Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/667

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


FOR a long time the brain has been accepted, popularly as well as scientifically, as a gauge of intellectual capacity; less widely it has been known as an equally accurate gauge of physical and also of moral energy. If narrow compass and few and shallow convolutions in what are known as the intellectual "areas" infallibly indicate mental deficiency, the same conditions in the moral areas as infallibly indicate moral deficiency. It is a hard saying, but, whatever bearing it may have upon the doctrine of free moral agency and personal responsibility for action, it is as true as it is hard.

But there is a great difference in the results of feeble or arrested development in the three different sets of brain areas. Each case is attended with disadvantages peculiar to itself; only in the case of the moral areas are these disadvantages looked upon as "penalties." If the physical basis of intellect is ill developed, the subject may be doomed to obscurity, neglect, and perhaps hard manual labor for his livelihood; if the ganglia which supply his muscles and vital organs with nerve-force are small and weak, he must suffer life-long invalidism; in either case he is simply "unfortunate"; but if Nature has allowed him only an ill-developed physical basis for the moral faculties, his unhappy deficiency is visited with the abhorrence and indignation of his fellow-men; he is a criminal, and he must suffer the "just punishment of his misdeeds" in prison or on the gallows.

Whether these differences involve an element of injustice on the part of Nature or her controller, or on the part of man, is not our question. Suffice that they exist, and that they are, in a measure at least, inevitable, since society does not need to be protected from the mental or the physical imbecile as it does from the moral imbecile. Both justice and policy demand, however, that the chief motive and purpose of society in dealing with the moral imbecile should be self-protection rather than punishment for the sake of punishment. We do not slay mad dogs to punish them for the crime of rabies, but simply to prevent ourselves and others from being bitten.

The idea is gradually gaining strength that the most just as well as the most effective means of protection from the moral imbecile is moral education. If there is injustice involved in the fact that he was created a moral imbecile, then this is the most direct and obvious means of righting that wrong; if there is no such injustice, it still remains the best possible policy, both as regards society and the subject himself.