Saturday, November 11, 2017

Durkheim / On Morality and Society - summary

On Morality and Society, Ch. 3, 4
"on Morality in Society" lays out a number of Durkheim’s basic ideas.   They are also worth comparing to each other for the apparent way in which they contradict each other.
“The Principles of 1789 and Sociology” uses a review of a book on the French Revolution as an opportunity to criticize the idea that society consists merely of self-interested, egoistic individuals whose relationships with each other are merely contractual.   He also criticizes the idea that society is “something against nature.”(P. 39) 
“Individualism and the Intellectuals” is Durkheim’s contribution to the Dreyfus Affair, which was the pivotal political event in France in the 1890s.  What he says about the guilt or innocence of Captain Dreyfus, a French military officer of Jewish background accused of treason, is less important than what he says about the relationship between individual and society.  Clearly this essay is a defense of individualism.  

On Morality and Society, Ch. 6, 7(pp. 86-92, 110-113), 8(pp. 128-133), 9.

These chapters are brief selections from Durkheim's first major work, The Division of Labor in Society.  In this book, Durkheim argues that the development of the division of labor is the formative trend in modern society.  As roles in society become more specialized, human beings become increasingly differentiated from each other.   Simpler societies, in which people do roughly similar things, are held together by very strong collective beliefs which take on a sacred aura.  Durkheim called this kind of social bond “mechanical solidarity.”  As the division of labor increases the collective consciousness weakens and becomes more abstract.  However, these more complex societies are not simply collections of self-interested individuals held together by merely contractual bonds.   By making every person dependent on every other, the division of labor creates (or at least should create) a new kind of social bond, “organic solidarity.”  (You might want to think back to Tocqueville’s distinction between the two kinds of patriotism.)
This argument is very important for Durkheim for at least two reasons: (1) It affirms, as he says, that “every society is a moral society.” (112)  (2) While mechanical solidarity is built on a denial of individual differences, organic solidarity presupposes and affirms these differences.

Additional article summaries by Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim - Suicide
"The Genesis of the Notion of the Totemic Principle or Mana" – summary and review" - part 1 -2 -3
What is Social Fact?
Division of Labor in Society 
Elementary Forms of Religious Life
Moral Education
Types of Suicide according to Emile Durkheim
Anomie according to Durkheim

Suggested reading: