Pierre-Jean George Cabanis (1757-1808) was a French physician and minor political actor during the French Revolution, after which he fell out of favor because he did not support Napoleon Bonaparte's policies. Cabanis considered himself a materialist. Deemphasizing the spiritual and intellectual, he claimed that he could explain existence solely in material terms.

AllAboutPhilosophy.org describes materialists as "individuals who hold to this belief see the universe as a huge device held together by pieces of matter functioning in subjection to naturalistic laws." Of Dr. Cabanis, the scholar Dennis J. Martin explains, "Most of the time Cabanis leans toward a simple reduction of 'the moral' to the physical" (Martin).

Canabis' most famous work is Rapports du Physique et du Morale de l'Homme, or, On The Relations Between the Physical and Moral Aspects of Man. To forumulate his argument, Canbais draws on his experiences as a physician to explain the inner workings of the human body. In this text, Canabis argues that the nervous system produces human sensibilities, or "humors." The comments about thought secretion that Carlyle quotes is one of one of Canabis' most famous and oft-quoted assertions that works in "Signs" to confirm Caryle's claim that the world has become increasingly mechanized, and the human body is no exception.


Martin, Dennis J., "Book Review: On Relations Between the Physical and Moral Aspects of Man." Journal of History and Philosophy 4 (1983) 573-577.

"Materialism: What Matters?" AllAboutPhilosophy.org. 2009. viewed 17 March 2009.

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Last modified 30 March 2009