An Abstract of the Sens Lectures
An English translation of Durkheim's Sens lectures has now been completed by Robert A. Jones and Neil Gross and is available from Cambridge University Press. The following abstract, which provides Anglophone readers with a summary of the contents of the lectures, was made by Robert A. Jones. [DSB]
- Durkheim's Conception of Philosophy (Lectures 1-4)
- Psychology: The Description and Enumeration of States of Consciousness (Lectures 5-37)
- Logic: The Rules of the Mind (Lectures 38-54)
- Ethics: The Law of Human Action (Lectures 55-68)
- Metaphysics (Lectures 69-80)
Durkheim's Conception of Philosophy (Lectures 1-4)
Philosophy, Durkheim began his first lecture, is reflection and generalization -- i.e., to philosophize is to reflect on a collection of facts in order to extract their generalities. But this kind of reflection and generalization is also characterized by a particular "spirit," including freedom from external authority, which means philosophy is oblivious to any influence other than reason. This is why philosophy must always be distinguished from religion -- i.e., the latter is subject, not only to reason, but also to the authority of historical tradition. Depending upon time and circumstances, this philosophical spirit has taken on one of two alternative forms. Sometimes philosophy proceeds by analysis -- i.e., taking an obvious idea as its starting point, and connecting it to all the derivative ideas to form an uninterrupted series. In this way, once the first idea is accepted, all the other ideas follow from it, without dissolving the logical continuity. This "Cartesian" spirit, as Durkheim characterized it, brings philosophy very close to mathematics. The alternative, synthetic form of philosophy -- which Durkheim described as more "Platonic" -- leaves considerably more room for inspiration and imagination. Minds of this type, Durkheim observed, see no need for mathematical order or continuous series of ideas. Instead, they view facts in their unity, grouping them by means of broad hypotheses, and connecting them to one another with specificity.
If this is the "spirit" or "form" of philosophy, Durkheim then asked, what is it's object? Reviewing the earlier definitions of Aristotle, Cicero, and Bossuet, Durkheim suggested that these philosophers agree that the object of philosophy is the "absolute"? But what is the absolute? Very briefly, the absolute is that which is by itself, which is related to and dependent upon no other thing. It is the first cause, the most general principle or law, from which others derive, but which itself is independent and self-sufficient. In the world of knowledge, the absolute is the human mind, and in the world of existence, the absolute is God. To this definition of the absolute is the object of philosophy, Durkheim entered two objections. First, the absolute is only the "last word" of philosophy, its "final hypothesis" -- i.e., necessary, perhaps, to make sense of all the facts, but certainly not its starting point. "Obviously," Durkheim insisted, "the absolute is not something we can look for while beginning philosophy, and thus we have no reason to make it figure in our definition of philosophy." Second, Durkheim observed, there are important philosophical systems -- e.g., positivism -- which do not accept the existence of the absolute. Systems of philosophy that raise the same questions as others, and differ from them only in the way they answer them, Durkheim insisted, can hardly be excluded from our definition.
What, then, is the object of philosophy? If we consider the facts with which philosophical reflection is occupied, Durkheim answered, we note two things: first, the things studied by philosophy are all concerned with human beings; and second, they are not physical things accessible to our senses, and thus not things studied by the positive sciences. The object of philosophy, Durkheim thus insisted, is the inner man. Of what is this "inner man" composed? Briefly, of facts known to us, not through the senses, but through "a kind of intimate sense" known as consciousness. Just as external, material perception alters the senses, so when our consciousness perceives these inner, psychological facts, it too is altered. We call these psychological facts "states of consciousness," and since psychological facts are relative and conditional -- at least in relation to time -- our rejection of the absolute as the object of philosophy (and with it, metaphysics) is again confirmed. Thus, Durkheim defined philosophy as the science of states of consciousness and their conditions.
If this is the object of philosophy, what is its method? Durkheim considered four alternatives, beginning with Cousin's eclecticism, which he rejected for three reasons. First, by its very principle, Durkheim explained, eclecticism denies the future progress of philosophical science. Second, and more important, the criterion by which truth is distinguished from falsity in these disparate systems -- i.e., common sense -- is mere opinion, is not formed by the rules of logic, and has no philosophical rigor. Finally, Durkheim observed, common sense is extremely broad, and applied to different philosophical systems, might accept contradictory conclusions; and even where it does not, it provides no way transform fragments of philosophy into a solid, well-ordered philosophical system. In short, common sense is a completely inadequate criterion.
The idealist school -- including Spinoza, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel -- proposes a deductive, or a priori, method. Just as mathematicians deduce all other definitions from those with which they begin, Durkheim summarized, so idealists begin with the most general idea, and then derive from it all the other ideas that it contains. But as Durkheim had already pointed out, philosophical science studies states of consciousness -- i.e., empirical facts to be observed, not series of ideas to be invented or contrived. Alternatively, the empiricist school is content to observe, classify, and to generalize about phenomena; but observation alone is insufficient -- e.g., while observation might tell us that bodies are heavy, it cannot, by itself, reveal the law of gravity.
This brought Durkheim to the "true method" of philosophy -- i.e., the experimental method. In order to discover a law of nature, Durkheim began, the mind must intervene, constructing a "hypothetical law," or hypothesis, which is then verified by an experiment -- i.e., observations to determine whether or not the facts confirm the law contrived by the mind. If the facts are as they are supposed to be in the hypothesis -- and still more if the hypothesis reveals facts previously undiscovered -- then the hypothesis loses some of its hypothetical character. But the hypothesis never loses this character completely, Durkheim emphasized, because all the phenomena that relate to the hypothesis are never observed, and a single contradictory fact is sufficient to require a revision of the hypothesis. This is the method of all the explanatory sciences, Durkheim summarized, and it takes its place between the idealist and empiricist alternatives. According to the idealists, the mind is everything, while for the empiricists, observation is everything. Against the idealists, the experimental method begins from experience, and against the empiricists, it insists that the mind construct a hypothetical law which it then attempts to verify from the facts. "The facts thus have the first and last word," Durkheim concluded, "but the mind is the soul of the method. it is the mind that creates and invents, but on the condition of always respecting the facts."1
Perhaps the most striking aspect of these first two lectures -- at least for the late 20th century reader -- was Durkheim's repeated use of the phrase "philosophical science." Is philosophy a science? If so, to what extent? And what are its relations with the other sciences? These are the questions with which Durkheim introduced his third lecture, on the relations between science and philosophy; and to answer them, he observed, we must first define science itself.
Science, Durkheim began, has a double end. On the one hand, it must satisfy a need of the mind -- i.e., the instinct of curiosity, the passion to know; but on the other hand, science has a practical end -- i.e., to ease and improve the material conditions of our existence. This double end is satisfied through a single means -- i.e., explanation. If the mind derives a certain pleasure from knowing certain things, for example, it receives satisfaction of a higher order from understanding things -- i.e., from knowing why things are the way they are. Similarly, when we can explain the causes of things, we can make better use of them, and thus make our lives easier. But if explanation is thus the sole means by which both of the ends of science are achieved, it remains true that there are two forms of explanation. Mathematicians, for example, explain by demonstration -- i.e., by showing that the theorem to be proved is included in another theorem already proven, that to enunciate one is to enunciate the other, that the second, in short, is identical to the first. Mathematicians thus explain by establishing relations of identity. The physical sciences, by contrast, explain things by establishing relations of causality -- i.e., by discovering the underlying causes of things, and thus explaining why things are as they are.
The goal of science is therefore to establish rational relations -- either of identity or of causality -- between its elements. Knowing this, Durkheim continued, we can see the conditions that any system of knowledge that aspires to be called a "science" must fulfill. To begin, a science must have a suitable, well-defined object to explain -- one not confused with that of any other science; second, this object must be submitted to the law of identity or that of causality, without which no explanation -- and therefore no science -- is possible; and third, a science must have a method for the study of its object. Philosophy has a suitable, well-defined object -- i.e., states of consciousness -- which is the focus of no other science; these states of consciousness are constantly submitted to the law of causality; and philosophy has a method -- i.e., the experimental method -- for the study of these states of consciousness. Philosophy, in short, fulfills the three conditions necessary to be called a "science."
What, then, are its relations with the other sciences? Durkheim's definition of philosophy and insistence that it was a distinct science were sufficient to counter both the classical notion -- i.e., that philosophy was a kind of universal knowledge from which the other sciences were merely derivative -- and the more recent, Comtean idea -- i.e., that philosophy has no existence of its own, but serves as the concluding synthesis of positive science. Philosophy is an independent science, Durkheim insisted, and if it sustains relations with the other sciences, it is not to be confused with them. These relations are of two kinds -- general and particular. The objects studied by the other sciences exist for us only as objects of knowledge. Because philosophy is the science that studies the laws of knowledge, it sustains general relations with the other sciences -- i.e., it becomes the center around which the other sciences converge. Kant's distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, for example, has significant implications for knowledge in all the positive sciences. Particular relations, by contrast, are of two kinds -- i.e., philosophy borrows from the other sciences, and also gives to them. From physics, physiology and chemistry, for example, philosophy borrows facts on which it reflects, and which serve to facilitate the explanation of states of consciousness. Conversely, depending on what they have to explain, the other sciences use various means -- e.g., mathematics uses deduction, physics uses induction, natural history uses classification, etc. Philosophy reflects on these operations to see how they might yield more accurate results. In short, philosophy looks for the best method for each particular science.
Finally, the states of consciousness studied by philosophy include phenomena of quite different kinds, which means that philosophy should be divided into several more distinct sciences. Durkheim's fourth introductory lecture thus concerned these divisions of philosophy. Rejecting the divisions proposed by Aristotle, the Epicureans and Stoics, and Descartes, Durkheim arrived at the "best" and "simplest" classification of Cousin -- i.e., psychology, logic, ethics, and metaphysics. At the beginning of philosophy, Durkheim observed, we need psychology -- i.e., a descriptive science whose end is to enumerate the states of consciousness and reduce them to their principal types; and since the description of all states of consciousness must precede the explanation of any of them, psychology must be dealt with first. The second part of philosophy is logic, which Durkheim distinguished from psychology in two ways -- i.e., logic studies only some states of consciousness (specifically those which constitute intelligence, and seek truth), rather than all; and where psychology only describes states of consciousness, logic explains the laws of knowledge themselves -- the laws that the mind ought to follow in seeking knowledge. Durkheim thought that logic dealt with the most important question of philosophy -- i.e., "we are able to reason only by knowing the laws of reasoning"2 -- and thus placed it ahead of ethics. The third part of philosophy is ethics which, like logic, is concerned only with some states of consciousness (those which concern human activity), whose laws it attempts to explain. Finally, metaphysics seeks to understand the conditions of the various states of consciousness; and since we must grasp the states of consciousness before we can understand these conditions, metaphysics is treated last.
From these four lectures, it is clear that Durkheim's conception of science was already well-formed by 1883. Each science, for example, has its own object and its own method -- a principle Durkheim would further advance and defend in Les Règles (1895). As his thought developed, Durkheim would increasingly seek sociological -- by contrast with psychological -- treatments of those issues more traditionally dealt with by logic, ethics, and metaphysics; but again, by 1883, Durkheim had already arrived at the view that logic, ethics, and metaphysics should be grounded in empirical science. As we shall see, Durkheim had even embraced the notions of experimental verification famously introduced in Claude Bernard's Introduction à l'étude de la médecine expérimentale (1865). The common notion of Durkheim as a sociologist who adopted a particular scientific method must thus yield some ground to the Sens lecturer, who was a philosopher -- one apparently without the slightest sociological sensibilities -- whose conception of science was already quite specific and concrete.
Psychology: The Description and Enumeration of States of Consciousness (Lectures 5-37)
Because states of consciousness have frequent relations with other phenomena, Durkheim began his fifth lecture with an effort to distinguish the things studied by psychology from those studied by physiology. A physiological phenomenon (e.g., a wound) occurs in space, occupies a certain extension, can be reduced to movements, and its spatial extension and movement can be measured. While we are conscious of its result (e.g., pain and suffering), the physiological phenomenon itself can be unconscious. Finally, while I might say "I am in pain," my sensation of pain is only the psychological consequence of the physiological wound. The physiological phenomenon is experienced as belonging, not to my self, but rather to my body. By contrast, every psychological phenomena (e.g., pain and suffering) is attributed to the self (my pain, my suffering), is fully conscious, is not in space, has no extension, and can be measured only in its temporal duration. Physiology and psychology, Durkheim thus concluded, are distinct sciences, each with its own object very different from the other.
Durkheim then turned to a discussion of the different methods that have been applied to the study of psychological phenomena, beginning with the psycho-physical school of E.H. Weber (1795-1878) and Gustave Fechner (1801-1887). In his Elemente der Psychophysik (1860), Fechner had introduced a mathematical formulation that he called the "law of intensity" -- i.e., that the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus (that is, by diminishing increments) -- which would become known as the "Weber-Fechner law," considered by some to be the beginning of quantitative experimental psychology.3 The law is important because Durkheim would refer to it again in De la division du travail social (1893), in support of his argument that the human capacity for happiness is limited, and that the desire for happiness must thus be dismissed as a possible cause for the division of labor.4 But in this fifth Sens lecture, Durkheim dismissed the Weber-Fechner law categorically. Fechner's calculations, Durkheim suspected, contain mathematical errors. The principle of his method is the measurability of the sensations, and sensations -- which are outside of space -- cannot be measured. Most important, by attempting to establish relations only between sensations and their physical stimuli, Durkheim insisted, Fechner had ignored the physiological phenomena that intervene between them, immediately preceding the psychological fact. "If the body were a passive context," Durkheim observed, "which transmits the excitation produced in the soul without alteration, we could disregard it as a psycho-physical fact. But the body is far from being such a passive thing, and while transmitting physical facts to the soul, [the body] modifies them significantly, and differently according to the individual and the circumstances."5 Because it thus fails to establish relations, first between physical and physiological phenomena, and then between physiological and psychological phenomena, Durkheim concluded, the psycho-physical method must be dismissed.
It was to overcome this last difficulty, Durkheim continued, that Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) established the psycho-physiological school, which no longer relates states of consciousness directly to physical phenomena, but rather to physiological phenomena. For Wundt, in short, the conscious life of the soul has its roots in the unconscious life of the body. But whatever interest Wundt's work might hold, Durkheim objected, it cannot replace a science that studies conscious psychological facts in themselves; in short, the soul cannot be reduced to the body. Again, this negative assessment is extremely interesting in the light of Durkheim's visit to Wundt's laboratory in Leipzig just two years later, and his subsequent praise for Wundt's willingness "to reduce the higher forms of intelligence to experience," and subject "the life of reason" to "psychological scrutiny."6
The positive lesson to be learned from this discussion of psycho-physics and psycho-physiology, Durkheim thus emphasized, is that we must study the states of consciousness in themselves and for themselves; and the only method consistent with this emphasis is observation by means of the consciousness. This method, Durkheim admits, has been subject to at least three criticisms. First, states of consciousness are ephemeral, fleeting, "remaining only an instant in the field of the interior vision," and this interior vision of consciousness itself is regarded as crude and imprecise. Second, the notion that the mind both observes and is observed -- simultaneously -- is rejected as an impossibility. And third, because the "observer" in this case is the individual consciousness, these observations would lack all objectivity and generality, and thus would not provide scientific evidence. Responding to the first objection, however, Durkheim insisted that we observe our states of consciousness every day, with incontestable results; and if psychological phenomena are ephemeral, they can also be resuscitated through memory, allowing us to study them at leisure. Second, it is simply not true that we cannot be observers and observed simultaneously -- e.g., if we see ourselves in a mirror or we hear ourselves speak, we can certainly observe our states of consciousness as well. And third, while the observer is an individual consciousness, the states of consciousness observed are those common to all, something of which we can be assured by comparing our results with those of others.
Turning to the states of consciousness themselves, Durkheim grouped them into three "faculties of the soul" -- i.e., activity, sensibility, and intelligence.7 Just as we act on the exterior world through the intermediary of our bodies, for example, we act on the interior world by our wills -- i.e., directing our intelligence, exercising our thought, etc. If our willful actions are unimpeded, we experience pleasure; and if they encounter obstacles, we feel pain. But pleasure and pain are not actions, for they are produced in us without our willing them -- a group of passive states of consciousness to which Durkheim gave the name sensibility. Finally, when we act, we know that we are acting; when we experience pain, we know that we are experiencing pain; but this is not to act or sense itself, but to have knowledge of our action or sensation. So there are states of consciousness called ideas, some of which refer to the external, and others to the internal world; and these form the faculty of the intelligence.
Do these faculties have a real existence in the soul? Or are they just labels for groups of states of consciousness? Durkheim's response to this version of the realist-nominalist distinction is interesting, because it is analogous to the way he sometimes dealt with the relationship between the individual and society. Without their constituent states of consciousness, Durkheim admits, the faculties would have no concrete reality; but if their states of consciousness were suppressed, the faculties would still be powers of the soul. For the power to act, sense, and/or think both precedes and survives the states of consciousness themselves. Might two of the faculties be reduced to the third? Spinoza tried to reduce the soul to intelligence, Durkheim reminded his students, just as Condillac attempted to reduce it to sensibility, and Maine de Biran to activity. But Durkheim insisted that the three groups differ too much to be joined together in this way. Are the faculties then distinct entities, in the manner suggested by Plato? On the contrary, Durkheim replied, they are merely the distinct powers of a single, identical being -- i.e., the self -- acting in concert with one another. Durkheim thus embraced the Aristotelian principle that we live not by one faculty, but with the entire soul.
Sensibility (Lectures 7-9)
His introduction to the science of psychology thus completed, Durkheim took up each of the three faculties in greater detail, beginning with the sensibility -- i.e., the faculty of feeling pleasure and pain.8 These states of consciousness, Durkheim observed, have three essential characteristics. First, they are affective phenomena -- i.e., when we experience them, we are passive. Second, these states of consciousness are produced within us necessarily, as the consequence of some prior cause, and these states can be altered only by modifying the cause that produced them. Durkheim admitted that pleasure and pain might be temporarily suppressed or intensified through acts of the will; but the notion that we might be "absolute masters" of such affective phenomena, he insisted, was an illusion of the Stoics and Epicureans. Third, everything sensible is also relative -- i.e., what is pleasure for one person is pain for another.
What is the cause of these affective phenomena? In the Phaedo, Durkheim reminded his audience, Plato had noted how pleasure and pain are intimately connected, and that we cannot experience the first without knowing the second. More recently, in The World as Will and Representation (1818), Schopenhauer had revived this thesis, insisting that pain is the positive, primitive fact, and that pleasure is simply its absence or cessation. To experience pleasure from the possession of something, Schopenhauer argues, we must first have the desire for it -- desire being a lack which is painful. And still more recently, in The Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869), Edouard von Hartmann had argued that, while pleasure has a positive existence, the sum of pain continuously surpasses the sum of pleasure, making life a somber matter indeed. But in fact, Durkheim flatly rejected all of these arguments -- i.e., there are pleasures that we experience without inevitable prior suffering, including the artist's pleasure in creativity, or the scientist's satisfaction in acquiring new knowledge (see above).
A somewhat different theory, first advanced by Aristotle, revived by the Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), and still more recently advanced in Of Pleasure and Pain, by Francisque Bouillier (1813-99), finds the cause of pleasure in free activity. It was clearly this theory that Durkheim had in mind earlier, when he suggested that we experience pleasure when our willful actions are unimpeded, and pain when they encounter obstacles. Where else are we to find pleasure, if not in freedom? And this theory has the advantage of explaining the diversity of pleasurable things: "Muscular exercises, bright colors, studies, intellectual pleasures please us," Durkheim argued, "because we find diverse modes of activity in these things."9 But if free activity is the principal cause of pleasure, Durkheim cautioned, it is not its only cause. When we engage in any activity for an extended period of time, for example, we begin to feel pain no less than if we had encountered a serious obstacle at the beginning. So in order to experience pleasure, our activities must not only be free -- they must also be varied. This is why change alone is sometimes agreeable, and also why imagining various kinds of activity, even when we are inactive, affords us pleasure. Free and varied activity are thus the two causes of pleasure.
In his eighth lecture, Durkheim turned from pleasure and pain to certain "movements" inseparable from them. Depending on whether an object is agreeable or disagreeable to us, for example, we tend towards it or distance ourselves from it. The tendency of the self towards an agreeable object, Durkheim observed, is what we call an inclination; and there are as many different types of inclinations as there are types of objects producing these movements within us. Durkheim counted three great classes of such objects, yielding three types of inclinations -- i.e., egoistic, altruistic, and higher. Egoistic inclinations have the self as their object, and may be either conservative (if their goal is to maintain the self as it is) or developing (if their goal is to contribute to the growth of the self) -- both described by Durkheim as "tendencies of nature."10 Foremost among the conservative egoistic inclinations are physical needs of the self, which have a determined place in the organism, and arise periodically, to be satisfied, disappear, and then emerge again after a short period of time. The developing egoistic inclinations are numerous and complex, including ambition, love, grandeur, wealth, and so on.
Altruistic inclinations have other people as their object. Durkheim acknowledged that philosophers including LaRochefoucauld, Hobbes, Pascal, and Rousseau had questioned whether altruistic inclinations actually exist, arguing that the sole end of our inclinations is the maintenance or well-being of the self; but Durkheim insisted that "we are made in such a way" that we are concerned both with ourselves and with others.11 Our oldest altruistic inclinations, for example, have our family as their object. These families later unite, forming the city or society, which becomes the object of our patriotic inclinations. Finally, as people interact with greater frequency, humanity itself becomes an object for our altruistic inclinations, as the Stoics and Christians recognized. Believing that these three types of altruistic inclinations contradict or mutually exclude each other, some philosophers (e.g., Plato) have insisted that one or two be abolished for the benefit of the third. But Durkheim insisted that each of the three types has its own justification, and also that, far from conflicting, they mutually support one another. "Society is a union of families," Durkheim explained, and "humanity a union of societies. It's from the love of the family that one is raised to the love of the society, and from that for society that one is raised to love of humanity. Indeed, even if universal peace were realized, patriotism -- taken in its largest sense -- would not be abolished, no more than the establishment of society and of the country abolished the sentiment of the family."12
The objects of the higher inclinations are our ideas of the true, the beautiful, and the good. Taken generally, these can be described as our inclination towards the ideal; and where they are conceived under the form of a living, conscious being, they can be described as our religious sentiment. These higher inclinations have two general characteristics: they are infinite -- i.e., there is no point at which our tendency toward the true, the beautiful, and the good is entirely satisfied; and they are impersonal -- i.e., far from keeping these ideal objects to ourselves, we seek to disseminate them to others, sharing what we have experienced. In general, Durkheim explained, inclinations are made up of two movements -- i.e., the first of desire, which inclines us toward the object, and the second of appropriation, wherever we seek to take possession of it. But with the higher inclinations (e.g., the desire for truth) -- and some of the altruistic inclinations as well (e.g., maternal love) -- the second movement is never realized. In sum, there are disinterested inclinations.
For the modern reader, of course, Durkheim's typology of inclinations is interesting for its use of the terms "egoistic" and "altruistic," which would play so large a role in Le Suicide (1897), as well as his pre-sociological insistence that these are a part of human nature rather than the effects of social causes. At least equally interesting, however, is his equally pre-sociological treatment of the "higher" inclinations, which would later be construed as having purely social origins as well.
The diverse varieties of affective phenomena are called "emotions." Like the objects of the inclinations, for example, emotions are sometimes agreeable and sometimes disagreeable; and like the forms of pleasure and pain, they are passive. But inclinations are relative to objects, while emotions have, not objects, but causes; and where pleasure and pain are localized (e.g., a good meal pleases the palate, but doesn't occupy the entire self), the emotions are invasive and expansive by nature, tending to absorb the whole self. Durkheim thus describes the emotions as a form of pleasure and pain, and an extension of the inclinations. When an agreeable object is at a great distance from us, for example, we feel a certain kind of anxiety, in which pleasure predominates. As the object approaches, a new emotion -- hope -- is produced, increasing as the object comes closer; when we possess the object, hope disappears, to be replaced by joy; and if possession continues, joy is in turn replaced by the more tranquil emotion of security. Reversing the process, Durkheim asked his students to imagine that possession is threatened, again producing anxiety and, if the object is about to be taken away, fear. Deprived of the object, we experience sadness, and as the object becomes more distant, distress and eventually despair.13
The last kind of sensible phenomena -- i.e., the passions -- have been treated in various ways. In his Traité de la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même (1722), for example the French philosopher Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704) mixed together both inclinations and emotions under the passions, ultimately reducing all of them to love and hate. Descartes wrote a treatise on the passions, reducing all of them to admiration. And in his Ethics (1677), Spinoza, like Bossuet, confused inclinations and emotions under the passions, reducing them all to joy and love. Durkheim, by contrast, uses the word "passion" in its current sense -- i.e., as a sensible movement that has become particularly intense, even violent. Like inclinations (and unlike emotions), the passions are relative to external objects; on the other hand, like emotions (and unlike inclinations), passions are invasive, expansive, and even exclusive, occupying the whole self. Passion thus concentrates the entire self toward one object, destroying the equilibrium of the faculties, and introducing an absolute unity into the soul.
Sometimes the self becomes so absorbed by the object of a passion that it neglects the means to its achievement, in which case the passion is self-defeating. But if passion is interrupted, however briefly, by reflection, it becomes conscious of itself, and aware of what it needs to be realized; hence arise secondary passions -- i.e., the means to the realization of the primary passion -- which are sometimes more useful. The passion for wealth, for example, is immoral in itself; but in so far as it gives rise to secondary passions -- e.g., for hard work, for economy, etc. -- it becomes more useful and constructive. Again, the passion for glory might give rise to a commitment to self-discipline, study, etc. Finally, for an activity to be truly productive, it must be concentrated to some extent, so there is no dissipation of energy. Passions, in short, can and ought to be useful; indeed, "when the object of the passion is not poor in itself," Durkheim concluded, "when a minimum of reason guards its development, it is the indispensable condition without which we can do nothing great."14
Intelligence (Lectures 10-29)
In his tenth lecture, Durkheim turned his attention from the sensibility to the intelligence -- i.e., the faculty of knowledge responsible for representative ideas. Every idea, Durkheim explained, represents an object, and there are thus as many different intellectual "faculties"15 as there are types of objects to be represented. In fact, we know three types of things -- i.e., those given to us in [external] experience, those given to us in internal experience, and those given us without experience -- and thus have three faculties of perception -- i.e., the sense, the consciousness, and the reason. We also have three other intellectual faculties, called faculties of conception, distinguished from those of perception because they are not related to objects actually present -- i.e., the association of ideas, memory, and imagination. Finally, beyond these simple faculties, there are complex operations formed by the combination of different faculties, intellectual and otherwise, including abstraction, attention, judgment, and reasoning.
The external world begins where the world of consciousness ends, Durkheim began his eleventh lecture, and external perception is the faculty that enables us to know it. There are three conditions of external perception -- i.e., the presence of an external object; certain physiological conditions (e.g., a sensible organ related to the object, transmission of the modifications undergone by this organ by means of the nerves, and centralization in the brain); and the intervention of the self in order to give unity to these organic modifications. Of these three conditions, Durkheim announced, we need to study only the second, and particularly the relations between the sensible organ and the object perceived. We call these organs "the senses," normally including touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. To these Durkheim added two more, "known to us only recently," which have no special organ -- i.e., the muscular sense, by which we feel the position and condition of our muscles; and the vital sense, which enables us to know the more general condition of our bodies.
What is the relative value of these different senses? Which provide us with the more precise or abundant information? The senses of smell and taste, Durkheim observed, belong at the bottom of the ladder -- i.e., they are purely affective, and provide us with knowledge only after a lengthy education. The vital sense is only slightly higher, for it provides little in the way of precise information. Higher still are sight and hearing, whose superiority to the preceding lies in their aesthetic value. Above sight and hearing is touch, which can sometimes replace both, and provides us with a knowledge of extension.16 And at the top of the ladder is the muscular sense, which provides us with the most precise forms of knowledge, including the distinction between ourselves and the external world.
Finally, Durkheim insisted that we must distinguish between natural perception -- i.e., that furnished "naturally" by each particular sense; and acquired perception -- i.e., that which certain senses learn to provide through education. For the majority of the senses, this presents no difficulty -- e.g., the sense of taste yields flavor, smell, and odor; hearing yields sound; the muscular sense informs us of resistance; touch tells us about extension; and the vital sense provides us with knowledge about the general state of the body. Sight, of course, gives us the perception of color; but Durkheim was aware of the disagreement over the question of whether sight, by nature, also gives us knowledge of extension. The more Kantian, "nativist" position argued that extension was an innate perception of the eye, while the Herbartian empiricists argued that this perception is the consequence of experience and education. Durkheim's treatment of the issue, which cites the experiments of William Cheselden (1688-1752)17 and Johannes Müller (1801-1858), favored the empiricists.
This external perception made possible through our senses, Durkheim continued, gives us knowledge of something we call the external world. But does this external world really exist? And if it does, is it as we perceive it? Durkheim would take up these important questions in Lectures 13 and 14, respectively; but before we can answer them, he cautioned his audience in Lecture 12, we must first know from whence comes the idea of exteriority itself. Is this idea given to the mind? Or is constructed by some kind of intellectual labor? Durkheim began his answer by noting that a number of philosophers, belonging to three different schools, had argued that the idea of exteriority is constructed. Among these philosophers was Cousin, but Durkheim was far more concerned with the theory of John Stuart Mill, developed in his Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865) and "Berkeley's Life and Writings" (1871), which argued that the idea of exteriority is constructed through a division of sensations. When I enter a room, Durkheim paraphrased this theory, I have a perception first of the door, then of the room, and finally of a table in the room. Each time I enter that room, these three sensations follow one another in the same sequential order; even when I'm nowhere near the room, I still know that I can experience these sensations. In this way, Mill distinguished between existing, present sensations -- those one is actually experiencing in the present, and which he describes as "fugitives" whose reproduction is not determined; and possible sensations -- those one has had in the past, and knows that one might have in the future, which are "permanent" (i.e., they continue to exist without our perceiving them), and thus they are not "of the self." These possible sensations demand an explanation, Mill argued, and since they are "not of the self," the self is led to postulate a non-self -- i.e., an external world -- comprised of the causes of possible sensations. These sensations, moreover, are connected to one another in groups, and appear to our minds as if they co-exist -- e.g., a sensation of color combined with a sensation of extension, another of resistance, another of taste, etc. -- and thus we construct the various "objects" of the external world.
Durkheim had serious objections to this theory. First, Durkheim argued, all sensations are subjective, which means that they cannot be used to form an idea which is eminently objective. Second, the distinction between present sensations and possible sensations simply doesn't exist, so it can't be used to explain how we construct the idea of exteriority. Finally, from the fact that these three sensations can be reproduced in the same order, at different times and places, it doesn't follow that we would necessarily postulate the existence of an external, objective world; on the contrary, apparently appealing to the Berkeley's solution to the same problem, Durkheim suggested that we might just as easily attribute this regularity to the mind, resulting in a kind of subjective idealism.
The idea of exteriority, Durkheim thus concluded, is given. But is it given in experience, as the "perceptionists" argue? Or is it, as the Kantians suggest, inherent in the very nature of the mind itself? Some perceptionists, like Sir William Hamilton, attribute the idea of externality to all the sensations taken together, while others, like Maine de Biran, attribute it to the sensation of resistance given to us by the muscular sense; but in either case, Durkheim argued, we can return to the general principle already stated -- i.e., that all sensations are subjective, and thus can never give us the idea of an external, objective world -- in order to refute them. Having eliminated all other possibilities, therefore, Durkheim concluded that the idea of externality must be a priori, given outside of experience altogether -- i.e., it must derive from the very nature of the mind. Durkheim, in sum, embraced Kant's notion that we have a more general a priori idea, inseparable from the nature of our intelligence, called space. This space surrounds us, and it is therefore distinct from the self; but until we experience a sensation, space exists only "virtually." When we do feel a sensation, we spontaneously "objectivate" this idea of space, situating the cause of the sensation. So it is only through experience that we transform primitive chaos into order, conceiving an external, objective world as the cause of those possible sensations that always occur in the same sequential order. "If the theory of Stuart Mill is false in what concerns the first origin of the idea of exteriority," Durkheim thus concluded, "it is true in restricting it to ordering sensations experienced and spontaneously objectivated by the self."18
Does this external world really exist? We have a sensation, Durkheim begins, and we must determine its cause. If we decide that the cause lies within us, then we must conclude that the non-self does not really exist; on the other hand, if we decide that the causes lies outside of us, we should conclude that the external world does exist. How do we determine the cause of a phenomenon? Let's say there are two phenomena, A and B. If every time that A occurs, B also occurs, then there is a strong presumption that A is the cause of B; inversely, if A occurs regularly without B occurring, there is a very strong presumption that A is not the cause of B. Durkheim then asked his students to imagine that he is in a room, where his self is comprised of various states of consciousness, labeled A, B, and C. A new sensation -- a sound, labeled -- occurs. What is its cause? Since A, B, and C themselves produced nothing, then the cause of D cannot have been within the self. Again, imagine that after a certain time I return to the room, now comprised of states of consciousness A1, B1, and C1 -- again hearing the sound D. The cause of D could hardly be within myself, for D occurred earlier, when it would have had to be the effect of A, B, and C -- states of consciousness that no longer exist. By one method as by the other, the cause of D is external, and the objectivity of the external world is demonstrated.
But is the external world as we perceive it? Do our sensations correspond to qualities naturally inherent in matter? Durkheim's answer to this question depended heavily on the classic distinction between the primary and secondary qualities of matter. Secondary qualities include things like heat, color, taste, odor, etc., for we can conceive of bodies without these things, and in fact not all bodies have them. The only two primary qualities are extension and movement, for we can't conceive of a body that is not both extended and mobile, and in fact all bodies have these two qualities. Locke's distinction, Durkheim then observed, at least enables use to say what the external world is not -- i.e., since secondary qualities, as he put it rather awkwardly, "are only the appearances of forms of primary qualities, uniquely different through the intervention of our senses," there is no more to matter than the primary qualities of extension and movement.19 Matter, in short, is an extension susceptible of motion.
But do these primary qualities really belong to the body? Or are they mere appearances? Extension is continuous, Durkheim's answer began, and thus it must be divisible into parts. But here we confront a contradiction -- i.e., these parts cannot be finite in number, for each of the parts is itself divisible ad infinitum; and the number of parts cannot be infinite, for the notion of an infinite number is itself contradictory.20 A possible solution is to say that extension is divided into an indefinite number of parts; but this would mean that the parts could not be counted, and extension could not be measured. So the idea of extension itself, Durkheim argued, is a deceptive appearance, a deformation suffered by things when we perceive them through the intermediary of our senses; and since motion is simply a change in extension, the same applies to the primary quality of movement.
But if the body is not extended, Durkheim added, it is still divisible into a finite number of unextended parts -- a conclusion that conforms to the atomistic hypothesis of physics and chemistry. These unextended elements of bodies are beings, Durkheim observed, and thus we can understand them only by analogy with the sole being of which we have knowledge -- i.e., our selves or souls. What kind of beings are we? Briefly, we are conscious, sensible, intelligent forces that move themselves. We have no reason to attribute consciousness, sensibility, or intelligence to these unextended elements of bodies; but we can imagine them as similar to what our souls would be if they lacked consciousness, sensibility, and intelligence -- i.e., active, unconscious forces that limit and suppress the self. Just as our will acts upon our intelligence, entirely outside of extension, so these active, unconscious forces operate in the external world, placing limits and constraints on human beings.
This lecture is important, not just because it reveals Durkheim as a realist at this early stage of his career, but because it tells us explicitly what kind of realist he was. We can conceive of the external world in the mechanistic manner of Descartes, he acknowledged -- i.e., as comprised of extended bodies in motion. But alternatively, we can imagine it as comprised of beings similar to ourselves, but whose consciousness is almost entirely extinguished, in the manner of Aristotle and, above all, Leibniz. According to this "spiritualist" realism, there is no interruption in the continuity of nature: "From the perfect mind down to inorganic matter, everything is mind, everything is force." Dead and inert properties do not exist, for everything in nature is animated and alive.21 "It is only a question," Durkheim concluded, "of the degree of consciousness"22 -- an observation ill-fitted to any interpretation of Durkheim as a "materialist."
If the senses provide us with knowledge of the external world, consciousness is the faculty whereby we acquire knowledge of the inner world; and as he had earlier with the senses, Durkheim thus began his discussion of consciousness with a determination of the conditions of internal perception. First, just as external perception requires the existence of an external object, so internal perception requires some sort of internal, psychic modification. Second, just as the intervention of the self is essential to external perception, so it is equally important to knowledge of the inner world. With the exception of a sense which serves as the intermediary between a subject and an external object, therefore, the conditions of internal perception are identical with those of external perception. As we have just seen, however, Durkheim was a Leibnizian realist, who believed that the external world is comprised of bodies themselves comprised of other, smaller bodies, ad infinitum. When we perceive bodies, however, we do not consciously perceive the microscopic bodies of which they are composed, which led Leibniz to distinguish between conscious perceptions (apperceptions) and unconscious perceptions ("little perceptions"). Durkheim was fully aware of this Leibnizian notion of unconscious psychic phenomena, as well as the extended use of it by writers like Schopenhauer and Hartmann. But this was clearly an idea with which Durkheim was extremely uncomfortable. All the examples of unconscious psychic phenomena, he insisted, can be explained just as well by an extremely weak consciousness of such phenomena; and the idea of unconscious psychic phenomena is itself incoherent -- i.e., What would a psychic phenomenon that "left" consciousness become? And, having left consciousness, how would it return? In the psychological life, Durkheim concluded, there is nothing that is absolutely unconscious.
In his discussion of sensory perceptions of the external world, Durkheim had asked whether the idea of exteriority was given by consciousness itself, or was instead constructed or invented by the mind. In his discussion of internal perception, Durkheim asked the same question about the idea of the self. The view that the idea of the self was constructed had been advanced by Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine (1828-1893) in De l'intelligence (2 vols., 1870). Briefly, Taine divided our states of consciousness into two categories -- i.e., exterior sensations (or perceptions), which relate to something outside of us, and internal emotions, which assume nothing outside themselves. The latter presume some context within which they occur, and Taine identifies this "imaginary container" as the self. Durkheim had at least two objections to Taine's account of the self. First, the self appears to us as a center -- a point of convergence where all states of consciousness are centralized -- rather than as an enclosure that contains them. Second, Taine's reasoning presumes states of consciousness -- i.e., exterior sensations -- given outside the self; but every state of consciousness requires both a subject -- one conscious of itself prior to the sensation -- and an object. The self, in short, is the indispensable antecedent of every state of consciousness. The idea of the self is thus given rather than being constructed. But how is it given? By contrast with external perception, Durkheim answered, the idea of the self knows nothing like the abyss which separates the external world from us -- in short, the idea of the self is us, and thus we perceive it directly in consciousness; and as such -- again in contrast to our knowledge of the existence of the external world -- we cannot assume its non-existence. The existence of the self is demonstrated simply by the fact that we have the idea in the first place.
If the self exists, what is its nature? Consciousness and reasoning suggest that the self has three natural attributes: unity -- i.e., it is indivisible and has no parts; identity -- i.e., by contrast to the endless flux of the external world, the self remains identical to itself; and causality -- i.e., we know that we are among causes of our actions. A being possessing unity, identity, and causality is what we call a person; but while all persons are to the same degree one and identical, they are not all to the same degree the causes of their own actions. So each self is not a person to the same degree. Finally, because consciousness reveals to us not only phenomena, but also the self and its distinct attributes, we must consider it a specific faculty; and since, like external perception, consciousness gives us experience, these are thus called the "experimental faculties."
The distinctive characteristic of the judgments provided by these "experimental faculties" is that they are contingent -- i.e., the mind can conceive of the contradictory judgment. The judgment: "Man is a sensible being," for example, is contingent, for we can conceive of a man who lacks sensibility. But consider another judgment: "Every phenomenon has a cause." In this case, the contradictory judgment is inconceivable; thus, we say that the proposition is necessary rather than contingent. Since judgments of this kind have a character just the opposite of the judgments provided by experience, there must be a faculty -- the reason -- responsible for providing them. But if reason is thus the faculty that provides us with necessary truths, we might still ask how it is that there are necessary truths to begin with. Briefly, Durkheim explained, it is because the judgments in which they are embodied are a priori -- i.e., they inhere in the very nature of the mind. What derives from the nature of a being, Durkheim added, is what we call the laws of this being. Hence, reason is the totality of the laws of the mind.23 Finally, since the mind has its nature and laws, and the external world also has its nature and laws, things are known to the mind in so far as they are in harmony with the laws of the mind.
Since rational principles derive from the nature of the mind itself, Durkheim began his 19th lecture, we have only to examine the mind in order to deduce all the principles of reason. In essence, Durkheim observed, the mind is simple, and understands only that which is simple. When the mind examines things that are concrete and complex, therefore, it introduces a certain unity, order, and simplicity that is required by the nature of the mind.24 First, the multiplicity of things given in experience are ordered by being placed in certain contexts -- i.e., external perceptions given by the senses are placed in space, and internal perceptions given by consciousness are located in time. Thus we arrive at the first two rational principles: All states of consciousness are in time; and all phenomena given by sensation are in space. This initial order, however, is entirely external, and cannot suffice. So the mind is necessarily led to conceive of phenomena as the modifications of a being -- i.e., a reality independent of the intelligence itself -- which is called substance. Thus we reach another rational principle: All phenomena are modifications of a substance. Because the mind cannot conceive of a phenomenon without assuming another phenomenon as a condition of the first, we call the first the cause, and the second, the effect, leading to still another principle: Every phenomenon has a cause. Finally, the mind is led to represent these series of phenomena as converging toward their common goal or end, leading to the principle: Every phenomenon or series of phenomena has an end.
So we have five rational principles, which Kant calls the constitutive principles of experience -- i.e., time, space, substance, causality, and finality. Once constituted, however, our knowledge itself has certain laws, which Kant called the regulative principle of knowledge, or the principle of identity and contradiction -- i.e., All that is, is; a thing cannot, at the same time and at the same perspective, be itself and its contrary. But Leibniz, Durkheim observed, had already brought together many of these ideas in his notion of sufficient reason. While not admitting that time and space are given a priori, Leibniz stated the first of the two principles he accepted: Everything which is has a reason for being. Whatever exists, Durkheim thus concluded, there are two different kinds of rational principles -- those governing the acquisition of knowledge, and those governing the kinds of knowledge acquired.
Durkheim was already aware of efforts -- the "most remarkable" being that of Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) -- to deny the a priori origin of these ideas and explain them empirically. According to Spencer, before experience, we do not possess the idea of time; instead, we have only states of consciousness with certain relations of position between them -- i.e., some in front, some behind. We generalize from these relative positions of the states of consciousness, constructing the idea of time; and from the idea of time, the notion of temporal co-existence and then space are also constructed. But if the idea of time did not already exist, Durkheim objected, we could not conceive of states of consciousness before and after one another. Similarly, geometric figures are not abstracted from generalized observations, but are rather constructed a priori, by the mind itself. For in a generalization, there is nothing more than the things generalized, which are concrete and imperfect; and geometric figures have the additional characteristic of perfection -- something that can not be learned from experience. This is why the mathematical sciences are so clear, and we understand these objects so well -- i.e., we are the ones who have made them.
This criticism of Spencer's empiricist account of the idea of time is particularly interesting in light of Durkheim's own effort, in Les Formes élémentaires (1912), to provide a more sociological explanation for such a priori ideas. But in 1883, acknowledging the difficulties raised by Maine de Biran and Cousin, Durkheim simply attempted a more philosophical explanation of the sense in which the ideas of substance, finality, and causality might be a priori. Briefly, these three ideas, as they are given in experience, are not identical to the corresponding three ideas as they are given in reason. As given in reason, for example, the idea of substance obliges us to connect phenomena to something other than themselves; but only experience can tell us what this something is, providing a concrete representation of the idea of substance. Reason, in short, gives us the conditions of experience in an abstract and general way, while experience alone permits us to imagine it in a more concrete manner. Finally, Durkheim denied the Platonic notion of an impersonal reason, which insisted that the ideas of the absolute, the infinite, and the perfect were a priori. To think, Durkheim observed, is to relate things to a condition; and the absolute -- which includes the ideas of infinity and perfection -- is independent of both conditions and relations.25
In Lecture #21, Durkheim turned to the doctrine that denies the existence of reason, admitting only exterior perception and consciousness. The earliest version of this argument -- advanced by Democritus, Epicurus, and the Stoics -- argued that everything comes from external sensation (hence "sensualism"). Much later, Locke recognized that consciousness should be added to exterior perception, arguing that the mind was a tabula rasa at birth, and that all knowledge was the consequence of subsequent experience (hence "empiricism"). Still more recently, Dugald Stewart had advanced that "most perfect form of empiricism" which, recognizing the important principles of the association of ideas (hence "associationsim"), acknowledged the mind's capacity to construct ideas other than those simply given to it through sensation. This kind of empiricism, Durkheim observed, is best studied in John Stuart Mill's System of Logic (1843) and Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865).
Durkheim had already argued that the necessity of rational judgments consists in the impossibility of separating the two terms that unite them. According to Mill, this "impossibility" is purely local and provisional -- i.e., what seems "necessary" to us today has not always been so -- and thus can be explained as the consequence of the association of ideas and of habit. Briefly, when two states of consciousness occur together in the same order a certain number of times, the mind tends to reproduce them in this same order, with as much force as the experience has been frequently repeated. When the frequency is without exceptions, the association of ideas becomes so strong that it is indissoluble, and the judgment formed is called "necessary." All phenomena are thus presented to us as forming inseparable pairs, including an antecedent (cause) and a consequent (effect). To say that all phenomena have an invariable antecedent is to say that every phenomenon has a cause.
Durkheim presented his students with three objections to Mill's empiricism. First, Mill had shown that arguments now considered to be "necessary" were at other times regarded as absurd. But "absurd," Durkheim observed, is not the same as inconceivable, and the characteristic feature of rational judgments is precisely that their contradiction cannot be conceived. Second, while the tendency to associate ideas that are frequently produced together is incontestable, Durkheim denied that this tendency ever approaches the impossibility of separating the terms uniting them. In fact, there are ideas we always unite, but which we can, if we wish, imagine apart.26 Experience, in short, never undermines the freedom of our thought. Third, in order for us to accept the necessity of a relation of succession that we have observed several times, we must already know that they are disposed in inseparable pairs -- i.e., we must already have the idea of causality. "With subjective sensations," Durkheim concluded,
we cannot construct anything objective. With phenomena, we cannot construct the idea of substance. With the contingent, we cannot construct the necessary. One can accumulate lots of contingent truths, but they don't change in nature. One cannot find in experience that which is its very condition.
But if individual experience thus fails to account for our possession of rational judgments, what about the experience of the species? In his First Principles (1850), Herbert Spencer had accepted the view that rational ideas are innate in each individual, while insisting that they are a "trust" formed by the accumulated experience of the species, and transmitted through heredity. Durkheim's initial objection here was one he had also entered in opposition to associationism -- i.e., "evolutionism" has a marked tendency to consider differences as only apparent, and to attempt to reduce them to a single type. But nothing, Durkheim insisted, proves that objects present this absolute unity; on the contrary, everything conspires to suggest that multiplicity and diversity are the law of things. The best method to follow, therefore, is to look for differences and to respect them. Second, since it is obviously impossible to find even a primitive tribe whose members lack rational principles, evolutionism is a hypothesis that is impossible to verify experimentally. Third, empiricism necessarily regards the mind, before experience, as a tabula rasa -- i.e., without a determinate nature of its own. But the indeterminate does not really exist, Durkheim insisted, so the empiricists are reduced to arguing that the mind exists only at the moment when experience begins. Yet even empiricists like Spencer admit that, to form rational judgments, the multiplicity given in experience must be integrated in the mind. If the mind does not possess an integrative faculty, such judgments are impossible. So again, empiricism leads us back into a vicious circle.
In strong opposition to the empiricists, therefore, Durkheim adopted a rationalist position. At all times, the mind has possessed its own nature, and thus its own laws. Reason is the totality of these laws. Again, the formula was given by Leibniz: Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu -- nisi ipse intellectus. There are two sources of knowledge: experience (quod prius fuit in sensu); reason (ipse intellectus). Since reason cannot be derived from experience, we thus admit that rational ideas and principles are innate within us.
In his earlier lectures on the external world, Durkheim was unable to examine the question of whether rational principles are the laws of things as well as of the mind. The mind, as we have seen, necessarily understands things under the form of rational judgments. But is it so with things? Do the laws of the mind have an objective value? For Kant, Durkheim observed, rational principles had only a subjective value. Though not denying the existence of the external world, Kant insisted that the sensible multiplicity that experience provides is confused and disordered. In order to know things, we must transform and denature them, imposing an artificial order that enables us to understand them. Durkheim's response to Kant was a classic example of eclecticism. For the empiricists, he reminded his students, knowledge is produced exclusively by the action of things on the mind. For Kant, by contrast, knowledge is produced exclusively by the action of the mind on things. Both of these theories, Durkheim then argued, are too extreme. Of the two, empiricism is the less logical, for it denies the mind its own, determinate nature; but if Durkheim thus agreed with Kant that the forms of the mind are definite and immutable, he also insisted that there are equally definite and concrete external objects. Knowledge must therefore be a synthesis of objective and subjective elements, which raises the question: What comes from things? And what comes from the mind? To answer these questions, we need an objective principle -- one which is not itself constitutive of experience -- and Durkheim found this in the principle of identity and contradiction. Applying this principle to our knowledge of the external world, Durkheim then repeated parts of the Leibnizian argument presented in Lecture #14, showing that our notions of continuity and infinity embody contradictions, that they cannot be in things, but are merely subjective necessities of the mind.
Durkheim then turned to the "faculties of conception" -- i.e., the association of ideas, memory, imagination, sleep, dreams, madness, etc. Our ideas are linked together by the faculty of the association of ideas, which assures the continuity of our intellectual life. As a result of the affinity between ideas, the life of the mind never ceases, as one idea calls for another, and so on indefinitely. Even during an apparent disruption of the continuity (e.g., during sleep, when the succession of ideas is neither perceived nor regulated by the self), the mind continues to connect ideas unconsciously (e.g., as in dreams), and continues to receive communications from the waking world, mixing these more or less conscious ideas with others. Here Durkheim again cited Leibniz -- "the soul always expresses the body" -- so that the continuity of sensations and the association of ideas assures the continuity of thoughts.
Although this faculty never acts by chance -- i.e., there is always a reason why two ideas call for one another -- there are two different kinds of associations. The first are rational -- e.g., the idea of cause and that of effect; the idea of premises and that of consequence; the idea of the means and that of the end; and the idea of genre and that of species. These associations are almost instantaneous, no consciousness of a third idea uniting the first two; and because there is no proper affinity of ideas acting on their own, they are not "true" associations of ideas. Associations of ideas properly so called are what Durkheim described as accidental -- e.g., the idea of two similar (or two contrary) things; ideas of two things contiguous in space; a sign that evokes the idea of the thing signified -- in short, ideas that are associated with one another either by contiguity or by resemblance.
This discussion of the association of ideas in Lecture #24 was extremely important, for while Durkheim had already dismissed the argument of John Stuart Mill which made such associations the source of all knowledge, he still recognized that the association of ideas played a major role in the intelligence. Ideas associate themselves, Durkheim observed, either logically (rationally) or by some natural affinity. The natural affinity between ideas connects them in a very strong manner, and is reinforced by habit without the intervention of the reason; and from such affinities arise superstitions and prejudices of all kinds. "So there's a justification," Durkheim concluded the lecture, "for watching this faculty carefully, as it contributes very strongly to form our character."27
The second faculty of conception is memory -- i.e., the faculty by which a state of consciousness, which we recognize as past, is produced within us. Durkheim emphasized that memory can present a variety of different qualities -- e.g., rapidity, docility, exactitude, tenacity, etc. -- although rarely within the mind of a single individual. But still, our memories are sufficiently peculiar to each of us that the character of a man's mind can be derived from the type of memory he has. There are also techniques -- e.g., repetition, sustaining emotions, increasing attention, etc. -- whereby our memories can be improved. Finally, each memory is comprised of three moments: first, the past state of consciousness is produced ("reproduction," "recall," or "reminiscence"); second, the state of consciousness appears to us as past ("recognition"); and third, we fix the state of consciousness at a precise moment in the past.
How is memory to be explained? Durkheim agreed with Descartes and, more recently, Taine, both of whom argued that physiological modifications are necessary to produce modifications of the soul. When a physiological modification is repeated, therefore, the psychic modification is also repeated, creating "reproduction." This reproduced state of consciousness tends to impose itself on the mind as a perception; but as present perceptions contradict it, Taine observed, the mind pushes it back into the past. But if this explains why the reproduced state isn't related to the present, Durkheim objected, it doesn't explain why it is related to the past rather than the future. Durkheim's alternative explanation focused on the memory's need for conservation in the self. The self that experiences a reproduced state of consciousness, Durkheim explained, is not the same as the self that experienced the initial state of consciousness; but for the memory to be preserved, these two selves must be one and the same. When the state of consciousness is pushed from the present, therefore, it is drawn into the past -- according to the association of ideas -- by the states of consciousness with which it first occurred. Memory thus plays the same role in the intelligence that habit plays in action. For like habit, memory is a faculty of conservation which tends to reproduce itself.
The third faculty of conception, Durkheim observed, is the imagination, which enables us to see objects in their concrete form, so that the mind sometimes wonders if it is in the presence of a real object of merely a conception of it. There are three different forms of the imagination: imaginative memory, which simply represents objects previously perceived under forms as concrete as those of perception itself; imagination as a faculty of combination, which combines and re-combines the images of past experience, as in reverie, madness, or fantasy; and creative imagination, which draws materials from itself, and thus adds unity to the multiple elements it borrows from the past. In this sense, the creative imagination resembles the understanding; but the latter provides a kind of generic unity, while the imagination creates a uniquely individual unity, whose source lies in passion. This argument is important, in part because of the role played by the imagination in the formation of hypotheses, and also because here Durkheim again appears to have departed from the syllabus.28 The French philosophical tradition -- Pascal, Malebranche, Descartes -- had typically depreciated the imagination as constantly subject to error; but for all its mistakes, Durkheim insisted, the imagination -- properly controlled -- is an important source of knowledge. More specifically, while reason is sufficient for mathematics and abstract science, the imagination -- which is responsible for the formation of hypotheses -- is essential to the knowledge of concrete things; and, as such, it is the only faculty that truly adds to our knowledge. Warren Schmaus is quite right to point to the similarity here between Durkheim and writers like Popper and Hempel, who emphasize that there is no logic or method of discovery, that logic and method are useful only for testing (imaginative) hypotheses, that knowledge cannot grow without such bold new hypotheses, that our knowledge is forever fallible and provisional, and so on. This 26th lecture, as well as those on methodology that follow, should put to rest all interpretations of Durkheim as a naive inductivist who thought we could generalize abstract laws from the unbiased observation of social facts.29
To these three faculties of conception, Durkheim then added certain states of consciousness -- simultaneously physiological and psychological -- whose images are so active as to be taken for perceptions. The most common of these states is the dream. As Durkheim had already argued in his discussion of the association of ideas, the self is completely conscious during sleep, and has sensations which provide us with ideas. Durkheim cited the spiritualist philosopher Simon-Théodore Jouffroy (1798-1843), who insisted that there is no "absolute sleep of the self," while acknowledging that sleep is accompanied by some "relaxation" of both the psychic and physiological life. This psychic relaxation, Durkheim then argued, is a consequence of the resting of the will, which in turn grants our other faculties more free rein, leading to dreams. The strength inherent in each idea no longer inhibited by the contrary strength of the will, he explained, we become the prey of our memories and the association of ideas. Descartes, Durkheim reminded his students, even suggested that we have no logical reason for distinguishing wakefulness from sleeping; but Leibniz answered that, when we are awake, our ideas are connected to one other in a way that they are not when we are asleep. Specifically, when we are awake, our memories contradict our sensations, while during sleep, both are merely "conceptions" in the mind.
Madness is simply a continuous dream, outside the state of health, in which the will is absent and ideas associate with one another as they wish. Monomania is a form of madness which is localized, and only one part of the mind is affected. Absolute madness, or mania, affects the entire mind. Hallucination is an unhealthy state of mind which takes its conceptions for perceptions. Taine, in particular, had argued that hallucinations are the normal state of knowledge -- some being rejected as contradictory, and others accepted as corresponding to perceptions; but Durkheim rejected this argument on the ground that hallucinations are comprised simply of memories, so ordinary perceptions could hardly be "true perceptions." In sum, the natural affinity of our ideas provides us with great benefits, for without it memory and imagination would be impossible; but if we lose control of this affinity, will and personality are destroyed, our ideas lose their continuity, and we become their victims.
Durkheim completed his treatment of the intelligence with discussions of attention, comparison, generalization, judgment, and reasoning. Attention, for example, is simply the faculty the mind has for concentrating on a determined object. Condillac had reduced attention to a strong sensation, but Durkheim insisted that this confused the cause with an effect -- i.e., strong sensation being an affective phenomenon frequently produced by attention itself. What is distinctive about attention, at least in part, is that it is an effect of the will. Initially, the object draws the intelligence to it, constituting the involuntary part of attention; but then the will intervenes, directing the mind to focus on the object, in a purely voluntary, willful manner. If imagination is the faculty of invention, Durkheim thus argued, attention is the faculty of thought; and the two of them together are the most productive faculties of the intelligence. Comparison is an operation which brings together two ideas, establishing between them a relation of resemblance or dissemblance. Again, Condillac had reduced comparison to a kind of "double attention"; but Durkheim insisted that comparison is a particular fact, irreducible to any other. Abstraction is the faculty of separating, from a whole, an element which does not exist outside the whole -- e.g., abstracting, from the total idea of a table, the idea of its color or extension. Particular abstract ideas are those composed of the idea of a particular thing to an individual, while general abstract ideas -- e.g., the color or extension of the table just mentioned -- isolate an element common to several individuals.
Generalization represents the convergence of these two processes of comparison and abstraction, enabling us to form general ideas; and this in turn led Durkheim into a discussion of the value of general ideas, and thus of the medieval dispute between realists -- i.e., those like Plato, who view general ideas as corresponding to an existing reality -- and nominalists -- i.e., those like Condillac and Taine, for whom general ideas correspond to nothing real and concrete. Interestingly, Durkheim first rejects the realist alternative, insisting that there is no "genre in itself," the resemblances among individuals being perfectly explicable through their common origin in experience. But Durkheim still resisted pure nominalism, arguing that general ideas are more than mere words. A word, Durkheim argued, is only a sign, and a sign is unintelligible unless we know the thing signified. In another classic example of eclecticism, therefore, Durkheim chose the mid-point between these two extremes -- i.e., the conceptualism of Abelard (1079-1142) -- whereby general ideas are neither words nor substances, but rather have a substantial, subjective existence in our minds. Does thought begin with particular ideas or general ideas? The question here, Durkheim explained, is not one of knowing if, at the beginning of experience, the mind had complete, general ideas, but rather of knowing whether particular things are thought of as individuals or as types and genres. The philologist Max Müller (1823-1900), for example, had argued that languages have their origin in certain common names, and thus thought would have begun with general ideas -- i.e., types and genres. Durkheim recognized that Müller's theory was controversial, and that the majority of grammarians opposed him; but even if Müller were right, Durkheim added, his theory would not demonstrate that general ideas are the first to be formed -- only that general ideas were the first ideas to be expressed. The faculty of thinking, Durkheim thus insisted, is prior to language, so the observation of Müller is insignificant. Durkheim thus concluded not only that our earliest ideas are particular, but also that particular ideas are the first ideas to be expressed. And again, generalization reduces this multiplicity of particular ideas to the unity of the type or genre, enabling the mind to explain "reality" which, composed of many different things, can find no other unity.
Judgment is the operation by which the mind affirms that an idea (an attribute or predicate) relates to another idea (a subject) -- e.g., man (subject) is mortal (attribute). In this case, the subject is "included in" the attribute -- i.e., the class "men" is included in the larger class "mortal" -- or, as Kant put it, the subject is subsumed under the attribute. But if we compare these things from the perspective of their characteristics (or comprehension) rather than their number (or extension), Durkheim insisted, we find that the attribute is included in the subject -- e.g., morality is one characteristic included within the larger concept of man. A judgment, in sum, is formed through the comparison of two ideas. From there, Durkheim went on to distinguish between: particular judgments -- i.e., those that affirm only part of the subject -- and universal judgments -- i.e., those that affirm the attribute as a whole; and analytic judgments -- i.e., those in which the idea of the attribute appears to us as included in the subject (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4), and synthetic judgments -- i.e., those in which the idea of the attribute is added to the subject (e.g., all bodies fall vertically). All rational principles are synthetic judgments, Durkheim emphasized, and as Kant had argued, synthetic a priori judgments are made possible because of the nature of the human mind. Durkheim concluded with the observation that reasoning -- whether inductive or deductive -- is an operation in which the mind combines two old judgments in order to draw a new judgment.
Aesthetics (Lectures 30-32)
Aesthetics is the science in which sensibility and intelligence converge in the effort to define "the beautiful," and then to study the different forms by which beauty is expressed and revealed to us. Acknowledging the difficulty of finding a positive definition of "the beautiful," Durkheim began by distinguishing the beautiful from that which it is not. Socrates, for example, mistakenly confused the beautiful with the useful; but Durkheim insisted, with Kant, that in so far as we conceive of an object as useful, its aesthetic value is diminished. Others have confused the beautiful with the agreeable; but what is agreeable, Durkheim reminded his students, is not always beautiful, and makes no significant aesthetic impression on us. Neither is the beautiful to be confused with the good, for many things that are good are not beautiful, and vice versa. The beautiful is not the same as the true, Durkheim observed, for false theories sometimes possess beauty, while the truth is often aesthetically indifferent. Finally, the beautiful is not the same as perfection, for perfect things are sometimes not beautiful. How, then, does the beautiful reveal itself to us? Briefly, Durkheim emphasized, it is always expressed under a sensible form; and this form produces two notable, paradoxical effects within us. First, the beautiful provides us with agreeable sensations -- i.e., pleasure; but, paradoxically, aesthetic pleasure is always disinterested, having no utilitarian value. Second, aesthetic pleasure is universal -- i.e., when I feel aesthetic pleasure, I assume that all people placed in the same condition would feel the same pleasure; but, paradoxically, aesthetic pleasure is also individual -- i.e., what I find beautiful is not necessarily and to the same degree, considered beautiful by another person.
If these are the effects that beauty produces within us, what is the nature of the cause? The objects of true disinterestedness, Durkheim observed, have no concrete reality. So beauty is not real, but is rather a concept formed by the mind. Moreover, objects produce pleasure within us to the extent that they conform to the nature of our mind. In short, what we look for in art is ourselves; and to know what beauty is, therefore, we might only examine ourselves. As we've seen, our nature is comprised of three faculties. In the sensibility, the inclinations and emotions provide multiplicity, while the passion provides unity; in the intelligence, our sensations produce diverse states of consciousness, but reason gives these unity; and in activity we find the multiplicity of diverse actions, given unity through the will. In sum, our knowledge consists in the multiplicity provided by experience, reduced to unity by the self; and the greater the unity we are able to impose, the greater our intellectual pleasure. Beauty must conform to this nature of the mind; but beauty is an idealized form of this unity and multiplicity -- i.e., a perfect harmony between strength and richness that rarely exists in practice. This explains why aesthetic pleasure is simultaneously universal and individual -- i.e., everyone, at all times, responds to the same two elements of unity and multiplicity, but some individuals and historical periods incline toward the first, while other individuals and historical periods favor the second.
In Lecture #32, Durkheim turned from beauty to the related notions of the sublime and the pretty. For Kant, the sublime was very different from beauty -- i.e., where beauty is always revealed to us under a definite form, the sublime is limitless; and where beauty gives us feelings of calm, tranquil pleasure, the pleasure evoked by the sublime is always mixed with a sadness born of the inability of the mind to embrace it completely. But if Kant were right, Durkheim objected, the sublime would never appear in something well defined; and he then cited Horace and Corneille as writers in whose work the presence of the sublime is unmistakable. Rather than place an abyss between the sublime and the beautiful, therefore, Durkheim recognized two kinds of the sublime -- i.e., the sublime in strength (unity), and the sublime in richness (multiplicity). Moreover, if the sublime is the apogee of beauty, the pretty is its facile, capricious diminutive, in which strength relinquishes a bit to variety. Because all art is the sensible representation of the aesthetic ideal, Durkheim concluded by disparaging realism in the arts, on the ground that it reduces art to a photographic reproduction of nature, and thus proscribes the ideal.
Activity (Lectures 33-37)
Activity is the faculty by which we produce our actions, including instinctual actions -- i.e., those forms of activity that have never been voluntary; habitual actions -- i.e., those that have been voluntary but are no longer voluntary; and willful actions -- i.e., those that are truly voluntary. Instinct, Durkheim began, is the faculty we have for producing actions not determined by a prior experience, and its principal characteristics include: unconsciousness -- i.e., animals, acting instinctively, are conscious only of the movements they perform, not the end toward which they tend; perfection -- i.e., without any training or education, instincts are perfectly suited to their ends; immutability -- i.e., with the exception of the slow intervention of the environment and domestication, instincts do not change; speciality -- i.e., instinct always produces the same action; and generality -- i.e., instinct is common to all members of the same species. According to Descartes and his followers, instinct is purely physiological, a system of reflex actions rather than any kind of psychological phenomenon, and animals are therefore only machines. But today, Durkheim objected, we know that the higher animals have intelligence, and can organize themselves in societies. Science has shown us that two identical organisms can have different instincts; and an instinct can gradually become conscious, be transformed into a voluntary movement. Instinct, in short, is not a physiological mechanism, but a psychological fact.
Condillac, by contrast, attempted to explain instinct by reducing it to a habit -- i.e., an experience or activity that has gradually become habitual. But clearly, Durkheim objected, there are instincts -- e.g., the avoidance of poisonous plants -- that can't be explained by experience. But a far more important theory, advanced first by Darwin in the Origin of Species, and then by Spencer, explains instinct as a hereditary habit. Durkheim thus described Darwin's theory of natural selection, including the argument that instincts have their origin in habits that fortuitously endow certain animals with a superiority over their peers. As he had earlier, however, Durkheim objected that evolutionism is not verifiable by experience -- i.e., we don't presently see species being transformed, and there are dramatic differences between them. Second, Durkheim added, there are instincts which perpetuate themselves in the species even where descent is not continuous -- e.g., neuter bees born from the queen be, rather than from other neuters. And third, as with Condillac, there are instincts -- e.g., of nourishment or the preservation of life -- that experience cannot explain. In sum, Durkheim concluded, instinct is an irreducible fact, which resists further analysis.
Habit, Durkheim continued, was defined by Aristotle as a tendency to repeat an act that has already been performed several times. But an act can become habitual, Durkheim objected, without being repeated, just by continuing itself, and even a single act can produce a habit. Looked at in this way, habit has a dual character: first, it is a faculty of conservation -- i.e., it enables the act just ended to preserve itself, and thus to conserve our earlier efforts; and second, it tends to reproduce itself, to appear to us as a kind of spontaneity. To a lesser degree, habit presents almost all the characteristics of instinct -- e.g., it is unconscious, and becomes more so over time, depending on its strength; though not as perfect as instinct, habit is more perfect than voluntary action, for it disposes of hesitation and deliberation; while instinct is immutable, habit can be modified, but habit resists modification; and like instinct, habit is special, possessing an end and a precise object. The significant difference between habit and instinct, therefore, is that an instinct is common to an entire species, while a habit belongs to the individual. But if instinct is nature speaking and acting within us, habit is an acquired nature, which emerges from will, but which, once constituted, is placed outside the world of voluntary actions.
What are the laws of habit? Durkheim reminded his students that several important studies -- e.g., Maine de Biran's Mémoire de l'habitude (1803) and Félix Ravaisson-Mollien's De l'habitude (1838) -- had suggested that there are two laws of habit: first, habit tends to excite active phenomena -- i.e., when a psychological phenomenon is active habit excites it, making it more active, and rendering it more easily reproduced; and second, habit tends to diminish the intensity of passive phenomena -- i.e., if the phenomenon in question is passive, habit weakens it, even to the point that it becomes imperceptible. Durkheim was thus led to examine the effect of habit on the different faculties of the mind. Durkheim began with the passive part of sensibility -- i.e., the faculty of feeling pleasure or pain. We experience something that gives us pleasure but which, often repeated, becomes indifferent to us. In this case, habit has dulled the sensibility. But then consider the active part of sensibility -- i.e., the faculty of inclinations and passions. The more our passions are satisfied, the more they demand, and they demand as much more as we can satisfy them. In this case, habit has excited the sensibility, making it more intense. Similarly, the intelligence is typically an active faculty, and thus habit excites and intensifies the phenomena -- e.g., explaining and learning things -- with which it is concerned. Memory depends on habit more than any other faculty of the intelligence, for it helps both to conserve and repair the reproduction of past states of consciousness; and habit makes the voluntary movements associated with the will easier and more pleasurable, giving them a greater tendency to reproduce themselves.
How are habits to be explained? As with instinct, Descartes had reduced habit to a purely physiological phenomenon. But again, Durkheim objected that physical pathways in the brain do little to explain a habit's tendency to reproduce itself; and habit depends heavily on the will, and is therefore a psychological phenomenon. Other philosophers, including Dugald Stewart, have tried to connect habit to the association of ideas -- i.e., making it but one form of the more general faculty whereby different psychological phenomena attract one another. But habit, Durkheim again objected, is a faculty of conservation, while the association of ideas explains only the phenomenon of reproduction; and nothing shows that the tendency to repeat an act comes only from the affinity by which the movements are drawn to one another. Durkheim's explanation divides habit into two parts: first, conservation -- i.e., which is explained by the principle that every being tends to persevere in its being; and second, reproduction -- i.e., which is explained by the development, after the act and outside the will, of an unreflective spontaneity. Durkheim concluded by emphasizing that the role of habit is to conserve the past -- i.e., a necessary, but hardly sufficient, condition of social progress.
In Lecture #35, Durkheim took up the faculty of will -- i.e., that faculty by which we are the determining cause of some of our actions. Since the will is the faculty by which voluntary acts are performed, Durkheim began by enumerating the five characteristic "moments" of such acts: the conception of the end or goal of the action; the conception of the motives that will determine the action; deliberation to determine which among our various motives are the strongest, or have the greatest value; the decision to choose one of these motives, on which we intend to act; and the performance of the action itself. For an action to be voluntary, it must pass through all five of these moments. If it does not, it is not an action caused by the will alone, and we must connect it to some other cause. And this inevitably led Durkheim to the question of free will versus determinism.
What is freedom? According to Durkheim, Kant had defined freedom as the faculty each of us has to commence a series of actions -- i.e., for our will to be the first term in any series of events, without itself being determined by any prior term. There are two kinds of proof -- direct and indirect -- that we possess such a faculty. Freedom is proved directly by the idea that we have of our freedom -- i.e., we could not have acquired this idea from our experience of the external world, for it is governed by an absolute determinism. "If we have this idea of freedom," Durkheim explained, "it's because we see ourselves as free, we feel ourselves to be free, and thus we are free."30 Philosophers like Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), however, had argued that our wills only lead us to obey circumstances over which we have no control, that this idea of freedom is thus a construction of the mind, and therefore an illusion. But Bayle's argument, Durkheim objected, assumes that the will doesn't differ from desire, and also that most of our desires are realized. But there are things we desire without wanting to, Durkheim observed, for the object of desire is often an ideal, while the will is enclosed within the domain of the possible, the real. Second, we frequently want something -- e.g., to do our duty -- without desiring it. The will is the strength, concentrated within us, whereby we set out to maintain our individuality, while desire, on the contrary, makes the self go out from itself, pursuing an external ideal. Finally, Bayle's theory assumes an almost perfect convergence between our desires and events, while it's almost always the opposite that happens.
Spinoza proposed an alternative explanation for our idea of freedom. We are conscious of our actions, he explained, but not of the causes of our actions; and this ignorance leads us to imagine that we are the cause that we cannot otherwise identify. But if we attribute causality to ourselves every time we are otherwise ignorant of the cause, Durkheim objected, then the greater our ignorance, the greater our freedom; but freedom, on the contrary, assumes full consciousness and rational intelligence in order for us to act voluntarily. Second, it's simply not true that we attribute causality to ourselves whenever we don't know the cause. On the contrary, our minds don't force us to fill in the lacunae of our science, and we endure our ignorance quite well.
The efforts of Bayle and Spinoza notwithstanding, therefore, Durkheim accepted the direct proof of our freedom -- i.e., as drawn from the idea that we have of freedom. One indirect proof of freedom, Durkheim continued, consists in showing that, without freedom, we cannot explain certain facts -- e.g., contracts, promises, civil punishment, reward, etc. -- of daily life. Indeed, how could we take responsibility for our actions if it is not we who act. But there is also a second indirect proof -- i.e., that of Kant -- which first postulated the categorical imperative, and then showed that this moral law is possible only if human beings are free. Interestingly, Durkheim avoided further discussion of Kant's argument, indicating that in this course, he would take the opposite approach -- i.e., using the idea of freedom just established in order to establish the moral law.
Instead, Durkheim turned to the objections to free will advanced by various forms of determinism. All of these objections insist that the idea of freedom is irreconcilable with the principle of causality, an insistence that takes on two different forms: psychological determinism insists that the idea of freedom contradicts the laws of the interior world of the mind; and scientific determinist argues that freedom is irreconcilable with the laws of the exterior world of nature. Beginning with the first, Durkheim outlined the determinist arguments of Leibniz and John Stuart Mill -- i.e., our actions are guided by our motives, which derive from our intelligence, the accidents of life, our character, our habits, etc., which are determining causes; and even where we have a choice among several motives, the struggle between them is itself determined by causes of the same nature. So everything, Durkheim summarized, passes mechanically in our wills. Philosophers like Thomas Reid (1710-1796), of course, had argued that there are actions without motives -- e.g., picking one coin rather than another among several in my pocket, for no reason -- yielding what Reid called the "freedom of indifference." But Durkheim denied that actions without motives exist, insisting that the mind always makes a decision, sometimes depending only on the alternative toward which its attention is directed at a given time. And even if we did admit actions without motives, Durkheim added, this would still be a poor objection to determinism; for if Reid's theory is right, the trivial actions of our lives might be free, while the more significant would be determined by prior causes.
Jouffroy gave a new form to this argument by distinguishing between two different kinds of causes: first, dispositions in the sensibility -- e.g., the love of neighbors which urges us to be charitable; and second, motives in the intelligence -- e.g., the duty of being charitable. Dispositions are forces, and thus they can determine the will; but motives are only ideas, and have no power of acting on the will. While actions performed out of dispositions are determined, therefore, those produced out of motives are free -- thus, according to Jouffroy, there are free actions. But if ideas have no power of acting on the will, Durkheim objected, then motives cannot produce actions unless they are conjoined with dispositions; and if they are conjoined with dispositions, then the actions they produce would still not be free, and determinism wins out again.
Where, then, does our freedom lie? Where we have several motives, Durkheim agreed with the determinists, then once the decision of which is the stronger motive is made, the action is determined. Freedom, in short, does not lie between the decision and the execution of the action. But freedom does reside between the conception of the end of the action and the choice of the strongest motive, in the capacity for reflection and deliberation that distinguishes us from lower animals. "Once we have imagined the end," Durkheim explained, "we have the capacity to deliberate, and to make this deliberation last as long as we want. This is where freedom lies."31
Durkheim concluded his thirty seven lectures on psychology with a discussion of scientific determinism and theological fatalism. When we think of exterior things under the form of causality, Durkheim reminded his students, it is revealed to us as an immense series of causes and effects. If a person could act freely, it would interrupt and disturb this series, contradicting the principle of causality. If we assume, on the contrary, that such an interruption of external phenomena is impossible, we might still argue that we possess a kind of "virtual freedom" -- i.e., we can make free decisions, but cannot execute them in the external world. Unfortunately, this argument collapses with our recognition that this series of causes and effects extends to the the physiological mechanisms of the body, including the cerebral modifications essential to thought. So not only can there be no decision that is freely executed, Durkheim concluded, there cannot even be a free decision.
The most vigorous effort to resolve this difficulty presented by scientific determinism, Durkheim observed, is that of Kant. The self, Kant argued, can know itself only by thinking itself under the form of rational principles, which are the condition of all knowledge. The self must therefore apply to itself the a priori forms of the sensibility, and the categories of the understanding; and in doing so, the self denatures and transforms itself. The real, primitive self was not subject to these principles; but the conscious, reflective self thinks of itself under the form of time, and under the concept of space. Two selves are thus formed: the noumenal self, which is, but is not known; and the phenomenal self, which is known, but which is not. Kant thus resolved the antinomy of freedom versus determinism by assigning science and ethics to two different worlds: the principle of causality rules in the phenomenal world; and freedom reigns in the noumenal world.
This description of the classic Kantian distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal worlds is extremely interesting, for it would do a great deal of work in Durkheim's later treatment of the duality of human nature; but at Sens in 1883, Durkheim rejected Kant's argument -- i.e., the doctrine conserves, not real freedom, but only possible freedom.32 The actions of our lives, being purely phenomenal, would be determined, while the will, imprisoned in the noumenal world, would be unable to exert its influence on phenomena. The freedom Kant offers us is thus only a virtual, sterile, metaphysical freedom. At this point in his career, therefore, Durkheim agreed with the determinists that so long as we think of things solely under the form of causality, there is no contingency, and thus no freedom. How, then, is freedom to be made consistent with the principle of causality? Briefly, Durkheim observed, if the relation between phenomena is determined, the direction in which the series of phenomena is tending is not. For the direction of the series is decided according to the principle of finality, and the necessity called for by this principle is far less rigorous than that of causality -- i.e., the same end can be achieved through quite different means. The ends assigned to innumerable series of phenomena can be fulfilled in a variety of ways. This is where freedom can be introduced into the external world.
While fatalism no longer has any importance, Durkheim concluded, something must be said about it in order to complete the theory of freedom. With the rise of theism, he observed, fatalism took on a theological form, which attempted to show a contradiction between the nature of God and human freedom. According to this doctrine of theological fatalism, God possess two attributes that contradict our idea of freedom: first, prescience -- i.e., God foresees everything that will happen, and thus we are all bound to these future evens; and second, providence -- i.e., God can intervene at any point in the course of human events, thus altering our conduct. The first contradiction, Durkheim observed, arises only from the fact that we mistakenly imagine God in time. But for God, Durkheim insisted, there is no past, present, and future -- only the perpetual present. So God doesn't "presently" see what will happen "soon" -- on the contrary, he sees what humans do eternally. The second contradiction, Durkheim promised, will be resolved in the section on metaphysics.
Logic: The Rules of the Mind (Lectures 38-54)
Logic is the science that determines the rules that the mind should follow in order to arrive at truth. Unlike psychology, logic concerns itself with only one category of the states of consciousness -- i.e., the intelligence; and where psychology knows the mind only speculatively, logic is concerned with the practical question of how we should proceed in order to reach the truth. But if psychology and logic are thus distinct, they are also related -- i.e., logic applies the conclusions of psychology to a particular end, and because the intelligence acts in concert with other faculties, logic must be preceded by psychology. But still, psychology assumes logic to a degree, for logic deals with the theory of certitude, which is the foundation of all the sciences.
Some philosophers have questioned the utility of logic, Durkheim admitted, on the ground that there is an innate or natural reason in every mind, which renders the "artificial" rules of logic unnecessary and useless. But Durkheim resisted this conclusion, for two reasons: first, even if the rules of logic lacked all practical utility, they would still be worth studying, if only because of our innate need to understand; second, the rules of logic rather clearly do have a practical utility, in the sense that the "natural reason" frequently makes mistakes, and the best way to avoid these is to better understand the nature of truth. Like ethics, therefore, logic thus has a double character: first, it is a science that attempts to explain a determined object -- i.e., reason; and second, especially where it deals with method, it is an art that seeks to realize a practical end -- i.e., to show us how to reach the truth. Consequently, logic can be divided into two parts -- i.e., general or formal logic, which studies the rules the mind follows in reasoning, without concern for how these rules should be applied; and applied logic or methodology, which studies how the different procedures indicated by general logic should be combined to achieve concrete ends.
Truth, Durkheim began his thirty-ninth lecture, is the conformity of the mind and things. Certainty is the effect of truth on the self -- i.e., the state of mind which knows that it possesses truth; and it's opposite is doubt -- i.e., the state of mind which feels itself not in the possession of truth. Since certainty is an effect of truth, we need a sign that distinguishes truth from falsity -- i.e., a criterion of truth. Descartes, for example, believed that truth contained an intrinsic light that illuminated the mind; but only if the will directs the understanding in an appropriate way, so Descartes' is not a theory of "objective evidence" -- a phrase that more aptly describes the theory of Spinoza. But in either case, the notion that the criterion of truth is inherent in judgments clearly fails, because it can't account for the diversity of opinions. If judgments really carried their own criterion of truth, the consequence would be universal acceptance rather than disagreement and controversy. So "evidence," however defined, cannot be the criterion of truth.
Durkheim thus suggested that there may be diverse criteria of truth, leading to at least different kinds of certainty: mathematical -- i.e., resulting from mathematical demonstration; physical -- i.e., the intuitive certainty provided by our observations; and ethical -- i.e., resulting in a kind of moral certainty, based upon faith. The criterion of mathematical certainty, he then observed, is identity, while the criterion of physical certainty is the authority of concrete facts. But what characterizes moral certainty, Durkheim continued in his fortieth lecture, is that they are not unanimously taken for truths -- i.e., they possess no objective sign -- and they are thus deprived of the criterion permitting the mind to immediately decide whether they are true or false. How, then, are we to account for the certainty of our moral judgments? Briefly, Durkheim explained, in the case of moral judgments, our understanding -- influenced by our will which, in turn, is influenced by our sensibility (temperament, education, habits, heredity) -- is led in a specific direction, seeing only the reasons on one side rather than the other, and thus affirms or denies with certainty. In short, the understanding is no longer produced by the action of the judgment on the mind; on the contrary, it is produced by the action of the mind on the judgment, making our moral judgments essentially personal -- i.e., like the will and the sensibility themselves. And precisely because our will and our sensibility are so personal, we hold to our ethical judgments with a special tenacity, for without them, we would not be who we are.
In every judgment that does not depend upon mathematical or physical evidence, we depend upon moral certainty -- and this turns out to be most of our judgments. For mathematical judgments, as we have seen, depend on the criterion of identity, which can be established only where the terms are simple and deprived of qualities; and physical judgments, which depend upon the criterion of fact, can be certain only where the facts are not interpreted, but simply observed, and this is almost impossible. But if the truth is very hard to find -- because we have no objective criterion -- it is not impossible. The truth is hidden from us, Durkheim admitted, by our temperaments, instincts, and passions; but these personal elements disappear under the influence of discussion, which allows us to compare diverse human opinions, revealing what they have in common; and this intervention of the sensibility and the will also permits us to develop and acquire new ideas. Far from constituting an insurmountable obstacle to the discovery of truth, therefore, this theory rather suggests that we should be tolerant of the place of opinions in moral certainty.
What produces error -- i.e., the "false certainty" of the truth? According to Spinoza, Durkheim observed, an error is simply a "truncated truth" -- i.e., a part of the truth, rather than the whole. But Durkheim rejected this theory that error is the privation of truth, largely because Spinoza doesn't explain how it is that when we think we see the whole, we see only a part. So where does error come from? Briefly, Durkheim explained, we have two kinds of faculties: i.e., intuitive faculties, which lead us directly to the truth; and discursive faculties, which lead us to the truth only through the reason. Intuitive faculties are infallible, Durkheim observed, for even an hallucination is not a "false intuition," but rather an intuition to which a false judgment has been added. Discursive faculties, however, are of two kinds -- i.e., analysis, which consists in deducing, from one idea, another which is contained within it; and synthesis, which adds, to one idea, another which is not contained in the first. There can be no error of analysis, because to deduce from one idea another that is not contained in the first is to have added something mistakenly to the first -- i.e., an error of synthesis. Every error, Durkheim thus concluded, is a false synthesis, which either does not attain, or exceed, reality.
How is it that we make such errors? Since mathematical certainty and physical certainty are both infallible, Durkheim reminded his students, false syntheses are the consequence of moral certainty -- i.e., made under the impulsion of the sensibility and the will, which force the understanding to augment or diminish the truth. If reason were our only faculty, Durkheim insisted, we would never make an error; but the intelligence is deflected from its normal direction by the will, itself an instrument of the sensibility. Moral certainty isn't always false, Durkheim cautioned, but it alone can be false.
Durkheim began his forty-second lecture with definitions of three philosophical positions: dogmatism -- i.e., the doctrine that certainty is the normal state of the mind; skepticism -- i.e., the view that doubt (the opposite of certainty) is the normal condition, and logically necessary for the human mind; and probabilism -- i.e., the insistence that there are some "probable" truths that we have no right to affirm or to deny, but also that we have no right to doubt. Durkheim first dismissed probabilism on the ground that to say that one thing is "more probable" is simply to say that we are "more certain" of its truth, so we can hardly deny that the truth can be known. Skepticism, on the other hand, gains support from three arguments: first, the ignorance of human beings -- i.e., that we don't know the whole of anything; second, errors and contradictions -- i.e., the enormous diversity of opinions and the constant errors of human beings; and third, the inability of reason to prove itself -- i.e., every effort to show the reliability of reason depends on reason itself, leading us into a vicious circle. The first argument, Durkheim observed, is insignificant, for while we are ignorant of some things, we have sufficient knowledge of others to resist skepticism. While the second argument is stronger, Durkheim reminded his students that diversity of opinions is a consequence, not of the understanding, but of the will and the sensibility -- things that we can correct through tolerance and free discussion. As for the third argument, even if reason cannot prove itself, Durkheim observed, we might still have good grounds for believing things that have not been proved. Both dogmatism and skepticism, Durkheim concluded, begin with a priori assumptions -- the first positive, the second negative -- and both are illogical. Between dogmatism and skepticism, however, there is room for a doctrine which makes no a priori assumptions, and submits to criticism the reasons that we have either to believe or to doubt our own minds.
Lectures #43-47, on general or formal logic, were largely comprised of a series of definitions -- e.g., of judgments, propositions, general and particular, comprehension and extension, subject, predicate, copula, quantity and quality, the syllogism, induction, deduction, sophism, etc. -- which reveal the extremely traditional conception of linguistic meaning underlying Durkheim's theory of language in Lecture #54. As Warren Schmaus has pointed out, the chief value of these lectures on formal logic is to cast doubt on interpretations of Durkheim as advancing a Wittgensteinian or Austinian notion of meaning-as-use. There is also an interesting, if rather uncritical, discussion of those topics that later figured in Les Règles de la méthode sociologique (1895). In Lecture #46, for example, Durkheim summarizes Mill's four methods of induction -- i.e., of agreement, difference, concomitant variations, and residues -- treated in the System of Logic (1843); and in Lecture #47, Durkheim examines sophisms, including the four idola of Francis Bacon, also mentioned in Les Règles.
When Durkheim turned to applied logic (or methodology), in Lecture #48, things became more interesting. Method, he explained, is the collection of procedures -- e.g., for testing, validating, corroborating hypotheses, etc. -- that the human mind follows in order to reach the truth. Acknowledging the prior use of the terms "analysis" and "synthesis" by both Condillac and the Port Royal logicians, Durkheim instead adopted the Kantian usage, whereby analysis is the method that develops whatever is contained within an initial premise, while synthesis is the method whereby something new is added. The two methods, Durkheim explained, reciprocally presuppose one another; but in general, the future author of Les Règles considered the emphasis on method to be excessive: "Inventions," Durkheim insisted, "are the result of what is not given by method -- the strength of genius."33 But if method is not sufficient to invention, Durkheim admitted, it is nonetheless necessary to testing, validating and corroborating hypotheses in the various sciences.
When Durkheim turned to the discussion of mathematics, however, he insisted that every scientific method must include two parts: first, invention -- i.e., of theorems, the distinctive contribution of genius, seated in the imagination; and second, demonstration with the aid of definitions, axioms, and deduction. In the physical sciences, the important role of invention lies in the formulation of hypotheses to explain the facts that have been observed. Here Durkheim emphasized the role of analogy -- i.e., a kind of reasoning whereby we first ascertain one fact, and then apply to it the law of another fact, one which resembles but is not identical to the first, and thus producing a new discovery. In this case of a hypothesis drawn from an analogy, Durkheim again emphasized, there is room for considerable creativity -- the distinctive contribution of the imagination -- so that in the invention of every hypothesis there is a large degree of contingency. But whether drawn from analogy or not, Durkheim emphasized, a hypothesis is always a law that has not yet been verified; and it is verified, Durkheim cited Claude Bernard (1813-1878), through experimentation and then induction (i.e., the extension of the law to every possible experience), not through the direct manipulation of phenomena. An obvious objection to this criterion of the verification of hypothetical laws is that it necessarily excludes both meteorology and natural history from the status of sciences. But this was a consequence that Durkheim was willing to accept. "Every science which lacks experimentation also lacks law," he explained, "for the existence of a law implies a hypothesis, experimentation, induction."34 Meteorology and natural history are thus "histories" that ascertain and classify certain facts, but are not themselves "true sciences." The classification of facts aids the memory, Durkheim added, but its primary purpose is to rediscover the order of things according to the ends assigned to them. Classification, Durkheim thus explained, is guided by the principle of finality.
This brought Durkheim to his fifty-second lecture, on method in the moral sciences -- i.e., those four sciences "concerned with the human mind," including the philosophical, social, philological, and historical sciences. Having already dealt with method in philosophy, Durkheim turned immediately to the three types of social science -- i.e., politics, law, and political economy. Politics -- not sociology -- is the science of society, Durkheim insisted, and its object is to study the best form that human societies might take. In the Republic, Plato had approached this problem geometrically; but more recently, history has provided the means to make politics an observational and experimental science. Law, by contrast, begins from the foundation of human legal systems, from which it deduces applications to the particular cases of human life, while political economy -- once treated deductively in the manner of law -- is now approached primarily through observation and experience. The philological sciences are similarly inductive, practicing that method that looks for analogies beneath differences, leading to comparative philology. Finally, the historical sciences, whose purpose is to reconstruct the past, rely on the criticism of testimonial evidence.
As if this were not disappointing enough, Durkheim spent the rest of his lecture on "method in the moral sciences" with an utterly conventional account of the conditions of probable credible testimony -- e.g., we should be sure that the witness is not mistaken, that he is not deceiving us, that (if possible) his testimony is corroborated, etc. And in the subsequent lecture (#53) on the historical sciences, Durkheim simply enumerated the three forms of such testimony -- oral traditions, monuments, and written documents -- that constitute the material of history. With this material, Durkheim emphasized, the historian must still reconstruct the past, which is necessarily an inventive work of the imagination; but the historian must then demonstrate that his hypothetical reconstruction explains the facts -- what Durkheim called "historical experimentation." If its conclusions are not as certain as those of the other sciences, therefore, history still has a right to a certain degree of credibility.
Far more interesting is Durkheim's fifty-fourth lecture, on language. Again citing Leibniz -- like the monad, each of us lacks windows on the rest of the world -- Durkheim emphasized that each of us is contained within himself. We can communicate with one another, therefore, only through exterior phenomena that we calls signs. A system of signs -- most commonly, but not exclusively, articulated words -- is called a language; and scholars had also made a distinction between two kinds of signs: natural -- i.e., spontaneous, unreflective signs; and artificial -- i.e., slowly elaborated signs that are the result of reflection, meditation, and progress. Durkheim acknowledged a certain plausibility in this distinction -- i.e., there are certain material phenomena (e.g., smiling, laughter, crying, etc.) that a child produces "naturally" (i.e., spontaneously, non-volitionally), which the child later understands as signs that communicate thoughts and feelings. But Durkheim rejected the notion that these signs are "natural" in the sense that, from the beginning, the child instinctively grasps the relationship between the sign and the state of mind represented, imitating the smiles and tears of others. Such a theory -- advanced by Scottish writers and supported in France by Adolphe Garnier (1801-1864) -- assumes rather complex instincts in the child, and it is doubtful that it is sufficient to explain why a child laughs or cries on seeing laughter or tears. If there are natural signs, Durkheim concluded, they are "natural" at first, but only become "signs" later.
How, then, does language originate? Durkheim reflected briefly on the theory of Bonald (1754-1840) -- i.e., that we could have created a system of signs only if we already possessed one, and that the vicious circle thus implied is insoluble unless we assume that language was given us through divine revelation. But Durkheim denied that Bonald's circle is quite so vicious -- i.e., nature provides us with exterior physiological phenomena that accompany our psychological states, and our intelligence helps us to recognize that certain natural phenomena can serve as signs. We communicate to each other what we experience by means of these signs, and gradually the signs become conventional -- i.e., the same phenomena are expressed by the same signs throughout the group. We come to possess a language, Durkheim thus insisted, as a consequence of our nature -- the real question being whether language was given to us spontaneously, at the awakening of our intelligence, or was rather constructed through human effort and activity.
Durkheim had already rejected the first alternative in his discussion of natural signs; but he was forced to acknowledge an argument in its favor, advanced in Ernest Renan's Thèse sur l'origine du langage -- i.e., there are languages that, despite their numerous inconveniences, have remained the same since their origin. Had they been constructed by human beings, Renan argued, they would have been perfected (something requiring far less effort than creating a language from scratch); since they have not been improved, therefore, it appears that people received these languages fully formed. To Renan, as to Garnier, Durkheim's reply was that the connection between the sign and the thing signified is something learned by means of experience and reflection. In the beginning, some people noticed that certain exterior phenomena were always associated with certain states of consciousness. These people tried to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others by using these phenomena, gradually forming a system of signs which became increasingly complex, analytical, particular, and nuanced.
How important is language to thought? Can we think without language? If we begin with our ideas of particular things (e.g., a specific painting), Durkheim's answer began, it appears that we can "think" an object -- whether it is present or absent -- without "naming" the object; but particularly where the object is absent, the thought becomes more difficult -- i.e., the memory of the object requires an effort, and even then represents only a part of the experience of the object itself. Here the sign performs a valuable service -- i.e., although it doesn't relieve us of the need to think the object we express, it does relieve us of some of the operations necessary to the complete thought. The sign immediately recalls the thing, without our having to laboriously reproduce the complete object in memory. What happens when we move on to abstract ideas -- i.e., ideas of things (e.g., the "length" of my desk) that have no real existence? Condillac had argued that we can't think such ideas without signs, which give these abstractions a concrete existence. Durkheim refused to go quite so far, insisting that -- at least theoretically -- we can think abstract things without depending upon signs. But again, Durkheim argued, to do so would be extremely, almost impossibly, laborious. The sign fixes the abstract idea, awakening the memory of the thing it represents, and relieving us of the responsibility to repeatedly reconstruct the abstract idea each time we have need of it. Finally, Durkheim asked, what happens when we consider general ideas -- i.e., those that belong to a certain number of individuals (e.g., a genre or species, like "humanity")? Again, Durkheim answered, while we might be able to conceive of such a being, endowed with freedom and intelligence; but it would be extremely difficult to construct this idea each time we needed it -- an effort of which the word "humanity" relieves us.
In sum, while we can in principle think without language, thought would survive as mutilated, impoverished, and extremely laborious. Progress would be impossible, for we would have to begin the same mental operations over and over again. In addition, language enables us to "fix" our ideas, to provide some solidity to our otherwise mobile and nebulous thoughts, to prevent some of our ideas from being confused with others. In De l'intelligence (1870), had even argued that, as a consequence of habit, we eventually arrive at a point where we think of language as serving us by a single sign -- i.e., an abstraction made from the idea. Durkheim resisted this conclusion, on the ground that it's always necessary to think something and we can only think an idea. This idea might be extremely vague, but it must still exist; and we can think the word only on the condition that the idea exists beneath it. But this vague idea is insufficient to thought and, thanks to the word, it takes on fixity, a body, which aids thought without substituting itself for thought.
Ethics: The Law of Human Action (Lectures 55-68)
Ethics is the science that attempts to determine the law of human action, and it asks this question in two ways -- the first, general or theoretical ethics is a pure science, which ignores particular circumstances and situations, asking about the law of human action in general terms; and the second, particular, applied, or practical ethics is simultaneously a science and an art, which tries to determine how this general law should be applied in the specific conditions of human life.
Theoretical Ethics (Lectures 56-61)
Ethics, Durkheim began, rests entirely on the foundation of moral responsibility, for to acknowledge responsibility is to accept the fact that, throughout our lives, we are subject to a moral law.
In addition to the moral law itself, Durkheim emphasized that there are two "psychic conditions" necessary to moral responsibility. First, to be held accountable, it is necessary that each of us be the sole cause of our actions, so the first condition of responsibility is freedom. Determinists like Plato, Durkheim admitted, have attempted to reconcile moral responsibility with their denial of freedom, insisting that if a man acts badly -- regardless of whether or not he acted freely -- he should be punished. But Plato, Durkheim insisted, is thinking of civil responsibility -- i.e., the distribution of punishments and rewards -- not moral responsibility -- i.e., the dependence on a higher authority or law to which we consider ourselves subject. If we are not free to obey or disobey this authority, we cannot experience either the contentment or the remorse that constitute moral responsibility. Second, to be held accountable now for things we might have done years ago, it is necessary that these "two selves" -- present and past -- be the same one. In short, moral responsibility assumes the identity of the self.
What is the "moral law" itself? Despite their numerous disagreements, Durkheim began, philosophers are unanimous in saying that the law must have three characteristics. First, it must be absolute -- i.e., it must command unconditionally. Second, it must be universal -- i.e., the same in all societies and historical periods. Here Durkheim admitted that the morality of savages is not the same as that of civilized societies; but to suggest that the moral law is therefore not universal, he insisted, is to confuse the matter of the law with the law itself. Ethics is like logic -- i.e., duty, like truth, is seen under a variety of aspects, but there is a single morality just as there is a single truth. And third, the moral law must be obligatory -- i.e., the moral law commands, and we are bound to obey. But unlike things subject to the laws of nature, we can disobey the moral law. It is this moral necessity, which Kant described as "imperative," that constitutes obligation.
What is the moral law that satisfies these three conditions? Durkheim began with an exposition and criticism of utilitarianism, to which he devoted Lectures #57 and 58. Aristippus (5th century BC) and the Cyrenaics, for example, were the first to argue that we take only pleasure -- immediate pleasure -- as good. Epicurus (341-270 BC) refined this hedonistic doctrine by distinguishing between kinetic pleasures -- i.e., short and intense "pleasures in movement," which are followed by pain, upsetting the soul and tormenting the equilibrium; and catastemic pleasures -- i.e., less intense, but more enduring, "pleasures in repose," found in work, meditation, sobriety, and the study of philosophy. The rational instinct, Epicurus observed, recommends that we seek the latter, yielding something that even Durkheim recognized as a fairly elevated kind of life. So the problem with Epicureanism, Durkheim observed, was not that it led to a vulgar hedonism, for it did not; rather, it had two other deficiencies: first, it was extremely difficult to measure the degree of intensity of pleasures in any scientific manner; and second, it was egoistic in its principles as well as its consequences, leading people away from the painful responsibilities of social and political life.
For Durkheim, the significance of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) lay in his attempt to remove these two deficiencies from the Epicurean notion of utility. The value of a pleasure or pain, Bentham argued, depends upon four conditions -- i.e., its intensity, duration, certainty, and proximity. But this is only the intrinsic value of the pleasure or pain, considered independently of its consequences for those around us. In order to appreciate the benefits of a particular action, Bentham argued, we must examine its consequences -- both pleasurable and painful, both for us and for those around us -- and then add up the probable advantages and disadvantages. When this is done, Bentham observed, we find that the most advantageous pleasures are those which do not concern the individual alone, but rather rather work to the public good. The optimistic Bentham, Durkheim emphasized, believes that the best way to find our greatest pleasure is to find the greatest pleasure in others, for there is "a natural harmony between all human interests."35
If Bentham thus attempted to reintegrate social duties into the doctrine of moral utility, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) tried to do the same for the love of the good and the love of truth, with his notion that some pleasures are superior to others not only quantitatively, but qualitatively as well. In order to know which of two pleasures is qualitatively superior to the other, Mill argued in Utilitarianism (1861), we need only ask those people who have experienced both; and if these voices disagree, he added, we need only accept the judgment of the majority of voices. Finally, Durkheim concluded, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) insisted that the qualitative comparison of pleasures be conducted more scientifically, showing why some pleasure was superior to another by finding the causes -- i.e., the laws of nature and the conditions of existence -- that lead to human happiness.
The common characteristic of all utilitarian ethics, Durkheim noted, is that they rest the moral law on interest. To assess the values of utilitarianism, therefore, we need only recall the characteristics required of the moral law, and ask if interest satisfies them. Temporarily ignoring the characteristic of absoluteness, Durkheim began by asking if interest satisfy the condition of universality? Certainly not, he answered, for "interest" is essentially personal, variable, and subjective -- i.e., a more or less immediate pleasure that varies from one person, country, or historical period to another. Whether quantitative or qualitative, Durkheim insisted, this is always the primary object to utilitarianism. By what right does Epicurus affirm that his pleasures are those of everyone? Mill's appeal to the judgment of an "elite mind" that has experienced both pleasures is unpersuasive, for nothing authorizes one person to impose his tastes on another, and the majority of such minds today will be the minority tomorrow, exposing the moral law to the same arbitrary changes as its civil counterpart. And what about the criterion of obligation? For the moral law to be obligatory, Durkheim emphasized, it must be observed and be recognized by everyone, regardless of their experience and education. But nothing is more difficult to recognize than our true interest, and thus a moral law based on interest could not be obligatory. Even Spencer's more scientific argument ignores the fact that, within each of us, there are two beings -- i.e., the general self and the individual self -- and pleasure derives only from the second, not the first.
An alternative effort to define the moral law -- found in the works of writers like Hutcheson, Rousseau, Jacobi, and especially Adam Smith -- insists that there is within each of us a natural moral sentiment, which enables us judge some actions as bad and others as good. Smith's Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), for example, argues we should be guided by our natural feeling of sympathy, which pushes us toward some people, and distances us from others. Good actions would thus be those done by people whom we like, and bad actions those done by those from whom we instinctively flee. In effect, Durkheim announced four objections to the notion of a natural moral sentiment. First, the sentiment is hardly infallible, leading us into error as often as into truth, and we have no way of knowing when it's false and when not. Second, a moral law based on sentiment could hardly be obligatory; for unlike our reason, our feelings are almost irresistible. We cannot be "commanded" to love someone, for example, and the theory of moral sentiments is thus incompatible with the notion of obligation already described. Third, a moral law based on the feeling of sympathy depends heavily on the presence of at least one other person (i.e., on society); but social conditions must always be contingent, while the moral law must be such as to be independent of particular conditions or situations. Finally, the theory of a moral sentiment mistakes the effect for the cause. If I instinctively like one person rather than another, Durkheim argued, this is because the first respects the moral law, while the second doesn't. We have sympathy for certain people because they are good, not the reverse. In effect, Durkheim concluded, Smith simply stopped too soon -- i.e., by going further, he might have found the cause, of which he had seen only the unconscious applications.
From this discussion of utilitarianism and the theory of the moral sentiment, Durkheim then summarized, we can see that a moral law exists -- but that it does not rest on experience. If we follow the traditional Aristotelian distinction between matter and form, therefore, we would say that experience is the material of our knowledge, that before experience the mind contains only forms, and that the moral law -- which, as we have seen, must be independent of experience -- must thus be completely formal. As a form in the mind, the moral law would then meet the criterion of universality. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Kant thus formulates the moral law as follows: "Act according to a maxim such that you can always wish that it be a universal law."
But why perform actions whose rule can thus be elevated into a universal law? Because, Kant observed, it is a property of the moral law to command; and Kant thus called the moral law a categorical imperative. An "imperative," of course, is simply a formula which commands, a maxim of action. A "hypothetical" imperative, therefore, is simply a command that must be obeyed if we are to realize a given end; and a "categorical" imperative is simply one that commands unconditionally, which has its end in itself. Finally, Kant insisted that, for an action to be moral, it is not enough that it merely conform to the moral law; on the contrary, the action must be done only out of respect for the moral law, simply because the law commands it -- i.e., for its own sake.
Undeniably, Durkheim regarded Kantian ethics as one of the greatest efforts human beings had ever made toward the moral ideal; but at this stage in his thought, Durkheim also had some serious objections. First, Durkheim argued, an imperative that is truly and absolutely categorical is simply impossible -- i.e., we always want to know why we should act in a certain way, a maxim of action must always act on us through some kind of motive if it is to be efficacious -- in short, we need to have an interest (in the largest sense) in the actions we perform. Second, we rather clearly do have a reason to respect the moral law -- i.e., a reason that is implicit within the categorical imperative and transforms it into a hypothetical imperative. Briefly, we should act in such a way that the maxim of our actions can be elevated into a universal law if we truly want to be human beings. Third -- his claim that the moral law should be purely formal notwithstanding -- Kant's later formulations of the moral law in fact grant it material content: "Act in such a way that you always treat human beings -- either yourself or others -- as an end and never as a means." The end of the moral law, therefore, lies not just in itself, but in respect for the human personality. A purely formal morality, Durkheim concluded, is not far from being an empty morality; and Kant was able to avoid this consequence only by contradicting his own system.
From our discussion of utilitarianism and the theory of moral sentiments, Durkheim reminded his students, we learned that there is a law that explains our moral judgments, and also that this law is prior to experience; and from our criticism of Kantian ethics, we learned that this law must be consistent with our nature, and that we must have an interest in obeying it. These conclusions led Durkheim, in his sixtieth lecture, to ask the Aristotelian question -- i.e., what is a man for? The answer to this "functional" question about man, Durkheim insisted, will be the moral law, for that law simply commands us to advance toward the realization of our end or purpose. Durkheim's first formulation of the moral law was thus: "Advance toward your end." But what is our end? Today, Durkheim answered, each of us is essentially -- albeit incompletely and imperfectly -- a person. To advance toward our end is thus to develop, complete, and perfect our personality, yielding Durkheim's second formulation of the moral law: "Act always toward the end of developing your personality." But what is a person? The first, most essential condition of being a person, Durkheim answered, is freedom. The opposite of the person is thus the thing -- i.e., something that has no initiative, receives its movement from outside, but does not place itself in movement.36 The person, by contrast, is able to remove himself from external constraints, and to draw all his action from himself. As such, the person is no longer condemned to see himself used as a means -- either in relation to external things, or by other human beings. Hence Durkheim's third formulation of the moral law: "Act always in a way to treat your person as an end in itself, and never as a means."
But these three formulations of the moral law, Durkheim admitted, do not yet remove us from the self, from egoism. We are commanded to respect our own personality, but we have not yet discovered a rule to govern our relations with other human beings. But if we remember that the moral law is universal, Durkheim continued, we will see that not only ourselves, but all other human beings as well, should develop their personality -- i.e., treat their person as an end, and not as a means. But to strike a blow at the personality of others is to presume that the law applies to us but not to them -- something that contradicts the universality of the law. Durkheim thus arrived at the "definitive" formulation of the moral law -- i.e., "Act always in a way to treat the human personality, everywhere it is encountered, as an end, and never as a means." Finally, Durkheim observed, this formulation helps us to see how the moral law, although universal, can vary from one individual to another. We all realize our personality by advancing toward our ends; but we don't all understand our ends in the same way. The universality of the law is thus expressed in diverse and sometimes contradictory forms.
The foundation of the moral law, Durkheim thus began Lecture #61, is the idea of finality. This idea presents a double advantage over the others described: first, the idea of finality immediately implies the action in question, without which the calculation of interest would have to intervene, and also without passion playing a role; and second, the idea of finality does not command an absurd and impossible form of moral conduct. This conception of our end necessarily implies the will to realize it; but unlike Kant's "barbarous" ethics, our conception of the moral law still allows us to aspire to happiness. Our end, of course, is not happiness, but rather the development of our personality; but the necessary consequence of the realization of our end will, indeed, be happiness. Where Kant saw a radical antinomy -- presumably between duty and happiness -- Durkheim saw only a harmony, which in no way compromises the dignity of the moral law.
How do the traditional concepts of ethics -- e.g., duty, good, virtue, right, etc. -- fit within this conception of the moral law? Duty is the obligation to respect the law -- i.e., to advance our end; and the good is simply the end itself -- i.e., the development of our personality. Unlike Kant, for whom the idea of the good was a consequence of the idea of duty, Durkheim thus insisted that the good is prior to duty -- i.e., we should do our duty because the moral law is good. Virtue is the constant practice of duty -- i.e., a disposition or habitual activity in the sense described by Aristotle. It requires the exercise of a good will -- i.e., first, to dismiss sensible motives that interfere with our reason, and prevent us from clearly and sincerely seeing our end; and second, to apply the judgment of reason under the moral law. But is it necessary, as Kant would insist, to dismiss every sensible motive? To us, Durkheim answered, it seems irrational to condemn people for their good sentiments. The moral sentiment, under its various forms -- e.g., contentment, remorse, sympathy or antipathy -- assists virtue, and there's no reason to complain about this. We can't "command" the moral sentiment, Durkheim admitted, nor can we make all of ethics from it (see above); but where the sentiment already exists, there's no point in uprooting it in the name of ethics, for its presence is no obstacle to virtue.
Right is an authority to which we occasionally find ourselves entrusted; and it is a moral authority in the sense that is respected independently of any material means. Where does "right" come from? In the state of nature, Hobbes argued, the right of each man is as extensive as his own strength; but under these circumstances, he argued, human life is constantly threatened. Since our most active instinct is self-preservation, we agree reciprocally to abandon a part of these primitive rights in order to respect each other's security, creating a new "right" based upon convention. To remove this right from the capricious wills and fantasies of individuals, a monarch is invested with absolute power, to guarantee the permanencies of the contract. In short, for Hobbes, "right" has its origin in self-interest, and rests on a convention that is guaranteed by a man armed with absolute power.
Durkheim agreed with Hobbes that an individual -- whatever strength he might have -- is quite fragile, and an insufficient guardian of right. Following Locke, however, Durkheim asked what good it can do to remove right from the dangers of the crowd, and place it in the hands of a single man. The will of a single person or the traditions of his family are not sufficient guarantees of right; on the contrary, there would be more security in leaving the enforcement of the contract in the hands of the community. Moreover -- assuming that we agree with Hobbes that strength is the foundation of right -- what is "right"? Cousin said that right is nothing else but the accountability of duty -- e.g., others have the duty to respect my life, and I thus have the right to require others to respect their duty. My right would thus be based on the duty that others have in relation to me. But where this this right come from? How is it that I have the right to require others to perform their duties? Is it our function to make virtue thrive in the world? If so, my right to require that others perform their duties (e.g., charity) leads us directly to socialism -- and to the destruction of individual freedom. Durkheim, by contrast, bases the idea of right on our duties, not those of others. As we have seen, we each have duties under the moral law -- i.e., to develop our personality. As a consequence, we also have the right to do everything necessary to accomplish these duties -- e.g., if you threaten my person, I have the right to protect it by whatever means possible. "Man has only one right," Durkheim concluded his discussion of theoretical ethics, "that of doing everything which is necessary to accomplish his duty -- i.e., to realize his end."
Practical Ethics (Lectures 62-68)
Practical ethics -- both a science and an art -- tries to determine how the moral law should be applied in the specific conditions of human life. Durkheim discusses four types of morality, each corresponding to one of four situations in which people find themselves. Individual morality, for example, refers to the duties each person has to himself. Domestic morality, by contrast, refers to the obligations we have to our "communities of origin." Civic morality concerns our duties to those who occupy the same territory, and with whom we have certain common tastes and interests; and finally, social morality -- abstracting from particular cases -- deals with the relations of "man with man."
To know what duties we owe to ourselves, Durkheim began, we need only to apply the general formula of the moral law to the particular case of an individual removed from social relations with others -- briefly, he should always strive to develop his personality, to respect and perfect himself, and to not fall into dependence on things. Each of us, as Durkheim had already observed, is comprised to two parts -- i.e., the body and the soul; but the two are so intimately connected, he added, that he have duties toward the former as well as the latter. Our first duty toward our bodies, for example is simply to conserve it -- i.e., we do not have the right to commit suicide, for three reasons: first, we have other individual duties to fulfill (e.g., the development of our intelligence, sensibility, activity, etc.), which require the conservation of our bodies; second, in so far as suicide is an attempt to avoid pain, it presumes that the person is an instrument for pleasure, something contrary to the moral law; and third, suicide prevents us from performing our social duties -- i.e., our duties towards others. Durkheim added that suicide is not necessarily an act of cowardice -- e.g., the death of Cato, for example, was both courageous and honorable; that the slow death caused by asceticism, privation and/or voluntary suffering is just as immoral as its sudden counterpart; and that the more positive side of this moral injunction is that we should work to maintain and improve our physical condition.
What, then, are our duties toward the other part of our self -- i.e., the soul? Briefly, these duties are comprised in the injunction to perfect our intelligence, our sensibility, and our activity. The natural end of the intelligence, for example, is truth. This means that lying is proscribed by Durkheim no less than by Kant; but in Durkheim's ethics, it also means that we are required to develop our intelligence. Explicitly attacking Rousseau's notion that the progress of civilization has undermined morality, therefore, Durkheim insisted that the greater a man's intelligence, the greater his morality. For intelligence is a part of our nature, and there can be no antinomy between nature and morality; thus, we can give ourselves entirely to the arts and the sciences, without fear of contradicting the moral law. Our goal is before us, Durkheim added, not behind. The duties we owe to our sensibility are analogous to those we owe to our intelligence; but our sensibility, unlike our intelligence, is comprised of sometimes contradictory passions, emotions, and inclinations, and we cannot develop all of them simultaneously. Our inclinations, therefore, must be developed harmoniously, some being subordinated to others; and the inclination to which all others should be subordinated is that of human dignity. "Everything that degrades or diminishes our persons," Durkheim emphasized, "must be repugnant to us."37 Thus understood, Durkheim insisted, our dignity does not conflict with our modesty, for at the sentiment of the grandeur of our nature as moral persons, we simultaneously have the sentiment of our weakness. Pride, Durkheim insisted, is the sentiment of dignity excessively exalted, so that it insults other people, while vanity is pride applied to petty superiorities, which belittles the vain by these mean preoccupations. True dignity is as far from the one as from the other. To exercise our activity, Durkheim continued, is to work; and thus work, under all its forms, is a moral duty. Laziness is thus the dissolution par excellence of our individuality, the worst of dangers to our soul; and obstinacy -- the opposite danger -- results when we set ourselves a course and refuse to deviate when circumstances change. The will is fertile, Durkheim emphasized, but obstinacy is sterile, the consequence of an irrational will, and thus useless. We must be firm in pursuing the end to which each of us is assigned, Durkheim concluded, without laziness, but also without obstinacy.
The object of domestic ethics, Durkheim began his sixty-third lecture, is to determine the duties of family members to one another. But Durkheim was aware that writers like Plato had denied that the family -- i.e., an institution smaller than the polis or the state, within which people loved one another particularistically, with greater strength and intensity -- had a foundation in nature, and was a useful moral institution. Durkheim offered two arguments against this view. The first was the interest of children -- i.e., the family is the only institution which does a good job of raising children, for there is a natural, instinctual love of parents for their children which, though later transformed into a more reasoned affection, can never be replaced. The second was social utility -- i.e., the family is the first school of disinterestedness, for it is within the family that the child, who would otherwise fall prey to egoism, learns that he must occasionally make sacrifices and devotions -- things that society will later demand. Apparently recalling what he had learned from Fustel de Coulanges, Durkheim added that the ancient city was comprised of families, and the earliest nation-states of several cities. "Society," Durkheim continued, "is like a large organism," in which the brain commands, and the actions of smaller, "secondary centers" are subordinated to the brain. Families are such secondary centers, and without them, the actions of the brain could never be transmitted to the whole, and society would be destroyed at its base.
The family is created by marriage -- i.e., the moral association of a man and a woman who mutually commit themselves to share the pains and joys of life. In marriage, Durkheim noted, one spouse makes a gift of his person to the other -- something that necessarily involves a diminution of his personality. This is a violation of the moral law, and only the reciprocity of the gift allows the association to avoid this consequence. Where the association lacks reciprocity, therefore, it automatically becomes slavery, something that is utterly immoral. But Durkheim thus suggested that each partner is bound by such a mutual, reciprocal commitment, the roles they play are different, and clearly not equal. "By virtue of his material strength and, in general, of his intellectual aptitudes," Durkheim observed, "man finds himself in a better condition to protect the family. This duty therefore falls to him, and more humble duties fall to the woman."38
Durkheim's discussion of the duties of parents to their children is interesting for its opposition to the theory of education presented in Rousseau's Emile (1762). According to Rousseau, Durkheim summarized, the way to educate best is to educate least. The influence of the father -- already corrupted by civilization -- should be minimized, and the child raised far from the towns and cities. For the child is good by nature, and should thus be left to the freedom of his natural instincts. The apparent alternative to Rousseau's theory, Durkheim observed, is to give parents an authority as absolute as possible, so that they might inculcate all their ideas and habits in their children. The second theory, Durkheim argued, is immoral, for it violates the "person" of the child which, though in an undeveloped condition, already exists. But Rousseau's theory, which grants the child much greater freedom, is chimerical. The child is neither good nor bad, Durkheim insisted, for these things are settled only by heredity and circumstances; and the "method of abstention," which provides the child neither with instruction nor education, leaves him without weapons when he reaches the age of struggle. So we must prepare the child, which to Durkheim meant providing the child with habits; and for this, we must use authority -- "without excess," Durkheim cautioned, "but in order to prepare the future of the human personality in the child."39 The parents thus have the duty of providing the child with material and moral support, but always with the goal of preparing the child to ultimately be a free human being, i.e., a "person."
As for the duties of children to their parents, the most important is obedience. First, the child must obey his parents because he lacks sufficient intelligence, either to develop his own personality, or to respect those of others; and second, the material interests of the child require his obedience to his parents, who have more experience. The child owes this kind of obedience to his parents until the day he becomes a person, after which he is free, and can direct his conduct alone -- although love and respect should always survive obedience. Finally, children have duties toward one another -- i.e., fraternal affection, which is the most perfect form of friendship, comprising both absolute confidence and complete equality.
Civic morality, as we have seen, concerns our duties to those who occupy the same territory, and with whom we have certain common tastes and interests. As he had in the case of domestic ethics, Durkheim began by inquiring into the foundation of society in nature -- noting that some philosophers (e.g., Hobbes, Bossuet, Rousseau, etc.) considered society "artificial" and "counter to nature." But Durkheim insisted that society is not artificial. First, altruistic sentiments are as natural as their egoistic counterparts, so that the "voice of nature" -- invoked so often by Rousseau -- urges us to associate with one another. Second, we are born into the natural society of the family, so that we are social animals; and society survives in the individual himself -- i.e., man himself is a society. Interestingly, Durkheim here appealed to Claude Bernard, who had described man as composed of millions of anatomical elements possessing their own individuality and vitality. What does this prove, Durkheim asked rhetorically? Briefly, that isolation itself is unnatural, that everyone has a need for association. "The large society that unites individuals is no less natural," Durkheim insisted, "than a small society which constitutes each of these individuals. The larger society, like the smaller, is a natural organism which has its brain, its nerves, its vessels, etc., enjoying only a greater complexity."40
Durkheim even provided his students with an anticipation of his doctoral thesis. Why, he asked, do men unite with each other this way? Briefly, because it is natural to them, and because they cannot be self-sufficient. The life of the modern European, Durkheim explained, is such that no individual alone can fulfill the multiple functions it demands. The process upon which we depend, therefore, is the division of labor -- i.e., each individual, charged with a special function, fulfills it better and more quickly, and thus acquires the products necessary to his life while also exchanging the products of his labor. Durkheim thus endorsed the views of Claude-Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), whose posthumously published Harmonie économiques argued that the well-being of each finds itself augmented to the benefit of all, each individual receiving more than he could ever have obtained had he remained alone.
How should society be organized? The common interest, Durkheim answered, must be remitted to a certain number of people charged with that function (i.e., the government). The government is armed with various powers; but in order that they not become dangerous, they must be divided -- hence the division of powers into legislative, executive, and judiciary. What is the foundation of penality? Some philosophers have argued that the foundation of punishment is expiation -- i.e., the person who has violated the law must be punished in order to expiate his fault. But how, Durkheim asked, does a punishment erase a fault? And by what right does a government impose virtue on its citizens? And does it even have the means to do so? For to expiate a fault, Durkheim observed, we must know the intention -- which alone makes the act moral or immoral -- as well as the act itself. A penalty, Durkheim thus argued, can never be an expiation; and neither can it "improve" the guilty (something for which, in any case, we are not responsible). For punishment often makes people worse rather than better: "To terrify a man," Durkheim insisted, "is not to improve his heart."41 The foundation of penality, Durkheim thus concluded, is the right of a society -- no less than an individual person -- to defend itself.
If we search for the functions of government itself, Durkheim continued, we find the same theories we discovered in education. According to the socialist theory -- of which Durkheim found a "complete expression" in Rousseau's Contrat social (1762) -- all citizens have abdicated their rights, individuality, and "personality" by entering society, and thus they belong to the state. Since the ends of society transcend those of the individual, the government is granted absolute sovereignty as long as it serves society's ends. The alternative is liberal or individualist theory -- i.e., in which society is an abstraction, and the individual alone is a reality. Here the function of government is to protect citizens against one another, and to safeguard the individuality of each. The government exercises authority and intervenes in the lives of citizens only to obligate each individual to respect the rights and liberty of others. The socialist theory, Durkheim responded, is obviously immoral -- i.e., it undermines the personality of the individual, by using it as a means to the realization of its own ends. The compensation offered by Rousseau -- i.e., the renunciation of individual freedom in order to benefit from an association of which one is also a member -- is insufficient; for the fact that others renounce their personality doesn't mitigate the fact that my renunciation (as well as theirs) is immoral from the moment it is performed. The liberal or individualist doctrine, by contrast, is not immoral; but against the notion that individual ends alone have value, Durkheim insisted that each society, like each individual, does have an end that is appropriate to it. The proper function of government is thus not simply to protect the personality of individual citizens, but also to lead a society to its proper end.
What are the duties of the citizen to the state? The first, Durkheim insists, is obedience to the laws; and while civil disobedience is obviously permitted in societies that are not democratic, it is not to be tolerated in societies where citizens have the right to express their ideas and to influence public policies. Other duties include the payment of taxes -- i.e., only those taxes to which citizens have consented; military service -- Durkheim included exemptions not only for the sons of elderly people and the elders of orphans, but also those "who consecrate their life to maintaining the high culture of the mind"; and the exercise of the franchise -- i.e., not only a right, but a duty for all citizens.
Durkheim began his sixty-fifth lecture -- on the general duties of social life -- with a critique of the distinction between: positive or broad duties -- i.e., those duties which command an action (e.g., doing good to others), and may be fulfilled in a variety of ways to various degrees; and negative or literal duties -- i.e., those duties which forbid an action (e.g., killing someone), and are both specific and absolute, admitting of no degrees in performance. Durkheim acknowledged that the distinction holds some justification, but he questioned the tendency to assume that negative duties were some how more obligatory than their positive counterparts, and positive acts more meritorious precisely because they are less obligatory. This assumption, Durkheim argued, derives from the fact that positive duties -- less important to society -- have no civil sanction; but the moral law transcends the laws of society. "All duties," Durkheim thus insisted, "derive from the moral law, which confers on all of them the same character of obligation. It is absolute in itself, and by consequence, there is no distinction to make in its application."42 Some actions are more meritorious than others, Durkheim observed, not because they are non-obligatory, but because they are more difficult to perform. This fact -- i.e., that merit derives from the difficulty to be overcome -- explains why Rousseau could mistakenly assume that society corrupts human nature. In fact, Durkheim argued, society facilitates moral action, reducing the obstacles to good behavior, and raises the average level of ethical conduct. In antiquity, morality was less widespread, and thus the slightest action seemed meritorious; more recently, society has made morality commonplace, so merit is less frequently accorded -- to the extent that the fear of not being compensated has discouraged those who might otherwise perform moral actions.
Durkheim's example of a "negative" duty was justice -- i.e., respect for the personality of others. To respect the personality of others, Durkheim began, means not to undermine the life of his body; but the demand that we develop our own personality necessarily includes the right of defense -- i.e., the right to conserve my life -- as well. This justifies killing another human being during a defensive war, he explained, but it does not justify capital punishment, for in the latter case -- once the criminal is incarcerated -- there is no danger to self or society. Justice, of course, also involves duties to the soul of others -- i.e., their sensibility, intelligence, and activity. To respect the sensibility of others, for example, means to be polite. But what do we do when this duty conflicts with the duty of truthfulness? Objecting strongly both to Rousseau and Kant, Durkheim insisted that where the choice is inescapable, we might lie if the truth would cause great sadness to another human being. To respect the intelligence of others is to let them think and express their ideas -- i.e., toleration -- something required not only by the moral law, but also by the progress of science itself. Finally, Durkheim's notion of the respect for other people's activity was divided into two parts. To respect activity in itself means to respect the freedom of others -- e.g., to resist and oppose the subordination or enslavement of others; and to respect the external conditions of others' activity means to respect their property -- i.e., we can develop our personality only insofar as we can exercise it on external objects.
Quite aside from the negative duty of justice -- i.e., not undermining the personality of others -- we have the more positive duty of charity to others -- i.e., to do whatever we can to support them, care for them, and enlarge their personality. The duty of charity toward the bodies of others, for example, is the safeguard of our health. For the soul, Durkheim again distinguished between the sensibility, intelligence and activity. Just as justice demands that we respect the sensibility of others by being polite, charity demands that we respect their sensibility through the duty of good will. Where justice requires that we respect others' intelligence through toleration, the more positive duty of charity requires that we work to enhance this intelligence, by teaching others what we know. And where justice insists that we respect the activity of others by protecting their property, charity demands that we enable our peers to receive property -- i.e., through the giving of alms. Finally, however obligatory these more positive duties, Durkheim insisted that charity should never contradict justice. Our first duty is not to injure others, and then our second is to aid them; but Durkheim acknowledged that, among these duties, there will inevitably be some extremely delicate conflicts.
Durkheim concluded his lectures on ethics with a description of his method. Historically, he explained, the great philosophers have followed one of two methods. The empiricist method -- which was followed by Epicurus, Spencer, and reached its "most perfect development" with Mill -- begins with the observation of human beings, asking when they are happy, and progresses through induction and generalization, developing the moral law from these observations. But whatever the degree of generalization, Durkheim complained, the empiricist method never reaches the universality which is a determining characteristic of the moral law. It reaches only local, provisional rules, good only for a certain time, and for a limited number of individuals. The a priori method of Kant, by contrast, starts with the abstract concept of a pure moral law and, assuming that the will can act without sensibility, asks what the law of this will should be. But Kant's method is "imaginary" -- i.e., it is the rule of an ideal, hypothetical activity -- not of human beings as they are.
Durkheim then reminded his students that his own, more eclectic method was both deductive and experimental. He had begun with a fact of experience -- i.e., moral responsibility -- and then deduced the conditions of moral responsibility -- i.e., the moral law of developing our personality. Durkheim emphasized that, unlike Kant, he had never ignored human nature -- i.e., a being endowed with sensibility, pursuing its own, distinctive ends. Where Kant had excluded psychology from ethics and Mill had reduced ethics to psychology, Durkheim claimed to have made his ethics reside (reposer) on psychology -- i.e., "in order to know what man should do, we have asked ourselves what man is." Psychology tells us that he is a person, he explained, and our ethics thus concludes that he should be a person. Durkheim thus claimed to have done justice to both the a priori and the empiricist approach to ethics, without the disadvantages of either -- i.e., moral responsibility (a fact of experience) was his point of departure, while finality (an a priori idea) regulated his ethics.
Metaphysics (Lectures 69-80)
Metaphysics -- the science that studies the conditions of states of consciousness -- raises three questions: First, is there one condition common to all states of consciousness, taken collectively, that we might call the soul? Second, are there conditions relative to the material world that we might call the body? And third, is there a condition relative to rational principles that we might call God? In addition to discovering whether or not these conditions exist, metaphysics also tried to determine their nature. In Lectures 13-14, Durkheim had already dealt with the question of the existence of the external world -- including the body -- as well as its nature. So his remaining lectures were primarily concerned with the soul and with God, using the same method he had followed throughout, and consistently defending a spiritualist, anti-materialist point of view. Briefly, Durkheim asked if the states of consciousness are sufficient to themselves or, on the contrary, need to be explained by some external condition. This method is not purely a priori, Durkheim reminded his students, because it begins with facts (i.e., the states of consciousness themselves); but neither is it purely inductive, for it deduces the conditions of facts previously assumed, rather than merely generalizing from facts themselves.
When we say there is a soul, Durkheim began his 70th lecture, we mean only that, within us, related to our states of consciousness, there is a principle distinct from the matter we perceive through the senses. But is there really a principle within us other than matter? It was here that the significance of Durkheim's Leibnizian -- by contrast with Cartesian -- realism became clear. In Lecture #14, Durkheim reminded his students, he had demonstrated that the idea of extension is contradictory, that the notion of extended matter is thus only an appearance, and the substratum of this appearance must be conceived as forces analogous to ourselves. Durkheim now turned this argument around, suggesting that the principle that we call matter, when it is perceived by the senses, is identical to the principle we call the mind, when perceived by the consciousness.
This is what we mean, Durkheim insisted, when we say that the soul is "spiritual" -- i.e., it is "matter" different from sensible, extended matter. Durkheim thus advanced four "special proofs" of the spirituality of the soul, the first three of which demonstrate a contradiction between the nature of mind and that of matter.43 First, Durkheim observed, the mind is one, while matter is multiple and indefinitely divisible: second, the mind is identical, while matter is constantly changing; and third, mind is endowed with activity and spontaneity, while matter is inert. These three arguments are analogous to those used by Descartes for the same purpose -- i.e., to demonstrate the difference between mind and matter. But Durkheim emphasized that his method is not the same as Descartes -- i.e., the Cartesian arguments depend upon the notion that two concepts which can be conceived separately belong to different species, while Durkheim's arguments are based on the principle that two orders of phenomena presenting contradictory characteristics are not related to the same substance. Durkheim thus argued that his own, Leibnizian position escapes the most common objection made to spiritualism -- i.e., that it accepts the existence of two different kinds of reality. "Our spiritualism," he emphasized, "admits, on the contrary, that the soul is not a reality of a separate nature, arising suddenly in the scale of beings. The mind finds itself in all degrees, only more or less rudimentary: everything lives," Durkheim concluded, "everything is animated, everything thinks."44
The doctrine opposed to spiritualism, Durkheim continued, is materialism, for which three arguments are commonly advanced. First, the scientific method constantly enjoins us not to multiply causes and/or principles, and spiritualism admits two realities, two irreducible principles, provoking an immediate presumption against it. But spiritualism only does this, Durkheim objected, because most spiritualists believe that sensible matter cannot have the property of thought. Recognizing that the essence of things escapes us, Durkheim asked rhetorically, is it conceivable that someday it will be "proved experimentally" that matter is endowed with spontaneity and thought? Durkheim's initial response to this rhetorical question was to remind his students that his own, Leibnizian form of spiritualism avoids dualism altogether -- i.e., reality is always the same; but seen from the outside, it is material, while seen from the inside, it is spirit. But the spiritualist hope that sensible matter will one day be shown to think is purely illusory -- i.e., as Durkheim had just explained in his previous lecture, the constitutive qualities of the mind (e.g., unity, identity, etc.) don't belong to matter, and the absence of these qualities implies the absence of thought.
The second materialist argument points to the dependence of the psychological on the physiological life; but Durkheim immediately countered by emphasizing the influence of the moral life on our physical health. The reciprocal influence of these two lives on one another is thus incontestable, Durkheim observed, and this indicates that they have the same principle; but we still have no reason to believe that this principle is material rather than spiritual. And the third materialist argument, based on the study of the brain and thought by the method of concomitant variations, insists that thought varies with the brain's volume, weight, form, quality, quantity of phosphorous, circulation of blood, etc. But these facts, Durkheim argued, are explained just as well if we consider the brain as the condition -- and not the cause -- of thought; and the condition, Durkheim reminded his students, is simply that without which the cause cannot produce its effect, not the cause itself.
All of its arguments being insufficient, Durkheim concluded, materialism cannot be scientifically established. Most decisively, the materialists want to reduce everything to extended, sensible matter; but the idea of extension, Durkheim repeated, is contradictory, and a world in which extended matter were the sole principle would be utterly unintelligible to us. What we call "matter," Durkheim insisted, is only a collection of appearances, and the existing substance that underlies and supports these appearances cannot be reached through the senses.
If the soul is distinct from the body, Durkheim then asked, how do we explain the continuous relations between the physiological and the psychological life? How can the physical act upon the moral, and vice versa? The hypotheses that have been advanced, Durkheim observed, include some that are metaphysical, and others that are physiological. The metaphysical hypothesis of Cudworth, for example, imagines a "plastic mediator" -- i.e., half-body, half-spirit -- between the body and the soul. Descartes, by contrast, treats the relations of thinking substance and extended substance as an irreducible fact, despite the abyss between them. Malebranche tried to explain these relations between two different substances through his theory of "occasional causes" -- i.e., the notion that we are not the causes of our own actions, but the occasions by means of which God exercises his causality. Finally, the metaphysical theory of Leibniz -- like that of Descartes -- insisted that the soul and the body (like all monads) could not act directly on one another. What makes them appear to act on each other, therefore, is that they are governed by God from eternity, and thus possess a "pre-established harmony."
Some hypotheses, by contrast, have a more physiological character. Since Descartes considered life to be a purely mechanical phenomenon -- e.g., human bodies are only machines -- it initially seems difficult to explain the relationship between things as different as the soul and the body; but there are "Cartesian" theories that accept a special principle for some properties of life. Organicism, for example, represents these properties as disseminated in the organs, the life of the body then being the result of all the local lives of the anatomical elements. But this explanation, Durkheim objected, fails to account for the harmony and unity of the vital functions. There must be a principle, a law, an idea -- i.e., something that directs and organizes the body's elementary organs and their movements. Members of the Montpellier school call this the "vital principle" (hence "vitalists"), adding that the soul is governed by an analogous, "spiritual" principle, and that these two principles -- "forces of the same nature" -- can act upon and communicate with one another. But Durkheim confessed that he still found it difficult to see how two substances like the mind and the body -- however analogous their "principles" -- might act on one another. This is why one last doctrine -- i.e., the animistic doctrine -- has insisted upon identifying the two principles. In The Vital Principle and the Thinking Soul, for example, Francisque Bouillier (1813-99) has argued that the "common sense" unhesitatingly affirms the unity of the self, suggesting that the body and the soul must emanate from the same source. Careful to avoid the more extreme position of Georg Ernst Stahl (1660-1734), who insisted that the soul acts on the body consciously, Bouillier thus emphasized that the influence of emotion and passion on the circulatory or immune systems indicates that the soul does act directly on the body. After reviewing all these metaphysical and physiological hypotheses concerning the relationship between the body and the soul, Durkheim concluded that it was simply impossible to find a satisfactory solution.
Within us, Durkheim continued, we have established the existence of a spiritual principle called the soul. During life -- in so far as experience reveals it to us -- the soul seems to be entirely bound to the body. Is this union necessary? When the body dies, does the soul perish with it? Of all beliefs, Durkheim emphasized, the most popular is that in the immortality of the soul. What are we to think of this belief? Three kinds of arguments have been offered in its support. The psychological arguments for the immortality of the soul, for example, point to a contradiction between the nature of our faculties and the hypothesis of a finite mortality -- e.g., our sensibility includes passions that no existing object can satisfy; our intelligence stimulates us to pursue an ideal truth that is unreachable; and our activity strives to attain a perfect good that can not be realized. But why would there be no contradiction, Durkheim asked, between our aspirations and our destiny? This argument becomes plausible only if we already assume the existence of a benevolent, intelligent, omnipotent God, who would not have given us tendencies that had to remain unsatisfied. Still, all of these hypotheses concerning the ends God has assigned us remain uncertain, for what appear to us as "contradictions" might simply be the consequence of our limited intelligence. Perhaps if we knew the system of ends toward which the world progresses, things that now appear contradictory would no longer seem so.
Durkheim described two metaphysical arguments for immortality: first, the view that death consists in dissolution -- i.e., a division of parts -- while the soul is one and simple, and thus cannot die; and second, the principle of the conservation of force and matter -- which extends to the psychological and physical world -- suggests that the "force" that we are (i.e., our soul) can be transformed, but not lost. When we die, Durkheim agreed, something of us survives, so both of these arguments are "more probing" than the psychological arguments already discussed. But the immortality we hope for is personal immortality -- i.e., an immortality in which the self remains the same, retains its memory, and affirms its existence after the decomposition of the body. But the immortality promised by the two arguments above is purely metaphysical and impersonal -- i.e., our souls might subsist after death, but only at the cost of being transformed into something not ourselves.
Moral arguments for immortality, Durkheim concluded, rest on the idea that the moral law must have a sanction -- i.e., a system of punishments and rewards must be attached to the observation or violation of the law. The laws of nature, Durkheim noted, need no sanction, because we cannot remove ourselves from their authority; but we can avoid the moral law, he added, and thus a sanction is always necessary to impose it on our consciousness. There are four kinds of sanction to which we are subjected during our lives: the material sanctions applied by society; the moral sanction applied by our peers; the material sanctions resulting from our actions themselves; and finally, the moral sanctions that we apply to ourselves. The first -- i.e., civil punishments and rewards -- are subject to numerous errors, leaving criminals unpunished and virtuous acts unrewarded; and while these are sometimes augmented by the moral rewards and punishments applied by our peers, these too are extremely fallible. The material sanctions resulting from the actions themselves are more reliable; but here again, the debauched person is sometimes able to preserve his good health, while the most sober individual is occasionally struck down by illness. Finally, where we impose moral sanctions on ourselves, we find that the most conscientious person often suffers more guilt, while the wicked are able to silence their consciences and escape any feelings of remorse altogether. In sum, the sanctions attached to the moral law in this life are insufficient, an observation that brings us to Kant's argument for immortality. Reason, Kant had emphasized, cries out for an absolute harmony between happiness and virtue -- something clearly lacking here on earth. Isn't this to say, Durkheim asked his students, that this harmony should be encountered later, in another life? But in fact Durkheim found Kant's argument defective. Admittedly, each of the four kinds of sanction -- taken in isolation -- is insufficient; but for Kant's argument to be complete, it would have to be shown that one type does not make up for the deficiencies of another, and that -- taken in their ensemble -- they remain insufficient.
From his discussion of arguments for the immortality of the soul, Durkheim then turned to arguments for the existence of God or the absolute -- i.e., a being that exists in itself and by itself, unconditioned, unlimited, undetermined, and thus perfectly self-sufficient. To ask if God exists, Durkheim explained to his students, is to ask if we have good reasons -- either metaphysical or moral -- for admitting the existence of such an absolute being. If God is the absolute, for example, our metaphysical proofs for its existence should show that the relative is insufficient to explain it -- i.e., that the phenomena demand to be explained by something other than themselves. But the world can be considered under as many different perspectives as there are rational principles, Durkheim observed, so each metaphysical proof must show that phenomena are insufficient to one of these perspectives; and the most general rational principles are those of perfection, causality, and finality.
The first metaphysical effort to prove God's existence by the principle of perfection, Durkheim began, was that introduced St. Thomas Aquinas, and later adopted by Descartes. Briefly, we observe that there are beings that are more or less good, more or less perfect, which assumes that there is an ideal perfection by which we measure everything that is only "relatively" perfect. Within us, therefore, there is an idea of absolute perfection, and Descartes -- reasoning that there must always be at least as much reality in the cause as there is in the effect -- argued that this idea could only come to us from a perfect being, or God. But the idea of perfection, Durkheim objected, is not among the conditions of experience; and the Cartesian notion that there is as much reality in the cause as in the effect assumes that the effect is only an "adequate part" of the cause (albeit detached from it). This is a mathematical conception, Durkheim complained, that bears no relationship to reality, where each effect is a new reality -- one qualitatively different from the cause. Finally, by assuming that our ideas are the products of external objects -- whether material or transcendent -- it denies our minds the active role that Durkheim had repeatedly insisted they possess.
The second proof of God's existence by the principle of perfection was the ontological argument, advanced in various forms by St. Anselm, Descartes, and Leibniz. Briefly, God is such that we can conceive of no being greater than he. If God doesn't exist, we could conceive of being that would be superior -- i.e., one that, in addition to God's other traits, would add the property of "existence." Therefore, God must exist. But even before Kant, Durkheim observed, Leibniz had noted a deficiency in this argument. In the manner of a mathematical proof, he observed, we first pose a definition (e.g., God is perfect), and then draw a consequence from it (e.g., existence is a perfection and thus God exists). But when we define a geometric figure (e.g., an isosceles triangle), Leibniz reminds us, we know that the figure is logically possible -- something we cannot know in the case of a perfect being. But even ignoring Leibniz's objection, Durkheim clearly found Kant's objections decisive. First, "existence" can hardly be a "perfection," for when I say an object "exists," I add nothing to my notion of the object -- only declaring that the attributes that comprise it are real. Second, a syllogism is an instrument of analysis that, by deriving an object's "existence" from its definition, is attempting a synthetic judgment -- something a syllogism cannot provide. "From the fact that I affirm that all perfections can belong to the subject God," Durkheim explained, "it follows only that God might exist, not that he really does exist."45
The second metaphysical effort to prove God's existence, which has its origin in Aristotle's Metaphysics, appeals to the principle of causality. Briefly, everything that is in movement is moved by something, while this something must itself be moved by something else. Outside of what we know, therefore, there must be a first mover -- itself unmoved, and thus deriving its own movement from itself -- from which all the other things derive their movement. Durkheim noted the similarity of Aristotle's argument to the proof a contingentia mundi of Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), which insisted that the existence of contingent effects requires prior causes, which themselves requires still prior causes, leading us into an infinite regress. This regression from cause to cause must have some end, for otherwise the world would be inexplicable. So we must stop at some first cause, which is itself without a cause -- i.e., God. Durkheim considered this proof superior to that by the idea of perfection; but a first cause, he objected, contradicts the principle of causality itself, for it does no more than to give the name "cause" to a term distinct from another term called the "effect." Indeed, a self-creating object contradicts any rational principle, and is thus beyond the limits of reason itself. What we should really learn from the principle of causality, applied to this sequence of causes and effects, is that there must exist something outside of the world of phenomena altogether.
The third metaphysical proof of God's existence -- i.e., by the principle of finality -- may be explained either abstractly or empirically. In the more abstract form of the proof, we begin by noting that reason obliges us to conceive the series of causes and effects as converging toward some kind of end; but for the unity called for by our minds to be realized in the world, these ends must be subordinated to one another. So we conceive each end as a means, in relation to some other end, and so on, until we arrive at a unique end -- i.e., God. God thus appears to us as the absolute end toward which the world of things is moving. Because this abstract version of the proof by the principle of finality does not require an indefinite regression of means and ends, Durkheim considered it superior to the proof by the principle of causality; but again, Durkheim saw no reason why these series of causes and effects would have to form just one system with a single end. Why not several distinct systems, for example, each with its own, special end? And if there are several systems, Durkheim reminded his students, we would be far from the absolute, and thus from God. And even if the end of the world were not multiple, Durkheim added, there remains the possibility that the end of the world is the realization of a free, rational being (i.e., man) and thus not an absolute, transcendent being (i.e., God) at all. The argument that attempts to prove the existence of God as the end of the world, Durkheim thus concluded, is not valid.
But there is still another metaphysical proof of God's existence, Durkheim observed, that combines the principles of finality and causality. This argument -- which Kant called the physico-theological proof, and for which he professed a particular respect -- considers God the designer of the world. It begins with the empirical observation that nature presents with evidence of order, plan, or design. This order, Kant observed, is not inherent in things, but rather belongs to them in a contingent manner, suggesting that there is a cause that has produced the world, not as a force "fatally engendering" its effect, but as an intelligence which acts freely. This in turn implies the existence of a designer -- i.e., an intelligence coordinating things harmoniously in view of some end. This intelligence is God. To this last argument, Durkheim then added Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason. At the origin of things, according to Leibniz, there was an infinity of logically possible worlds. Who, then, made the choice among all these possibilities? Why was one world chosen from these possibilities, and existence denied to all the others? Such a choice, Leibniz reasoned, implies the existence of an intelligence combined with a will, a supreme person -- i.e., God. It was God, therefore, who chose the present world because it is the best; and without God, this choice no longer has "sufficient reason."
All philosophers, Durkheim observed, agree with the first step of the proof -- i.e., the universe does reveal a certain order or harmony; but the same is not true for the second step, which attempts to explain this order as the result of an intelligent design. In the Greek atomists Democritus and Epicurus, for example, the order and harmony of the universe are explained contingently, as the consequence of chance collisions, combinations, and recombinations of atoms falling freely through infinite space. Cicero, of course, objected strongly to the Epicureans, insisting that so well-ordered a universe could never be explained as the consequence of mere chance. But Durkheim argued that Cicero had missed the point. In what appears again to be an appeal to Leibniz, he noted that the atoms might be grouped in an infinity of different ways, yielding an infinity of different worlds. Yet the present combination finished -- and had necessarily to finish -- by succeeding over all the others. Why? Because this combination was the only stable one -- i.e., the only one that allowed a state of equilibrium in the world. So we should be astonished, Durkheim concluded, neither by the fact that this orderly world has been formed, nor by the fact that it has endured.
How, then, are we to explain this peculiar state of equilibrium? The atomistic philosophy, which rejected finality only to replace it with sheer chance, is no longer acceptable. Instead, both chance and finality have been replaced by the mechanistic philosophy, whose most recent and perfected form Durkheim found in the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Earlier philosophers, Durkheim explained, had been impressed by the "marvelous proportion" between organisms and their environments, as well as the extraordinary coordination of the constituent elements within the organism itself; and they concluded that these two facts could be explained only on the hypothesis of an intelligent cause. But the mechanists, Durkheim observed, explain both as the deterministic consequence of efficient -- rather than final -- causes. The harmony between an organism and its environment, Spencer thus argues, can be explained by "adaptation" and the "instability of the homogeneous" -- i.e., a homogeneous mass is inherently unstable, so that an organism must differentiate in order to adapt to its environment; and the internal coordination of parts is explained by "segregation" -- i.e., the joining together of similar things into distinct systems. But Durkheim insisted that Spencer's argument doesn't really avoid the need for finality or for chance. If an organism is placed in a hostile environment, for example, it may or may not develop the organs necessary to its adaptation. But if it does develop these adaptive organs, can this development be explained simply as a consequence of the fact that the organs were necessary? If so, isn't this proof by the principle of finality? If not, isn't this development the consequence of mere chance? Moreover, where Spencer's theory might account for the physical coordination of the parts of an organism (i.e., the reunion of similar elements), it cannot explain their organic coordination -- i.e., their systematization or subordination to a dominant unity. In an organism, Durkheim reminded his students, all the parts cooperate in the whole, and this subordination is repeated in each individual organ. Again, Durkheim insisted, Spencer's evolutionism doesn't permit us to escape the need for the principle of finality. On the contrary, the harmony between organisms and their environments and the coordination of the constituent elements within an organism make our appeal to final causes all the more necessary.
In sum, Durkheim observed, we've established the existence of an end. But how is this end to be represented? The physico-theological argument, Durkheim reminded his students, conceives of the world as a work of art, and attributes its finality to the intelligence of an artist; in short, it conceives of the world as the product of a transcendent mind. But some philosophers have objected that this is unjustifiably anthropomorphic. Why can't finality be imminent -- i.e., thing going spontaneously to their end, as if guided by instinct rather than a transcendent mind? Versions of such an argument appear in Aristotle and also in Hegel; but it was immediately clear that here Durkheim was referring to Hartmann and Schopenhauer, whose theory of imminent finality was designed to replace transcendent finality and avoid anthropomorphism altogether. The "great failure" of their argument, according to Durkheim, was that it is irrepresentible. Briefly, all finality assumes the concept of an end; and such a concept is a psychological phenomenon, and is thus inconceivable without consciousness. Because he embraced the doctrine of unconscious psychological phenomena, Hartmann was undisturbed by this objection; but Durkheim had already rejected the notion of the unconscious, and was thus forced to accept a transcendent finality.
Does the physico-theological argument prove the existence of God? Kant thought not, addressing two objections to the argument, and Durkheim agreed with him completely. First, while the physico-theological argument demonstrates clearly that there is an architect of the universe, and that its form is contingent, it does not demonstrate that there is a creator, and that the material is contingent. For this, we require the cosmological argument, which Kant also rejected. Second, while the physico-theological argument begins with experience, it is not limited to experience alone. For if the order and harmony of the world are imperfect, we cannot conclude with the existence of a perfect cause. But everything given to us in experience, Kant argues, is more or less imperfect, and thus yields at most a cause which is very wise and very powerful in relation to ourselves -- but a not perfect cause.
What, then, are the moral argument for the existence of God? The first moral proof, Durkheim observed, is that from common consent -- i.e., the notion, first advanced by Cicero. that because all men believe in God, God must exist. But as Durkheim immediately pointed out, it isn't clear that all men believe in God; and even if they did, this would provide only a presumption -- not a proof -- in favor of God's existence. Turning to the second moral argument, Durkheim reminded his students of the two elements of morality that seem to assume a foundation outside of morality itself. The first element is obligation -- i.e., the moral law must bind us in some way, and it can do so only if we consider it as something living -- i.e., as God himself; and the second element is the sanction -- i.e., reason cries out for the harmony of virtue and happiness, and this is possible only assuming a transcendent God who puts nature into conformity with morality. According to this second moral argument, therefore, God appears to us both as the living moral law and as the sole condition on which the harmony of happiness and virtue might be realized.
From the metaphysical arguments, therefore, Durkheim was able to conclude that God exists as an absolute end, and also that he is the architect -- but not necessarily creator -- of the world; and from the moral arguments, Durkheim was able to conclude that God is the living moral law, as well as the condition of moral sanctions. What, then, is God's nature -- i.e., what are his qualities and attributes? To answer this question, Durkheim observed, there are two methods. The first is analogical -- i.e., it begins from the characteristics of imperfect beings, elevating them to perfection, and in this way arrives at the attributes of God. But this method, Durkheim complained, follows the principle that there should be as much reality in the cause as in the effect -- a principle that Durkheim had already refuted. The alternative method, which Durkheim favored, was to start from the definition of God, and to examine the conditions of the attributes -- both metaphysical and moral -- implied by this definition. Following this method, for example, the metaphysical attributes of God are: infinity -- i.e., being absolute, God cannot be finite; unity -- i.e., being absolute, God is necessarily one; perfection -- i.e., being absolute, God must be perfect; immortality -- i.e., being absolute, God cannot be subject to change; immensity -- i.e., being absolute, God cannot be limited in space; and eternity -- i.e., being absolute, God is outside of time. Following the same method, the moral attributes of God are: omniscience -- i.e., as the cause of harmony between happiness and virtue, God must be a perfect judge of the causes of men's actions; omnipotence -- i.e., God must be able to execute these same judgments; justice -- i.e., both the judgments and their execution must be absolutely impartial; and freedom -- i.e., to be perfectly just in both judgment and execution, God must be removed from the influence of any external cause.
Some philosophers, Durkheim observed, have argued that there is a contradiction between the metaphysical and the moral attributes of God -- i.e., the latter encourage us to see God as a person, while the former suggest that God is impersonal. This objection would be justified, Durkheim responded, if we understood God's "infinity" as infinite in extension; but we understand God as infinite, not in extension, but in comprehension -- i.e., as another form of his divine character. Similarly, the complaint would be justified if we understood God's "perfection" as simply the bringing together of all real and possible qualities to their maximum intensity; but for us, Durkheim insisted, the "perfect" is almost a synonym for the "absolute," and there can be no contradiction between the idea of God as the absolute and the idea of God as a person. On the contrary, the "perfect person" has for his ideal the "absolute."
What is the relation of God to the world? People typically consider God as the "cause" of the world. But how does this cause (God) produce its effect (the world)? The dualist answer, Durkheim observed, is that God merely gave order and harmony to matter, which itself had existed from eternity. But this matter, Durkheim objected, would then have been an absolute limiting the power of God -- something contradictory to those attributes of God described above. Moreover, however inchoate and indeterminate this matter might originally have been, it would still have had to possess certain properties, so that God could not organize it "absolutely as it pleased him." Responding to these objections, the pantheists ask why we should conceive of God as "outside" the world at all. Why isn't the universe "God developing himself"? Such a view, Durkheim observed, deprives any existence to individuals, which are now conceived as merely the diverse phenomena of an underlying, common substance -- whether material (Stoicism), spiritual (Hegel), or Spinoza's res extensa et cogitans -- called "God." But whatever its form, Durkheim argued, pantheism is vulnerable to three objections. First, its conception of God is impossible -- i.e., one thing cannot simultaneously have both extension and thought. Second, pantheism is inconsistent with our individuality or our freedom -- i.e., things that would be impossible if we were simply moments in the divine self-realization. And third, pantheism doesn't account for sensible multiplicity -- i.e., it reduces all movement and change to an eternally immobile God. Durkheim thus concluded that neither the dualist nor the pantheist account of God's relation to the world is acceptable. God is distinct from the world, Durkheim affirmed, and he is its creator, not just its architect; but we must not try to represent to ourselves what this means, for it is beyond our powers.
But some philosophers, Durkheim began his last lecture, simply cannot believe that God -- having created the world -- could have abandoned and lost interest in it. Descartes, for example, insisted that the world must be perpetually connected to the source from which it takes its existence -- his primary metaphysical argument for the existence of providence. Here, Durkheim observed, it is common to distinguish between particular and general providence. The first, as described by Bossuet, is an effective intervention of God in the human events of the world. But this doctrine of a particular providence, Durkheim complained, both contradicts the idea of human freedom and exalts the power of God at the expense of his dignity. Providence is therefore general -- i.e., it is the perfect wisdom and goodness of God, exercised at the beginning of time when it established the laws that govern the world, and continuing into the present through the maintenance of these laws and the conservation of the world.
A serious objection to this notion of a general providence, however, had been made by Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), who had revived the Manichaean doctrine of evil as a principle independent of God. Evil, Bayle had observed, may be of three kinds: metaphysical -- i.e., the physical and intellectual imperfection of all beings, including ourselves; moral -- i.e., the weakness of our will, which leads to sin; and physical -- i.e., suffering, illness, and death. How can such evil, Bayle asked, be reconciled with our notion of a general providence? But in his Theodicy (1710), Leibniz responded to Bayle that none of these evils proves anything against providence, for each is but the condition of inestimable goods, which would be impossible without them. Metaphysical evil, for example, simply shows that, as created beings, we cannot be perfect -- something that belongs to the absolute alone. Far from being an independent entity, therefore, this kind of evil is only the negation -- and thus a condition -- of the good. Similarly, moral evil a necessary condition of moral good, for we can do good (or evil) only if we are free to choose. Finally, physical evil is the consequence of the operations of natural laws; but these laws were not created for that reason, but because without them, the world would not exist. The suffering of some individuals is thus a condition of the existence of the world. Moreover, pain and suffering are "the best school of morality," raising individuals to a kind of dignity that the perpetually happy person could never achieve. At the moment of creation, Leibniz argued, God imagined the infinity of possible universes, and chose -- not the absolutely best -- but the best possible world. So to judge the perfection of the creation -- and thus the goodness of its author -- we must resist the tendency to judge each of the parts in detail, and instead judge the totality of things that exist. Evil can be considered bad only by minds that systematically limit their analysis to a part rather than the whole; and while the whole world is not perfect, neither is it bad. It is, according the Leibniz, the best of all possible worlds.
Durkheim apparently agreed with Leibniz's response to Bayle's pessimism; but the theological pessimism of Bayle, he continued, has been recently been replaced by the psychological and moral pessimism of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, becoming "almost popular over large parts of Europe." Schopenhauer's pessimism, for example, insists that pleasure is only the negation of pain, making pain the positive, normal fact of our sensibility; and while Hartmann at least granted pleasure a positive value, he also insisted that the quantity of pleasure that one can experience in life is vastly inferior to the amount of pain we are assured. Whether a pleasure is psychological or physical, Hartmann argued, both its duration and intensity are very brief, while the duration and intensity of pain is far greater; and even where pleasures and pains are of the same duration, no one would purchase an hour of pleasure with an hour of pain. In sum, for Hartmann, pain is the law of life, the almost constant state of the sensibility.
If Hartmann is right, Durkheim acknowledged, then the being that created us does not merit the name of "providence"; and in fact, Hartmann insisted that the Unconscious -- i.e., the mysterious principle of all nature -- created us only to realize its own, personal ends. While we think we are seeking our own ends, and even experiencing pleasure, this illusion vanishes with philosophical reflection, and we discover that we've been fooled, that we are the docile means for the ends of the Unconscious, and that our fate is pain rather than pleasure. But Durkheim argued that Schopenhauer and Hartmann had made two fundamental errors. First, the pessimists treat pleasure as an objective, impersonal phenomenon; but pleasure, Durkheim insisted, is clearly an individual matter -- i.e., what is "pleasurable" for one person might not be pleasurable for the next -- and thus they can hardly be submitted to quantitative measurement. In fact, some people would purchase an hour of pleasure with an hour of pain, as a matter of individual preference. Second, the pessimists assume that pain obsesses the mind for long periods, while pleasure is fleeting; but memory and hope, Durkheim argued, allow us to make pleasures endure no less than pains.
Happiness is an art, Aristotle's Ethics tells us, and one can learn any art.
- "A ceux-ci appartiennent donc le premier et le dernier mot, mais l'esprit est l'âme de la méthode." Sens Lecture #2, page 14.
- "En effet, elle traite les questions les plus importantes de toutes, et l'on ne peut bien raisonner qu'en connaissant les lois du raisonnement." Sens Lecture #4, page 27.
- See Boring, Edwin G. 1950. A History of Experimental Psychology. 2nd ed., New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, page 293; Ribot, Théodule. 1885. La Psychologie allemande contemporaine. 2nd ed., Paris: Alcan. Pages 181-8.
- See Durkheim, Émile. 1984. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by W.D. Halls. New York: The Free Press. Pages 181-2.
- "Si le corps était un milieu sans action qui transmit sans altération l'excitation produite à l'âme, on pourrait le négliger comme le fait la psychophysique. Mais il est loin d'en être ainsi, et le corps en transmettant les faits physiques à l'âme les modifie beaucoup, et différemment, suivant les circonstances et les individus." Sens Lecture #5, page 37.
- Durkheim, Émile. 1887. "La Philosophie dans les universités allemandes." Revue international de l'enseignement 13: 313-38, 423-40. Page 329n16.
- More precisely, a "faculty" is "a specific, natural mode of conscious activity." What is a property in inorganic matter, or a function in the organized body, therefore, is a faculty in the soul: " Ce qu'on appelle faculté dans l'âme est donc ce qu'on nomme propriété dans les corps inorganiques, fonctions dans les corps organisés. La seule différence est que la faculté représente une plus grande somme d'activité que la fonction, la fonction une plus grande somme d'activité que la propriété." Sens Lecture #6, page 44.
- Sensibility was taken up in Lectures 7-9; intelligence in Lectures 10-29; and activity in Lectures 33-37. Lectures 30-32 were devoted to aesthetics, which Durkheim characterized as "phenomena in which the sensibility and the intelligence converge simultaneously" -- "phénomènes auxquels concourent à la fois la sensibilité et l'intelligence." Sens Lecture #30, page 214.
- "Les exercices musculaires, les couleurs brillantes, les études, les plaisirs intellectuels nous plaisent parce que nos divers modes d'activité y trouvent leur déploiement." Sens Lecture #7, page 53.
- "Conserver l'être et l'augmenter sont deux tendances de la nature." Sens Lecture #8, pages 56-57.
- "Sans trancher la question immédiatement, nous nous contentons pour le moment de constater que certaines de nos inclinations s'appliquent à d'autres êtres que nous; naturellement, nous sommes faits de façon à nous occuper, à avoir besoin d'autrui." Sens Lecture #8, page 58.
- "La société est une réunion de familles; l'humanité une réunion de sociétés. C'est de l'amour de la famille qu'on s'élève à celui de la société, de celui de la société à celui de l'humanité. Quand bien même on réaliserait la paix universelle, on n'abolirait pas pour cela le patriotisme pris dans son sens le plus large, pas plus que l'établissement de la société et de la patrie n'a aboli le sentiment de la famille." Sens Lecture #8, page 59.
- Durkheim noted that all these emotions were studied by Spinoza in his Ethics. Sens Lecture 9, page 66.
- "Ainsi donc, lorsque l'objet de la passion n'est pas mauvais en soi, lorsqu'un minimum de raison en surveille le développement, elle est la condition indispensable sans laquelle on ne fait rien de grand." Sens Lecture #9, page 72.
- Obviously, Durkheim uses this term here in a sense different from that in his initial description of the three "faculties of the soul."
- Durkheim repeated Anaxagoras' observation that it is due to the hand that man is able to think.
- In 1728, Cheseldon had removed highly opaque cataracts from a 13-14 year-old boy who had been blind from birth. His sight restored, the child was still incapable of perceiving depth and extension for a considerable period of time.
- "Si la théorie de Stuart Mill est fausse en ce qui concerne l'origine première de l'idée d'extériorité, elle est vrai en la restreignant, à la mise en ordre des sensations éprouvées et objectivées spontanément par le moi." Sens Lecture #12, page 89.
- "Quant à l'étendue, au mouvement, aux qualités premières et secondes, ce ne sont que des apparences dues uniquement à la déformation subies par les choses quand elles arrivent jusqu'à nous par l'intermédiaire des sens." Sens Lecture #14, pages 101-102.
- By its very definition, Durkheim observed, a "number" is susceptible of being indefinitely augmented or diminished; but "the infinite" is fixed, and the notion of an "infinite number" is thus meaningless. Sens Lecture #14, page 98.
- In support of this view, Durkheim cited George Henry Lewes' observation, in The Physical Basis of Mind (1877), that "La conception scientifique d'une matière inerte, insensible, ne s'obtient que par une longue éducation qui rend l'esprit capable d'abstraire; très certainement les animaux et les sauvages n'y atteignent jamais" (page 308). Durkheim had apparently encountered this important passage in Alfred Espinas's Des Sociétés animales (1877: 413).
- "D'après cette doctrine, que nous avons acceptée, il n'y a pas dans la nature de brusque solution de continuité; depuis l'esprit parfait jusqu'à la matière inorganique, tout est esprit, tout est force. Il n'y a qu'une question de degré dans la conscience." Sens Lecture #14, page 101.
- Durkheim was careful here to distinguish this specifically Kantian notion of mind from the theory of innate ideas -- i.e., "There are no ideas completely formed, engraved in our minds prior to experience. Before experience, there is nothing there." -- as well as the notion of an impersonal reason, first advanced by Plato, and more recently by Cousin and Bouillier -- "La raison que nous admettons est au contraire, absolument personnelle. Elle ne dépend pas d'une cause extérieure, n'est pas un reflet d'un monde supérieur. C'est seulement l'expression de la nature propre de chacun de nous. Le plus illustre partisan de la raison ainsi comprise est Kant.." Sens Lecture #18, page 126.
- Durkheim refused to answer the question of whether this order required by the mind actually exists in things themselves. Sens Lecture #19, page 128.
- Durkheim did not deny the existence of the absolute. On the contrary, the fact that all philosophers throughout history have tried to attain it creates a strong presumption in favor of its existence. Durkheim thus promised to return to the question in his lectures on metaphysics.
- Durkheim recognized that Mansel had refuted Mill on precisely this point. "We can imagine," Mansel says, "that the same stone sinking in water ninety-nine times, and floating on the hundredth, although experience shows us only the first phenomenon. Experience always shows us a man's head on his shoulders, and the horse's head on the horse's body. But there's no impossibility in our imagining a centaur." Sens Lecture #21, page 149.
- "Il y a donc lieu de surveiller cette faculté avec soin, car elle contribue très fortement à former notre caractère; c'est par suite de l'habitude que nous avons d'associer telles ou telles idées que nous avons telles moeurs ou telles inclinations." Sens Lecture #24, page 176.
- Warren Schmaus notes that Janet's Traité élémentaire de philosophie à l'usage des classes (1879) -- apparently the textbook used by Durkheim in the preparation of his Sens lectures -- makes no mention of this argument. Elie Rabier's Leçons de philosophie (2 vols., 1884-86) discusses contemporary and historical examples of the construction of imaginative hypotheses, referring his readers to John Tyndall; but again, as Schmaus observes, this isn't the argument presented by Durkheim in the Sens lectures.
- Schmaus adds that such interpretations are largely the consequence of an anglophone audience responding to the initial, highly defective translation of Les Règles.
- "Si nous avons cette idée, c'est que nous nous voyons libres, que nous nous sentons libres, donc nous le sommes." Sens Lecture #35, page 258.
- "Une fois que nous nous sommes représenté le but nous avons la faculté de délibérer, et de faire durer cette délibération aussi longtemps que nous le voulons. Voilà où est la liberté." Sens Lecture #36, page 269.
- Durkheim added that the theory is subject to a number of other, more important criticisms; but he considered this argument alone sufficient to refute it.
- "Il y a exagération à croire que les découvertes sont dûes à la méthode. Les inventions sont dûes à ce qui ne se donne pas par une méthode, la force du génie." Sens Lecture #48, pages 356-357.
- "Toute science qui n'a pas d'expérimentation n'a pas de loi, car l'existence de celle-ci implique hypothèse, expérimentation, induction." Sens Lecture #50, page 370.
- "Il croit que la meilleure manière de trouver notre plus grand plaisir, c'est de trouver le plus grand plaisir des autres parce qu'il y a une harmonie naturelle entre tous les intérêts humains." Sens Lecture #57, page 414.
- The thing "does not act," Durkheim quoted Malebranche, "but is acted upon." Sens Lecture #60, page 433.
- "Tout ce qui avilit, tout ce qui diminue notre personne doit nous répugner." Sens Lecture #62, page 448.
- "En vertu de sa force matérielle et en générale de ses aptitudes intellectuelles, l'homme se trouve mieux en état de protéger la famille. A lui incombe donc ce devoir; à la femme des devoirs plus humbles."Sens. Lecture #63, page 455.
- "Il faut donc préparer l'enfant, l'éduquer, c'est-à-dire lui donner des habitudes. Pour cela une certain dose d'autorité est nécessaire. Le tout sera de l'employer sans excès, non pour façonner de force l'enfant à l'image de ses parents, mais pour préparer chez lui l'avènement de la personnalité humaine; les habitudes qu'on lui donnera devront toutes tendre à faire de lui une personne." Sens Lecture #63, page 456.
- "La grande société qui réunit les individus n'est pas moins naturelle que la petite qui constitue chacun de ces individus; elle est comme elle un organisme naturel ayant son cerveau, ses nerfs, ses vaisseaux, etc., et jouissant seulement d'une complexité plus grande." Sens Lecture #64, page 461.
- "Mais terroriser l'homme n'est pas améliorer son coeur." Sens Lecture #64, page 463.
- "Tous les devoirs dérivent de la loi morale, qui leur confère à tous le même caractère d'obligation." Sens Lecture #65, pages 472-473.
- The fourth argument for the spirituality of the soul -- often conjoined with the first three -- is that the soul and the body are frequently in conflict, and that this indicates the existence of two distinct principles. Sens Lecture #70, pages 497-498.
- "Notre spiritualisme admet au contraire que l'âme n'est pas une réalité d'une nature à part surgissant tout à coup dans l'échelle des êtres. L'esprit se retrouve à tous les dégrés, seulement plus ou moins rudimentaire: tout vit, tout est animé, tout pense." Sens Lecture #70, page 498.
- "De ce que j'affirme que toutes les perfections peuvent convenir au sujet Dieu, il peut s'ensuivre qu'il peut exister, mais non qu'il existe réellement." Sens Lecture #75, page 532.
To return to the Durkheim Home Page, click here.
For additional information, send a message to email@example.com.