- Durkheim, Émile
- (1858–1917)French sociologist. Durkheim was educated in philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and gained his first university post at Bordeaux in 1887. He held a chair at the Sorbonne from 1902 until his death. Although his writings concern sociology and its practice rather than philosophy, they are philosophically important through their resolute hostility to methodological individualism . Durkheim mounted a sustained campaign for a distinct, proper, self-contained level of analysis in which social facts are conceived as having their own power and their own identity, and therefore make proper objects of study in their own right: ‘social facts are to be explained by other social facts.’ Any association of individuals creates its own level of fact, irreducible to a mere aggregate of individual psychological facts. His most famous work, Le Suicide (1897, trs. as Suicide, 1952), shows that this apparently personal and psychologically subjective act is in fact sociologically determined and a reflection of social pressures and currents. Durkheim also believed that awareness of this would create the scientific basis for proper social intervention and improvement. His work on the prohibition of incest and on totemism is sometimes hailed as an ancestor of structuralism, although his assumption that some forms of human life are primitive or ‘elementary’ compared with our own has occasioned substantial criticism. In his later years he studied religion as the most characteristic manifestation of social life; this work culminated in Les Formes élémentaires de la vie réligieuse (1912, trs. as The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915).
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.