On Physiognomy

A person exists in the world physically as well as mentally. That person’s physique and face make impressions on others who observe and perceive those outward traits. These observations create certain reactions in those others which then work on the person having the (apparent) traits. Given this procedure, which must certainly take place, it is not insensible to think that over time the person with the physical traits being observed will develop mental traits which roughly correspond to how they perceive those traits to be perceived by others. In turn, the people observing the physical traits will develop more ossified impressions of what a person must be like based on how that person looks, or based on how another person looks with a similar appearance. And so on. The process must take place mostly unconsciously. Nonetheless, the original error of physiognomy was not to suppose that there was a correspondence between inner character and outward appearance, but that the mental trait behind the physical appearance occurred in the “mind”, as the repository par excellence of character, rather than in a person’s social experience.

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