Faculties of the Criminal Mind: Destructiveness

Browne begins his discussion of the faculty of “destructiveness” by a comparison of the skulls of carnivores versus those of herbivores (i). His assessment of a “marked protuberance” above the ear distinguishes the organ of the brain responsible for one’s propensity to kill other living things (ii). According to Browne, and the fourth basis of phrenology, a spectrum exists as to how much energy is committed to the size of this organ and therefore is linked to an individual’s degree of murderous tendency.

Destructiveness is then defined on this spectrum as a propensity or desire to kill and destroy that which one finds noxious or harmful to one’s wellbeing (iii). Just as there may be some carnivorous animals that also consume plants, the manifestation in humans does not necessarily incite one to murder. However, an excess of energy devoted to this faculty in, for instance, a murder may manifest itself as a tendency to kill, harm, or torture others, as well as produce rage or harsh language on the part of the subject. Otherwise, the faculty of destructiveness was associated with the desire for food, being then a desire to hunt; George Combe, one of the forerunners for phrenological science, defined the faculty as “ …desire to destroy noxious objects, and to kill for food.” (iv)

Nicole Rafter, as part of her synopsis in her book The Criminal Brain, defines the “criminal type” as “remorseless,” especially in hacking the control to resist impulse in the opportunity to kill, otherwise phrased as “morally savage.” (v) Rafter’s definition of the criminally insane, those with a mental propensity for crime, is heavily influenced by Browne and Combe’s postulates on the faculty of destructiveness. In keeping with phrenological studies, a criminal who cannot help but murder or is quick to rage may therefore have an energy imbalance which favors the organ of destructiveness.

-Elisabeth A. Boniface

Works Cited

i. James P. Browne, 141


ii. ibid


iii. historyofphrenology.org


iv. Browne, quoting Combe. 144


v. Rafter 20-21