Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/634

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618
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
ON MORAL CONTAGION.
By Dr. DESPINE.

IN his short pamphlet of twenty-four pages, the writer treats of a matter observed by all who read the newspapers—we mean the fact that crimes, particularly those of a graver description, generally occur in epidemics. To prove this point, Dr. Despine, in the first division of his paper, records a large number of murders, suicides, robberies, etc.; on these it is not necessary to dwell, but we shall pass on to his second division—the law which regulates Moral Contagion. The following is what is said on this matter:

Moral contagion, being a natural phenomenon, is consequently one of the laws to which God has subjected all created things. We succeed in the discovery of this law by analyzing moral facts and by studying the circumstances in which they occur, in the same manner as we succeed in discovering the laws which preside over the phenomena of the physical and organic worlds, by studying perseveringly the facts appertaining thereto as well as the conditions in which they are produced. Now, the conclusion to be drawn from the facts which we have related is forcibly this, which will represent the law that has directed the commission of these acts: Every manifestation of the instincts of the mind, of the sentiments and passions of every kind, excites similar sentiments and passions in individuals who are capable of feeling them in a certain intensity. This law explains how a certain act infects some and not others. One could not better compare man's moral nature than to a sounding-board {table d'harmonie). The sounding of one note causes vibrations in the same note in all the boards which, being susceptible of emitting it, are influenced by the sound emitted. In the same way, the manifestation of a sentiment, of a passion, excites the same instinctive element in every individual susceptible, by his moral constitution, of feeling more or less acutely this same instinctive element.

If this law acts beneficially in affording ns the means of putting into activity, of exciting and strengthening by good example, the higher sentiments of man, it also becomes a source of evil in causing moral perversion by the influence of bad example, by the recounting of criminally immoral acts, which vivify, incite, strengthen the evil instincts, sentiments, passions, of the man whose natural morale is already below par. It is necessary, therefore, to take this law into serious consideration in order that it may operate as much as possible for good, and remove as far as possible those circumstances which tend to make it the source of evil. And these latter circumstances occur too frequently in our day, by the relation of hideous crimes with which