bain's development, and an excellent opportunity to contrast the position of associationism with that of phrenology.

One would like to have much more evidence before drawing a firm conclusion, but what is available suggests that phrenology provided the stimulus which led Bain to attempt an integration between psychology and physiology. He says in his work on character,

It is a fact not to be disputed that the systems of Reid, Stewart, Brown, and indeed of metaphysical writers generally, took little or no account of the nervous system and its connexion with our mental manifestations. It is also equally true that, notwithstanding occasional references on the part of physiologists and others to the connexion of mind with bodily members, the phrenologists were the first to bring forward in a prominent manner, and to defend against assailants of every kind, the doctrine that the mind is essentially dependent, in all its manifestations, on the brain, being more vigorous as that is more fully developed, and dwindling under cerebral deficiency or disease. They have marshalled an array of facts in support of this position so formidable and cogent as almost to silence opposition. When they began their labours, it was not, as now, 'admitted as the result of all observations, and a fact on which nearly all physiologists are agreed, that the brain is the part of the body by means of which all the powers or faculties of the mind are manifested'.[3]

It should already be clear that neither the psychology nor the physiology which he employed were those advocated by phrenology. In fact, they were the approaches which Gall vehemently opposed. Nevertheless, the importance of the relationship between the two disciplines does seem to have been appreciated primarily as a result of Gall's work and its popularization by Spurzheim and George Combe.

It would be extremely useful to know why Bain wrote On the Study of

1 See below, p. 162; Chambers (1844) 1884; cf. Millhauser, 1959.

2 Bain, 1904, pp. 28, 215, 237-8. He also read George and Andrew Combe's books on health. Ibid., pp. 50, 90.

3 Bain, 1861, p. 16.



Character, Including an Estimate of Phrenologv (1861). His Autobiography says only that his (very rigid) plan of work was to follow the volume on The Emotions and the Will with a study of the subject of character, 'to be discussed according to the psychological views set forth in my two volumes. This was begun at once, and carried on continuously during 1859 and next year'.[1] He relates that 'a thorough criticism of phrenology' was part of his plan and that he consulted a phrenological library in Edinburgh. There is no hint about how he came to write the book. Instead, he reports the incidents surrounding the publication of half the study in Fraser's Magazine, its completion and publication in book form, its slow sale and his unwillingness to recast or reprint it.[2]

Haldane says that Bain was 'led by Mill to make a special study of the philosophy of George Combe',[3] but I have seen no explicit confirmation of this by Bain or J. S. Mill. However, it is not at all unlikely in the light of their relationship and the similarity of their views and aims. In his Logic, Mill calls for a science of character, to be called 'Ethology'. Its laws are to be derived from the 'Laws of Mind' as investigated by the associationists.[4] Mill did not attempt to spell out the details of such a science. As Roback says, 'it cannot be said that he contributed much in the way of furthering our knowledge about character, thus reminding us in this respect of Francis Bacon, who, with all his programmes for discoveries, was not able to bring out a single new scientific result'.[5] Since he deferred to Bain in matters of psychology, it would be natural for him to encourage his protégé to undertake a critical examination of phrenology from a psychological point of view. He praised William Carpenter for undertaking the same job with respect to the physiological claims of phrenology.[6] Mill's opposition to phrenology was also indicated in his Logic and later in his work on Comte.[7] It may be that Bain's interest in phrenology was reinforced by the interest which Mill had taken in the topic in his correspondence with Comte. Mill introduced Bain to Comte's writings (which contained an enthusiastic treatment of Gall), and Bain later met Comte in Paris.[8] However, Bain's references to Comte make no mention of phrenology. The only mention of the work I have seen in Mill's writings is a letter to Bain written in 1859. 'It is very pleasant to hear that you will be ready with the discussion of Phrenology and the science of character by next spring. . I expect to learn a good deal from it,

1 Bain, 1904, pp. 256-7.

2 Ibid., pp. 259-60.

3 Haldane, 1912, pp. 79-80.

4 See below, pp. 164-5.

5 Roback, 3rd ed., 1952, p. 142.

6 See below, pp. 164-5.

7 Ibid.

8 Bain, 1904, pp. 112, 145, 150, 153-7, 223-4, 241.



and to be helped by it in anything I may hereafter write on Ethology-a subject I have long wished to take up, at least in the form of Essays, but have never yet felt myself sufficiently prepared.'[l] The brief historical review with which Bain introduces the book concludes with a reference to Mill's proposal and points out that 'Such a science cannot be said to exist at the present time’.[2] A final piece of evidence linking the conception of the work with Mill is the fact that Bain's approach to the study of character follows almost exactly the programme laid down by Mill-to deduce the laws of character from the laws of mind.[3]

Whatever the origins of the work, Bain is unequivocal in expressing the importance of phrenology in making the study of character a serious topic in psychology and in attempting to establish principles for its understanding. He begins his preface with a tribute to phrenology.

The present work is intended, if possible, to reanimate the interest in the analytical study of human character, which was considerably awakened by the attention drawn to phrenology, and which seems to have declined with the comparative neglect of that study at the present time. . . . Our further progress in the knowledge of character must proceed in great part from more searching inquiries into the human mind. Phrenology, notwithstanding its onesidedness, has done good service, by showing with more emphasis than had ever been done before, that human beings are widely different in their mental tastes and aptitudes, and by affording a scheme for representing and classifying the points of character, which is in many respects an improvement upon the common mode of describing individual differences.[4]

He speaks of phrenology as 'the only System of Character hitherto elaborated',[5] and sets out to examine it. His comments are based on a careful reading of George Combe's System of Phrenology, on familiarity with the writings of Gall and Spurzheim, and on some articles in the Phrenological Journal.

What Bain proposes to do is extremely simple in conception. He wants to show that the phrenological faculties are not the ultimate determinants of character and that a true science of character can be deduced from the laws of association, the pleasure-pain principle, and his own primitive mental elements.

It is the aim of the present discussion to bring out..... the necessity of a distinct examination of the mind itself, by the methods of self-consciousness, observations, and physiology combined, in order to constitute a mental philosophy. The affirmation to be proved is that phrenology, as hitherto

1 Mill, 1910, I, 226.

2 Bain, 1861, p. 13.

3 See below, p. 164.

4 Bain, 1861, p. v.

5 Ibid., p. vi.



exhibited, is at best but a science of character, and NOT a science of mind, as pretended; and that even as a science of character it is essentially dependent upon the degree of improvement realized by the science of mind independently cultivated.[l]

The science of mind which he evisages is diametrically opposed to Gall's conception of psychology. It is concerned with mind in general.

The SCIENCE OF MIND, properly so called, unfolds the mechanism of our common mental constitutions. Adverting but slightly in the first instance to the differences between one man and another, it endeavours to give a full account of the internal mechanism that we all possess alike-of the sensations and emotions, intellectual faculties and volitions, of which we are every one of us conscious. By an effort of self-examination, the primary instrument of the psychological inquirer, we discriminate these, one from the rest, classify those that resemble, and find out which of them appear simple and which compound. We pay special attention to the distinction between the primitive and the acquired powers, and study with minuteness and care the processes of education and acquisition. We look at the laws whereby sensations are transformed into ideas, and thoughts give rise to other thoughts; in other words, the operations of Intelligence have a chapter devoted to themselves. The obscure processes of the Will can be divined only by laborious introspection; the observation of other minds (children and animals especially) although also an important instrument, needs a constant reference to self as the interpreter of what is indicated. Thus the elements of Feeling, and Intelligence, and Activity, common to us all, are laid out in systematic detail; and thereby we pave the way for that study of their various degrees of development in individual minds, constituting individual characters. Of course, while engaged in the complicated problem of the conscious states-the laws and processes-of universal mind, we are liable to drop out of view the individual differences, perhaps even to overlook them so far as to misstate their amount; and may hence incur just rebuke on that score from those who look specially at the neglected side of the case. Still, that part of the work has to be well done at the peril of leaving everything undone.[2]

This passage is an epitome of the argument of the associationists against the claims of phrenology.

Bain's approach to phrenology is quite methodical.

In proceeding now to criticize in order the thirty-five or thirty-eight faculties as laid out in the phrenological chart, the main object is to discover how far these are well-defined and separate principles of our nature, how far they are ultimate principles, and whether, taken as a whole, they render a complete account of the known powers belonging to our mental constitution. Unless a

1 Bain, 1861, p. 29.

2 Ibid., pp. 29-30.



faculty be definite in itself and distinct from every other, and be at the same time one of the primitive components of the mind, the observations alleged in favour of its connexion with a specific locality in the brain are nugatory.[1]

He proceeds to provide a more or less detailed commentary on each of the faculties in Combe's System. His remarks are far from systematic, and a careful reading of the one hundred and twenty-five pages he devotes to the phrenological faculties involves no surprises. Almost every faculty can either be reduced to some feature of Bain's own system or some (usually purely verbal) agreement can be found between the respective points of view. Those which cannot be easily accommodated are considered not proven. Some of his transformations are very far-fetched indeed. For example, six or seven of the phrenological faculties, including the senses of Form, Size, Locality, and Order are reduced to some aspect of 'the ocular sensibility, optical and muscular'.[2] The possible participation of other sensory modalities or intellectual functions is simply ignored. Bain's general criticisms of phrenology are exactly those which would be expected: insufficient appreciation of the role of the senses;[3] too much stress on innate tendencies at the expense of experience, acquisitions, and environment;[4] and lack of rigour in applying the standards of evidence for correlative studies.[5]

Bain's attack on the respective phrenological faculties is sufficiently confident and deprecatory that one would expect him not to take the field unless he had something very much better to offer. The constructive side of the book begins promisingly.

Having criticised at considerable length the only scheme of Human Character that has hitherto been elaborated in a manner proportioned to the subject, I mean now to present another scheme, which appears to me more in accordance with the present state of our knowledge of the human constitution. The basis of what I propose is the threefold division of mind into Emotion, Volition, and Intellect; and for certain important reasons, the element of Spontaneous, or Innate Activity, characteristic of Volition or Will, will be taken first in order.[6]

Now, it appears to me that we cannot make a better start in classifying and describing the elements of character, than by taking note of the degrees and varieties of this inborn energy, the manner of its display, and the practical consequences flowing from it. Manifesting itself, as it does, in a certain definite amount, before either the feelings or the intelligence come in to modify the current, we ought to endeavour to characterize it in its purity, or isolation, so far as we are able. We shall then be prepared to appreciate

1 Bain, 1861, p. 48.

2 Ibid., pp. 147-50; 155-8; 177.

3 Ibid., pp. 178-9.

4 Ibid., pp. 189-90.

5 Ibid., pp. 59-60.

6 Ibid., p. 191.



the compound effects that arise, when feelings and purposes come in to control it.[1]

Thus, Bain argues, each individual has as a basic determinant of his character a given amount of spontaneous energy. He complains that the phrenologists had 'broken up and dispersed in the most irregular way the great fact of our spontaneous energy, which lies at the basis of will, and determines the strength or weakness of our active impulses generally. The consequence is, that nearly the very same language is used in describing the faculties of organs lying apart from each other'. The result was that they had obscured a fundamental feature of character by spreading it among the faculties of Concentrativeness, Combativeness, Firmness, Self-esteem, and Veneration.[2] Bain argues that the direction of the spontaneous energy of the will is at the service of feeling or emotion, which prompts the spontaneous energy to increased efforts and guides it into specific channels.[3] The basic determinants of the direction of activity are the experiences of pleasure and pain. The 'most essential nature of a sentient being' is 'to move to pleasure and from pain'.[4] He thus bodily transfers his theory of activity from his earlier work and attempts to use it to account for more or less 'energetic' individuals.

Bain's analysis of the emotions is extremely disappointing. His list of the 'special emotions' is a pot-pourri of the psychological, philosophical, and physiological issues of the day, and any attempts to make a coherent position from its disparate parts consistently fail. His catalogue of primitive emotions is as follows:[5]

1. Muscular Exercise

2. Sex

3. Organic Sensibility

4. Special Senses: Taste, Smell, Touch, Hearing, Sight

5. Wonder

6. Terror and Courage

7. Tender Emotion: Affection

8. Self-Love, Self-Esteem, Self-Complacency, Egotism

9. Love of Power

10. Irascibility

11. Emotion of Pursuit-Plot Interest


1 Bain, 1861, p. 192.

2 Ibid., p. 117.

3 Ibid., p. 204.

4 Ibid., p. 292.

5 Ibid., pp. 219-53.



12. Sympathy

13. Fine Art or Aesthetic Emotion

Even his most ardent supporters cannot find a good word for this aspect of Bain's work. Ribot considers it 'the weakest portion' of his doctrine.[1] The harsher opinions of Mill and Spencer will be considered below.[2] Bain approaches the classification by using what he calls the 'Natural History Method'.[3] However, the 'nature' which he consults is the writings of philosophers, the biographies of famous men, and his own experience. He admits that there is no sure basis of classification as there was with the senses[4] and argues that 'Our own consciousness, formerly reckoned the only medium of knowledge to the mental philosopher, must therefore be still referred to as a principal means of discriminating the varieties of human feeling'.[5]

As long as the association psychology continued to rely on individual experience and the subtleties of philosophical arguments it failed in its investigations of emotional phenomena. Where Bain was far in advance of Gall in his close attention to controlled experiments in physiology, he apparently ignored Gall's injunction that 'The most sublime intelligence will never be able to find in a closet, what exists only in the vast field of nature',[6] where mental phenomena were concerned. In fact the point was not clearly grasped until the work in animal psychology that followed Spencer's evolutionary biology, and it was not even tentatively applied to the subject of individual differences in humans until the appearance of Galton's work in 1883.[7] As long as psychology was conducted as mental philosophy it had no hope of obtaining the data necessary for the understanding of emotional phenomena. Bain's union of mental science with physiology might well have offered more, but it did not fulfil its promises. It was not until psychology began to be seen as a biological science (as a result of the work of Darwin and Spencer) that the 'Natural History Method' obtained a firm foundation and began to be applied to the domain of the behaviour of organisms.

The stronghold of the association psychology has always been the analysis of intellectual phenomena, and it is here that Bain sets out most confidently. Where Gall had rejected speculative, normative faculties only to substitute a faculty psychology of his own, Bain set out to dispose of faculties altogether. He introduced The Senses and the

1 Ribot, 1873, pp. 225, 209.

2 P. 182. Cf. pp. 183-6.

3 Bain, 1859, p. iii.

4 Ibid., p. 56.

5 Ibid., p. 57.

6 Gall, 1835, V, 317.

7 See Allport, 1937, p. 94.



Intellect with the claim that 'In treating of the Intellect, the subdivision into faculties is abandoned. The exposition proceeds entirely on the Laws of Association, which are exemplified with minute detail and followed out into a variety of applications'.[l] Stewart had attempted a compromise and argued that the association of ideas is a faculty on an equal footing with the traditional ones. Bain's reply is that 'The Association of Ideas, if good for anything, is competent to supersede Memory, Reason, Imagination, etc., by explaining all the phenomena that they severally imply. It cannot, therefore, be co-ordinate with these powers'.[2] The phrenologists had also been remiss in their treatment of the association of ideas, 'That great fact of the mind, so unaccountably slurred over by Phrenology'.[3]

When Bain spells out his scheme to replace the faculties, he lays down an alternative division. 'The primary attributes of Intellect are (1) Consciousness of Difference, (2) Consciousness of Agreement, and (3)Retentiveness. Every properly intellectual function involves one or more of these attributes and nothing else'.[4] However, in the details of his analysis it becomes clear that he has not replaced faculties but merely amended their classification. Each of his properties of intellect functions as a power or faculty in his descriptions of character. (In his work on character, he refers to 'Difference' as 'Discrimination' and 'Agreement' as 'Similarity'.) 'It will be remembered that three great facts, or properties, are implied in our intellectual nature, viz., Discrimination, Retentiveness, and Similarity.',[5] Quotation of passages in which each of these is discussed as a power or faculty should serve to demonstrate the point at issue.

The first, Discrimination, is essentially local: no one has a power of discrimination in the general or the abstract; it is in some one or more departments of Sensation, etc., that we are remarkable in this respect. The two other powers are, in all probability, general.[6]

The principle named Similarity has long been known as a law of the human mind; but it is only of late that any one has adverted to it as constituting, by its variations of degree, a trait of character. It was seen by Aristotle that, in reviving ideas or experiences formerly possessed by us, one link, or medium of restoration, is a likeness of those past states to some one now actually present; as when a copy recals [sic] an original, or a child reminds us of the parent that it resembles. And when closely investigated, it

1 Bain, 1855, p. vi.

2 Bain, 1894, p. 696.

3 Bain, 1861, p. 266.

4 Bain, 1875, p. 82. Cf. Bain, 1861, pp. 254-280; 325 ff.

5 Bain, 1861, p. 325.

6 Ibid.



appears that the important instances of the operation of similarity, in resuscitating former experiences, are those where the likeness is accompanied with unlikeness, which unlikeness is a bar to the stroke of recovery. It is then seen, that some minds are distinguished by their power of breaking through this barrier, so as to make out an identity undiscoverable by other minds. The reach of the identifying stroke, which recovers from the past the whole range of objects having any resemblance to what is before the view, or in the mind, at the time, is a peculiarity of the intellect radically distinct from both Discrimination and Retention. When this is feeble, the principal power of recovery is what is called 'Contiguity', or proximity in place and time, a link forged purely by the plastic or retentive energy of the mind.[l] . . . it will be found that it is in the third power of the intellect, and not in Discrimination or Retentiveness, that a tendency exists to break through the formulas of use and wont, and bring together for the first time things that lay far remote before.[2]

In discussing Pope's poetry, he says, 'We have here still a profuse employment of the power of Similarity in adducing lively illustrations, not only with very little force to instruct the mind, but with a tendency to distort the truth'.[3] He compares this with the more scientific mind of Bishop Butler, whose method is to observe and compare human experiences, till he find what he thinks a consistent representation of the general character of each passion. His identifying faculty was employed to obtain truth, like a man of science in any other walk. Remove from his mind this as a foremost end; give him the local susceptibilities to colour and form, to words, cadence, and metre; and the same reach of the identifying faculty would have emerged in a poet.[4]

Bain's concept of Retentiveness is the most blatant faculty in his 'non-faculty' psychology. He constantly refers to it as a power,[5] and explicitly identifies it as the general faculty of memory which had been rejected by the phrenologists. He says, 'It is at this point that Phrenology and Psychology part company for good'.[6] He supposes a 'general quality of retentiveness in each individual mind, affecting all its perceptions, whether more or less acutely discriminated'.[7] In his discussion of 'universal learners', individuals who excel at any learning task to which they apply themselves, he says,

The Phrenologists would assign to such a large and equal development of all the Perceptive Faculties-Tune, Time, Colour, Number, etc.-and thus avoid the recognition of the general property. In the mean time, however,

1 Bain, 1861, p. 326.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., p. 344.

4 Ibid

5 E.g. Ibid., pp. 121-2, 186 ff, 283, 285, 307-8.

6 Ibid., p. 261.

7 Ibid., p. 262.



I prefer the other view, as better calculated to keep a hold of all the known facts, and because the subject of acquisition is thereby put into its due prominence, as a department of the human mind.[l]

Retentiveness is no doubt greatest where local sensibility, as shown by discrimination, is greatest; but we have reason to believe that this may be a general characteristic of the mind, and when it is so, extent of acquisition is the consequence. In fact, it is the occasional existence of the tendency to large and various acquirements, that leads us to assume Retentiveness as a quality unequally manifested in different minds, and therefore a proper basis of classification of character. In its utmost developments, this power exactly corresponds to what we have named Talent, and put into contrast with Genius, being the power of taking on at all hands whatever is brought before us.[2]

Ribot argues that Bain succeeds in reducing intellectual phenomena to a single law; 'that to imagine, to deduct, to induct, to perceive, etc., is to combine ideas in a definite manner; and that the differences of faculties are only differences of association.’[3] It should be clear that Bain accomplishes nothing of the sort. The most that can be argued is that he reduces the list of faculties to three. Two are hypostatized laws of association, and the third is the faculty of memory conceived in a manner that is not essentially different from the medieval faculty.

One's judgement of Bain's attempt to build a science of character from the materials described above must be harsh. He argues that 'natural or spontaneous Activity, Feeling, and Intellect exhaust the mind,[4] and bases three fundamental character types on this classification: the active nature,[5] the emotional nature,[6] and the intellectual.[7] Various subcharacteristics and talents are based on his list of special emotions. The resulting descriptions are pale shadows of individual human beings and bear little relation to the complex attributes of real men. The original part of the work consists of rambling reflections and anecdotes about great personages who illustrate or 'prove' particular aspects of his characterology. If Bain could fairly criticize the phrenologists' standards of evidence, his own deserve contempt. The range of his data is restricted to the biographies of great men, anecdotes about nations and races, and his own introspections. There are no original observations of the behaviour of other men and no comparative data. The tone is moral and exhortative as much as descriptive.

When an extremely intelligent man whose other writings reveal a mind which is at home in careful analysis and systematic presentation

1 Bain, 1861, pp. 262-3.

2 Ibid., p. 325.

3 Ribot, 1873, p. 212.

4 Bain, 1861, p. 119.

5 Ibid., pp. 192 ff.

6 Ibid., pp. 204-18.

7 Ibid., pp. 254-344. Cf. Ribot, 1873, p. 254.



writes a rambling and incoherent book, this fact must be explained, and the explanation is likely to be very enlightening. Bain was certain that the phrenological analysis of character was inadequate. This is an unexceptionable judgement, but when he set out to improve on it he foundered. The analysis which he so confidently put forward in his systematic treatise simply did not account for the facts of character. One suspects that after he wrote On the Study of Character, he grasped this. Thus, the less said about the book the better. His own treatment of it certainly supports this suspicion. His later writings contain no reference to the book or to the subject of character. That his mentor probably shared Bain's evaluation may be inferred from Mill's failure to mention Bain's work on character in later editions of the Logic, though he was generous in praise of Bain's work in logic,[1] in psychology,[2] and in helping to edit a new edition of James Mill's Analysis.[3] It is precisely because the book was an abysmal failure that it points out how woefully inadequate the association psychology was for providing the elements of a science of character and personality. When one sets about resynthetizing the elements which result from the analyses of associationists, the product simply does not resemble the experience and the individuals we know in our every day lives. As Bain himself says, when we are preoccupied with 'universal mind, we are liable to drop out of view the individual differences'.[4] This admission undermines the whole conception of a psychology of character: its domain is the explanation of individual differences. If its normative categories cannot be translated into differential criteria, it has failed. Bain's debacle should have shown this conclusively, but the modern heirs of the association psychology have yet to learn it. The closer links with biology which were forged by Darwin, Spencer, and their followers promised a psychology of organisms, including man, as they live their lives in their environments, but the modern associationists or behaviourists have departed considerably from this approach and reverted to an attempt to deduce a science of character from the association of simple reflex elements. Condillac could not reproduce a real man from simple sensory elements, Bain did no better with his associated sensory and motor elements, and the best that can be said of current attempts is that the road ahead appears very long indeed.[5]

1 Mill, 1872, p. vi.

2 Ibid., p. 557.

3 Ibid

4 Bain, 1861. p. 30

5 My conclusions about the science of character advocated by Mill and attempted by Bain closely parallel the judgements of Ward and Allport. As to its deductive approach: 'We may safely count it as one of the curiosities of speculation that an empiricist of so extreme a type as Mill, who cannot be sure that there is not a world somewhere where two plus two equals five, and a world, if so we may call it, somewhere else, in which causes have no place, should yet believe in the possibility of an a priori science of character that can deduce universal laws from the truths of psychology, originally ascertained, as he insists they must be, from observation and experiment'. (James Ward, quoted in Roback, 1952, p. 146.) As to its equipment for explaining character 'What causal principles did psychology at the time of Mill have to offer? When this question is asked it becomes clear immediately why Ethology made no advance for fifty years after Mill published his program. Associationism, the principle by which fragmentary states of consciousness aroused other fragmentary states, was the sole "(explanatory" tool of psychology, and woefully inadequate to account for the galaxy of human interests, motives, conflicts, and passions which are the essential forces in the formation of character. Psychology in Mill's time was intellectualistic, Apollonian, and not until the influences of Schopenhauer, Darwin, Freud, and McDougall had altered its point of view radically, training its vision upon the irrational motives of men, were the premises sufficiently complete to permit a realization of Mill's proposal.' (Allport, 1937, p. 87.)



Bain had a novel and far-sighted grasp of the importance of bringing the objective results of experimental physiology to bear on the laws of mind. His emphasis on activity and behaviour was also a very significant advance. The other aspects of his work, however, were an expression of traditional methods and conceptions which were being made obsolete in the same years that he first published them. Thus, his work points two ways: forward to an experimental psychophysiology, and backward to the method of introspection and opposition to the important applications of his own conceptions by the experimental physiologists whose work he had deliberately set out to influence[1]

1 Bain's role in the development of functional psychology and pragmatist philosophy deserves further study. C. S. Peirce said that pragmatism is 'scarce more than a corollary' to Bain's definition of belief (which, in turn, is based on Bain's emphasis on action). Peirce called Bain 'the grandfather of pragmatism'. (Wiener, 1949, p. 19, etc.) See below p. 195.

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