Durkheim on Suicide. Early French sociology in the shadow of natural science. Comte on social physics, on statics and dymanics ; positivism as a social philosophy Darwin on evolution Science as a source of metaphors (society as an ‘organism’) The search for social laws
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a sociological, not a psychological problem, because: ‘each society is predisposed to contribute a definite quota of voluntary deaths. This predisposition may therefore be the subject of a special study belonging to sociology’.
One might think a priori that some relation existed between the nature of suicide and the kind of death chosen by the one who commits it. It seems quite natural that the means he uses to carry out his resolve should depend on the feelings urging him on and thus express these feelings. We might therefore be tempted to use the data concerning this matter supplied to us by statistics to describe the various sorts of suicides more closely, by their external form. But our researches into this matter have given only negative results. ... The social causes on which suicides in general depend, however differ from those which determine the way they are committed; for no relation can be discovered between the types of suicide which we have distinguished and the most common modes of performance. (Durkheim, Suicide: 290-1)
Durkheim's study was not organized on the basis of empirical variables, even though perhaps the method he outlined in his 1895 book The Rules of Sociological Method had specified that it should have been. It was organized on the basis of a theory of basic social causes’ (Mike Gane).
it can be established absolutely certainly that the tendency to suicide varies according to education. But it is impossible to understand how education can lead to suicide. ... Thus we are moved to ask whether both facts might not be the consequence of one single state. This common cause is the weakening of religious traditionalism, which reinforces at the same time the desire for knowledge and the tendency to suicide. (Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, pp. 152-3)
The development of creative individualism partly compensates for the protection modern societies lose as they stray away from tradition. Once again, the correlation becomes more pronounced if we assume a constant level of wealth’ (Baudelot and Establet, p.73).
Generally, the richer the country, the fewer the people who engage in regular religious observance. Specifically: