What follows are excerpts from the book



(Eighth edition – 1847)

Personal introduction: Note the excerpts here pertain to the state of condition of the human condition, and is simply an observation from George Combe in 1847, in an attempt to point out relationships to physical law, or nature’s law, or God’s law, or spiritual law, or fill-in-any-name-you-desire-here.

I would argue the state of the human condition, as is the condition of the entire universe, is by absolute calculation, and not by happenstance whatsoever. Call its reason what you will, but it does not change the law, that is responsible for our own consequence, and is to whatever degree we act on what we understand it correctly to be. Only to say, to the degree we are acting toward it or against it, in favor of or away from the coarse of nature, is ultimately what determines our fate. Again, our fate is not by happenstance.

The world us awash  with “beliefs and feelings”, but then there is “physical action”, that is the cause that can have nothing else but its relative effect, in this case on mankind’s condition, and that effect will be to the very degree what we believe and feel is true or not, derived by reason and logic of the cause and effect of what we observe in nature, so governed by the law of nature.

I am NOT in total agreement here with George Combe’s understanding of his observations, such as a supreme being, or what he understands to be obedience, but it makes no difference, only that he is observing profound, simple, inescapable, supreme order by whatever reason, and is attempting to point out what he sees as true and inescapable, regardless, by cause and effect.

I would recommend at least a skimming through his short book (link below) for more insights. I contend that accurately understanding nature’s law to even a small degree will enable you to see through the myriad of events today, that is the decline and decay of the human condition at this time in our history (again), that is all for the very same reason (again), only because of our ignorance of acting against natural law, or acting toward what cannot be.

It is why the act of physical “force” against another, by any name or good intention, can and will have only its relative, negative consequence by obsolute, physical, mathematical reason. It can have no other, because force is required only under certain conditions, that are naturally meant to deter co-operation for a physical reason, although would contend that George Combe was not there yet in his thinking, but this may wet your appetite.

The following are unedited portions of his book — bold emphasis are mine.

~ ~ ~


…In England and Scotland, a higher natural endowment of mind in the people, and more favourable circumstances, have led to the infusion of a certain amount of secular instruction into the schools for religious teaching; but among the Irish peasantry, for many generations, the priest alone was the instructor. Instruction in the natural order of God’s Providence cultivates habits of correct observation of things which exist, of just appreciation of the effects of their qualities and modes of action, and of forethought and consideration regarding the adaptation of our own conduct to their influences. Purely doctrinal teaching, that is, the cultivation of Wonder, Hope, and Veneration, as the leading emotions, fills the mind with fearful or sublime contemplations and aspirations, having their issues chiefly in eternity; and as these doctrines appeal to faith more than to reason, they do not cultivate habits of exact observation and reflection on this world’s laws and constitution. They do not necessarily direct the attention of the mind to the proper arrangement and administration of secular affairs in conformity with the laws by which they are governed; but divert it away from them, and concentrate it beyond them in regions of eternal misery, or of glory and bliss. Ireland has been taught according to these principles, and her people are embued with them; yet, because this world is an existing reality, instituted and governed by God according to laws adapted by Him to its present condition, and be-


cause man has been fashioned by Him in relation to it, and required by his constitution to act in intelligent accordance with its qualities and agencies, and because much of this department of Divine teaching has been neglected in the education of the people of Ireland,—they present the spectacle of poverty and ignorance, and of crime and misery, which now appals the world. Again, therefore, I venture to repeat, that an important use of the religious sentiments is to lead men to study, venerate, and obey, God’s secular institutions; and until they have done their duty in this department, it is an abuse to employ them so exclusively as has been done in expatiating in the fields of eternity.

The advocates of the inherent moral disorder, of the world, however, will probably point to history and to the actual condition of the human race in every country of the globe, as affording demonstrative evidence that this supposed moral government is a dream. The past and present sufferings of mankind cannot be disputed: but I ask, In what age, and in what nation, have the religious instructors of the people been believers in an actual practical moral government of the world by God? Where and when have they expounded the natural arrangements by means of which this government is accomplished? And when and where have they directed the religious sentiments of the people to reverence and obey the natural laws as the roads that lead to secular virtue and prosperity? Ever since the promulgation of Christianity, has any nation discovered, and practically fulfilled the natural conditions by which the precepts of this religion are supported and enforced? Not one example is known of such conduct :—need we, therefore, be surprised at the results being such as history discloses and we perceive? The evidence of past and


present experience certainly demonstrates that mankind, by shutting their eyes to the order of Providence in the world, by trampling the dictates of morality and religion under foot, and by seeking prosperity and happiness under the guidance of their selfish animal propensities, have never realized the objects of their desires; but it does not prove that no scheme of moral government adapted to their nature exists. It shews that they have not discovered such a scheme; but neither had they discovered the steam-engine, railroads, nor the effects of sulphuric ether, until a very recent date. They have been, and generally speaking continue to be, ignorant of their own nature;—of the adaptations of the external world to its constitution;—of the principles on which the order of nature is framed; and of their own capabilities of conforming to it; and hence many of their sufferings may be accounted for; hut the requisite discoveries may be made, and indeed have been partially made, and all experience shews that human happiness has increased in proportion to obedience to the natural laws. The most intelligent, moral, and industrious nations are the most prosperous and happy; the most ignorant, idle, self-seeking, turbulent, and aggressive, are the most miserable and poor. These undeniable facts afford strong indications that a moral government of the world by natural laws exists; and if it does so, is not the discovery of its scheme an important study claiming the serious attention of man? I cannot too often repeat that unless the Christian morality be sustained and enforced by the order of nature, it is in vain to teach it as a rule of conduct in secular affairs. And how can this study be commenced and prosecuted, how can new truths be turned to practical account, except by reverencing Nature and her


adaptations as Divine institutions-teaching them to the young-and enforcing them by the authority of the moral and religious sentiments? If man be a moral and intellectual being, it appears not to be inconsistent with this character to have constituted his mind and body and nature, in harmony with each other, and to have left him, in the exercise of his discretion, to work out, to a considerable extent, his own weal or woe. The fact that he, through ignorance and the misapplication of his powers, has hitherto experienced much misery, affords no conclusive evidence, that by more extensive knowledge, and more strict obedience to the laws of his nature, he may not greatly improve his condition.

In supporting these views, I beg to be understood as leaving the Scripture doctrines relating to eternity, altogether to clerical superintendence. To maintain that the precepts of Christianity, in relation to human conduct in this world, are in harmony with, and supported by, the ordinary course of God’s providence, and that they can never become practical until the reality of their being so is demonstrated to the understandings, and recommended to the moral and religious sentiments, of the people, can be objected to by those only who find a difficulty in reconciling their peculiar dogmas to such propositions. In the words of Archbishop Whately, “Revelation may be compared to a telescope, which brings within our view things beyond the reach of the naked eye; but which no more supersedes the use of eyes than revelation does the use of reason and which, again, if it be a good telescope, does not distort or discolour such objects as do lie within the reach of unaided sight. Even so, Revelation, though going beyond what Reason could alone discover from


a view of the created universe, will never contradict the perceived laws of that universe. A pretended revelation would be proved not to be a true one, if it were at variance with the laws by which the Maker of the universe governs it.”—(“Essay on Christian Self-Denial ,” and in other works.)



[page] CONCLUSION. 449

MORALS and RELIGION, cannot assume a systematic and thoroughly practical character, until the elementary faculties of the mind, and their relations to the external creation be discovered and taught.

It is presumable that the Deity, in creating these powers and the external world, really adapted the one to the other and that individuals and nations, in obeying the dictates of the natural laws must, in every in-

[page] CONCLUSION. 450

stance, be promoting their best interests, while, in departing from them, they must be sacrificing these to passion or to illusory notions of advantage. But, until the nature of man, and the relationship between it and the external world, shall be scientifically ascertained, and systematically expounded, it will be impossible to support morality by the powerful demonstration that interest coincides with it, and to render religion practical, by shewing that all nature is in harmony with the sentiment of veneration in the mind. The tendency in most men to view expediency as not always coincident with justice, affords a striking proof of the limited knowledge of the constitution of man and the external world still existing in society.

The PROFESSION, PURSUITS, HOURS OF EXERTION, and AMUSEMENTS of individuals, should also bear reference to their physical and mental constitution; but hitherto no guiding principle has been possessed, to regulate practice in these important particulars—another evidence that the science of man has been unknown.

In consequence of the want of a philosophy of man, there is little harmony between the different departments of human pursuit. God is one; and as He is intelligent, benevolent, and powerful, we may reasonably conclude that creation is one harmonious system, in which the physical is adapted to the moral, the moral to the physical, and every department of these grand divisions to the whole. But at present, many principles clearly revealed by philosophy are impracticable because the institutions of society have not been founded with a due regard to their existence. An educated lady, for example, and a member of one of the learned professions, may possess the clearest conviction that God, by the manner in which he has constituted the

[page] CONCLUSION. 451

body, and connected the mind with the brain, has positively enjoined muscular exertion, as indispensable to the possession of sound health, the enjoyment of life, and the rearing of a healthy offspring; and, nevertheless, they may find themselves so hedged round by routine of employment, the fashions of society, the influence of opinion, and the positive absence of all arrangements suited to the purpose, that they may be rendered nearly as incapable of yielding this obedience to God’s law as if they were imprisoned in a dungeon.

By religion we are commanded to set our affections on things above, and not to permit our minds to be engrossed with the cares of this world; we are desired to seek godliness, and eschew selfishness, contention, and the vanities of life. These precepts must have been intended to be practically followed, otherwise it was a mockery of mankind to give them forth: But if they were intended to be practised, God must have arranged the inherent constitution of man, and that of the world, in such a manner as to admit of their being obeyed,—and not only so, but to render men happy in proportion as they should practise, and miserable as they should neglect them. Nevertheless, when we survey human society in the forums in which it has hitherto existed, and in which it now exists, these precepts appear to have been, ‘and to be now, absolutely impracticable to ninety-nine out of every hundred of civilized men. ‘Suppose the most eloquent and irresistibly convincing discourse on the Christian duties to be delivered on Sunday to a congregation of Manchester manufacturers and their operatives, or to London merchants, Essex farmers, or Westminster lawyers, how would they find their respective spheres of life adapted for acting practically on their convictions?

[page] CONCLUSION. 452

They are all commanded to love God with their whole heart and soul, and to resist the world and the flesh, or, in philosophical language, to support their moral affections and intellectual powers in habitual activity—to direct them to noble, elevating, and beneficial objects—and to resist the subjugation of these higher attributes of their minds to animal pleasure, sordid selfishness, and worldly ambition. The moral and intellectual powers assent to the reasonableness of these precepts, and rejoice in the prospect of their practical application; but, on Monday morning, the manufacturers, owing to the institutions of society, and the deportment of life into which their lot has been cast before they had either reason or moral perception to direct their choice, must commence a course of ceaseless toil,—the workmen that they may support life, and the masters that they may avoid ruin, or accumulate wealth. Saturday evening finds them worn out with mental and bodily exertion, continued through all the intermediate days, and directed to pursuits connected with this world alone. Sunday dawns upon them in a state of mind widely at variance with the Christian condition. In like manner, the merchant must devote himself to his bargains, the farmer to his plough, and the lawyer to his briefs, with corresponding assiduity; so that their moral powers have neither objects presented to them, nor vigour left for enjoyments befitting their nature and desires.

It is in vain to say to individuals that they err in acting, thus: individuals are carried along in the great stream of social institutions and pursuits. The operative labourer is compelled to follow his routine of toil under pain of absolute starvation. The master-manufacturer,

[page] CONCLUSION. 453

the merchant, the farmer, and the lawyer, are pursued by competitors so active, that if they relax in selfish ardour, they will be speedily plunged into ruin. If God has so constituted the human mind and body, and so arranged external nature, that all this is unavoidably necessary for man, then the Christian precepts are scarcely more suited to human nature and circumstances in this world, than the command to fly would be to the nature of the horse. If, on the other hand, man’s nature and circumstances do in themselves admit of the Christian precepts being realized, it is obvious that a great revolution must take place in our notions, principles of action, practices, and social institutions, before this can he accomplished. That many Christian teachers believe this improvement possible, and desire its execution, I cannot doubt; but through want of knowledge of the constituent elements of human nature, and their relations— through want, in short, of a philosophy of mind and of physical nature—they have never been able to perceive what God has rendered man capable of attaining,—how it may be attained,—or on what principles the moral and physical government of the world in regard to man is conducted. Consequently, they have not acted generally on the idea of religion being a branch of an all-comprehending philosophy; they have relied chiefly on inculcating the precepts of their Master, threatening future punishments for disobedience, and promising future rewards for observance,—without proving philosophically to society, not only that its institutions, practices, and principles, must be erected on loftier ground than they are at present before it can become truly Christian,— but that these improvements are actually within the compass of human nature, aided by science and Scrip-

[page] CONCLUSION. 454

ture. Individuals in whom there is a strong aspiration after the realization of the Christian state of society, but whose intellects cannot perceive any natural means by which it can be produced, take refuge in the regions of prophecy, and expect a miraculous reign of saints in the Millennium. How much more profitable would it be to study the philosophy of man’s nature, which is obviously the work of God, and endeavour to introduce morality and happiness by the means appointed by him in creation! Supernatural agency has long ceased to interfere with human affairs; and whenever it shall operate again, we may presume that it will be neither assisted nor retarded by human opinions and speculations.

We need only attend to the scenes daily presenting themselves in society, to obtain an irresistible conviction that many evil consequences result from the want of a true theory of human nature, and its relations. Every preceptor in schools—every professor in colleges—every author, editor, and pamphleteer—every member of Parliament, councillor, and judge—has a set of motions of his own, which, in his mind, holds the place of a system of the philosophy of man; and although he may not have methodised his ideas, or even acknowledged them to himself as a theory, yet they constitute a standard to him by which he practically judges of all questions in morals, politics, and religion: he advocates whatever views coincide with them, and condemns all that differ from them, with as unhesitating a dogmatism as the most pertinacious theorist on earth. Each also despises the notions of his fellows, in so far as they differ from his own. In short, the human faculties too generally operate simply as impulses, exhibiting all the conflict and uncertainty of mere feel-

[page] CONCLUSION. 455

ing, unenlightened by perception of their own nature and objects. Hence, public measures in general, whether relating to education, religion, trade, manufactures, the poor, criminal law, or any other subject linked with the dearest interests of society, instead of being treated as branches of one general system of economy, and adjusted on scientific principles each in harmony with all the rest, are supported, or opposed, on narrow and empirical grounds, and often call forth displays of ignorance, prejudice, selfishness, intolerance, and bigotry, that greatly obstruct the progress of improvement. Indeed, any important approach to unanimity, even among sensible and virtuous men, will be impossible, so long as the order of nature is not acknowledged as an authoritative guide to individual feelings and perceptions.

If, then, the doctrine of the natural laws here expounded be true, it will, when matured, supply the deficiencies now pointed out.

But here another question naturally presents itself—How are the views explained in this work, supposing them to contain some portion of truth, to be rendered practical ? Sound views of human nature and of the divine government come home to the feelings and understandings of men; they perceive them to possess a substantive existence and reality, which rivet attention and command respect. If the doctrine unfolded in the present treatise be in any degree true, it is destined to operate on the character of legislation on practical conduct, and on public instruction,—especially that from the pulpit. Individuals whose minds have embraced the views which it contains, inform me that many sermons appear to them inconsistent in their different propositions, at variance with sound views of

[page] CONCLUSION. 456

human nature, and so vague as to have little relation to practical life and conduct. They partake of the abstractedness of the scholastic philosophy. The first divine of comprehensive intellect and powerful moral feelings who shall take courage and introduce the natural laws into his discourses, and teach the people the works and institutions of the Creator, will reap a great reward in usefulness and pleasure. If this course shall, as heretofore, be neglected, the people, who are daily increasing in knowledge of philosophy and practical science, will, in a few years, look with disrespect on their clerical guides, and probably force them, by “pressure from without,” to remodel the entire system of pulpit-instruction.

The institutions and manners of society indicate the state of mind of the influential classes at the time when they prevail. The trial and burning of old women as witches, point out clearly the predominance of Destructiveness and Wonder over Intellect and Benevolence, in those who were guilty of such cruel absurdities. The practices of wager of battle, and ordeal by fire and water, indicate great activity of Combativeness, Destructiveness, and Veneration, in those who permitted them, combined with lamentable ignorance of the natural constitution of the world. In like manner, the enormous sums willingly expended in war, and the small sums grudgingly paid for public improvements,—the intense energy displayed in the pursuit of wealth,—and the general apathy evinced in the search after knowledge and virtue,—unequivocally proclaim activity of Combativeness, Destructiveness, Acquisitiveness, Self-Esteem, and Love of Approbation, with comparatively moderate vivacity of Benevolence and Conscientiousness in the present generation. Before, therefore, the

[page] CONCLUSION. 457

practices of mankind can be altered, the state of their minds must be changed. It is an error to impose institutions on a people greatly in advance of their mental condition, The rational method is, first to instruct the intellect, then to interest the sentiments, and, last of all, to form arrangements in harmony with these faculties, and resting on them as their basis.

The views developed in the preceding chapters, if founded in nature, may be expected to lead, ultimately, to considerable changes in many of the customs and pursuits of society; but to accomplish this effect, the principles themselves must first be ascertained to be true; next they must be sedulously taught; and only thereafter can they be practically applied. It appears to me that a long series of years will probably elapse before even nations now regarded as civilized, will model their institutions and manners in harmony with the natural laws.

The first step should be to teach these laws to the young. Their minds, not being occupied by prejudice, will recognise them as congenial to their constitution; the first generation that shall embrace them from infancy will proceed to modify the institutions of society into accordance with their dictates ; and in the course of ages, they may at length be found to be practically useful. A perception of the importance of the natural laws will lead to their observance, and this will be attended by an increase of physical prosperity, a higher morality, and in process of time, an improved development of brain, thereby increasing the desire and capacity for farther progress. All true theories have ultimately been adopted and influenced practice; and I see no reason to fear that the present, if true, will prove an exception. The failure of all previous systems is

[page] CONCLUSION. 458

the natural consequence of their having been unfounded; if this resemble them, it will deserve, and assuredly will meet, a similar fate.

The present work may be regarded as, in one sense, an introduction to an essay on education. If the views unfolded in it be in general sound, it will follow that education has scarcely yet commenced. If the Creator has bestowed on the body, on the mind, and on external nature, determinate constitutions, and has arranged them to act on each other, and to produce happiness or misery to man, according to certain definite principles,—and if this action goes on invariably, inflexibly, and irresistibly, whether men attend to it or not,—it is obvious that the very basis of useful knowledge must consist in an acquaintance with these natural arrangements;—and that education will be valuable in the exact degree in which it communicates such information, and trains the faculties to act upon it. Reading, writing, and accounts, which make up the instruction enjoyed by the lower orders, are merely means of acquiring knowledge, but do not constitute it. Greek, Latin, and Mathematics, which are added in the education of the middle and upper classes, are still only means of obtaining information: hence, with the exception of the few who pursue physical science, society dedicates very little attention to the study of the natural laws. And even those who do study science, disconnect it from the moral and religious sentiments, and thus allow more than half of its beneficial influence on human conduct to be lost.

In attempting to give effect to the views now discussed, I respectfully recommend that each individual, according as he becomes acquainted with the natural laws, should obey them, and communicate his expe-

[page] CONCLUSION. 459

rience of their operations to others; avoiding at the same time, the subversion, by violence, of established institutions, and all outrages on public sentiment by intemperate discussions. The doctrines before unfolded, if true, authorise us to predicate that the most successful method of ameliorating the condition of mankind, will be that which appeals most directly to their moral sentiments and intellect; and I may add, from experience and observation, that, in proportion as any individual becomes acquainted with the real constitution of the human mind, will his conviction of the efficacy of this method increase.

Finally, if it be true that the natural laws must be obeyed as a preliminary condition to happiness in this world, and if virtue and happiness be inseparably allied, the religious instructors of mankind may probably discover in the general and prevalent ignorance of these laws, one reason of the limited success which has hitherto attended their efforts to improve the condition of mankind; and they may perhaps perceive it to be not inconsistent with their sacred office, to instruct men in the natural institutions of the Creator, as well as in Scripture doctrines, and to recommend obedience to both. They exercise so vast an influence over the best members of society, that their countenance may hasten, or their opposition retard, by a century, the general adoption of the natural laws as guides to human conduct.

If the excessive toil of the manufacturer be inconsistent with that elevation of the moral and intellectual faculties of man which is commanded by religion, and if the moral and physical welfare of mankind be not at variance with each other (which they cannot be), the institutions of society out of which the necessity

[page] CONCLUSION. 460

for that labour arises, must, philosophically speaking, be pernicious to the interests of the state as a political body, and to the temporal welfare of the individuals who compose it; and whenever we shall be in possession of a correct knowledge of the elements of human nature, and the principles on which God has constituted and governs the world, the evidence that these practices are detrimental to our temporal welfare will be as clear as that of their inconsistency with our religious duties. Until, however, divines shall become acquainted with this relation between philosophy and religion, they will not possess adequate means of rendering their precepts practical in this world; they will not carry the intellectual perceptions of their hearers fully along with them; they will be incapable of controlling the force of the animal propensities; and they will never lead society to the fulfilment of its highest destinies.

At present, the animal propensities are fortified in the strong entrenchments of social institutions: Acquisitiveness, for example, is protected and fostered by our arrangements for accumulating wealth; a worldly spirit, by our constant struggle to obtain the means of subsistence; pride and vanity, by our artificial distinctions of rank and fashion; and Combativeness and Destructiveness by our warlike professions. The divine assails the vices and inordinate passions of mankind by the denunciations of the gospel; but as long as society shall be animated by different principles, and maintain in vigour institutions whose spirit is diametrically opposite to its doctrines, so long will it be difficult for him to effect the realization of his precepts in practice. Yet it appears to me, that, by teaching mankind the philosophy of their own nature and of the world in

[page] CONCLUSION. 461

which they live—by proving to them the harmony between the order of God’s secular providence and Christian morality, and the inconsistency of their own practices with both—they may be induced to modify the latter, and to entrench the moral powers in social institutions; and then the triumph of virtue and religion will be more complete.

Those who advocate the exclusive importance of spiritual religion for the improvement of mankind, appear to me to err in overlooking too much the necessity for complying with the natural conditions on which all improvement depends; and I anticipate, that when schools and colleges shall expound the various branches of science as elucidations of the order of God’s providence for the guidance of human conduct on earth,—when the pulpit shall deal with the same principles, shew their practical application to man’s duties and enjoyments, and add the sanctions of religion to enforce the observance of the natural laws—and when the busy scenes of life shall be so arranged as to become a field for the practice at once of our philosophy and of our religion—then will man assume his station as a rational being, and religion will achieve her triumph.

~ ~ ~

Credit: Combe, George. 1847. The Constitution of Man and Its Relation to External Objects. Edinburgh: Maclachlan, Stewart, & Co., Longman & Co.; Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., W. S. Orr & Co., London, James M’Glashan, Dublin.
Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 1999. Reformated 8.2006. RN1

Full text available http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/texts/1847_Constitution_A33/1847_Constitution_A33.html