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Ontology & epistemology. Ontology: a specification of a conceptualization 1 E.g., What is society? What do we mean when we invoke “society”? Who does it contain? What are its boundaries? Generally understood as a theory of what is, of being, existence

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Ontology epistemology
Ontology & epistemology

  • Ontology: a specification of a conceptualization1

    • E.g., What is society? What do we mean when we invoke “society”? Who does it contain? What are its boundaries?

    • Generally understood as a theory of what is, of being, existence

  • Epistemology: the study of knowledge and justified belief 2

    • What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?

    • How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind?

    • Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry

1.T. R. Gruber. A translation approach to portable ontologies. Knowledge Acquisition, 5(2):199-220, 1993.

2. Steup, Matthias, "Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/epistemology/>.

Metatheoretical map


commodity festishism





surplus value

class conflict

class interests

labor exploitation

forces & relations of production








Metatheoretical map1
Metatheoretical Map














Emile durkheim 1858 1917
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

There can be no society which does not

feel the need of upholding and reaffirming

at regular intervals the collective sentiments

and the collective ideas which makes its unity and personality. Now this moral remaking cannot be achieved except by the means of reunions, assemblies and meetings where the individuals, being closely united to one another, reaffirm in common their common sentiments.

(Durkheim 1912/1995: 474-75)

Intellectual influences
Intellectual influences

  • Auguste Comte (1798-1857), founder of French positivism, coined the term “sociology”

    • Through systematic collection, the patterns behind and within individual behavior can be uncovered

    • positivism: the idea that the study of social phenomena should employ the same scientific techniques used in the natural sciences

    • Comte saw "social physics" or sociology as a means to combat anarchy in the wake of the French Revolution

    • Society is sui generis (an objective reality that is irreducible to the individuals that compose it) and amenable to scientific investigation

  • Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), British philosopher, shared organic view of society

    • as social organism grows, it becomes more complex, due to differentiation

    • differentiation: in essence, any change that increases the variety of social forms having durable connections to each other

      • e.g., variations among people based on selected social characteristics such as age, sex, race, educational attainment, occupational status, etc.

Influences and core ideas
Influences and core ideas

  • Sense of moral crisis in turn of the century France

    • ED defended Captain Alfred Dreyfus at center of "Dreyfus Affair," who was falsely charged w/treason

    • ED considered antisemitisma "moral sickness of society”

  • ED was a reformist, not a revolutionary

    • described Marxism as a “disputable set of outdated hypotheses“

    • ED did not support agitation, feared and hated social disorder, but did not believe social disorder was inherent in capitalism or a necessary part of modern world

    • Disorder could be reduced through social reforms

  • Critique of individualism

    • society, not the individual, is primary

    • ED was critical of utilitarian individualism, economism

Core ideas in durkheim s early work
Core ideas in Durkheim’s early work

  • role of ideals &moral unity in the continuity of society

  • individual as active agent &passive recipient of social influence

  • society is more than sum of its parts

  • society as an organism, which can be healthy or pathological

  • change from traditional to modern society likened to biological processes involving differentiation of cells

Metatheoretical map2
Metatheoretical Map





Du Bois







Metatheoretical map3
Metatheoretical Map



collective conscience

collective representations

sacred & profane

social solidarity

mechanical solidarity

organic solidarity

division of labor











T he modern division of labor marx vs durkheim
The modern division of labor – Marx vs. Durkheim

  • Marx claimed the division of labor (or economic specialization) in capitalism inevitably resulted in alienation

  • Durkheim, by contrast, argued that economic specialization was not necessarily bad for the individual or society

    • It depends on the conditions, whether it’s voluntary or not

D ivision of labor social solidarity
Division of labor & social solidarity

  • The Division of Labor in Society challenged claim that modern society was headed towards disintegration

  • Despite declining significance of traditional moral beliefs (rooted in religion), a new system of moral regulation could be found in the differentiated DOL

    • Not based on formal contracts, as utilitarianssuggest

    • Social norms upholding contracts give them force - "noncontractualbasis of contract"

  • Contemporary society still has a moral order!

A new type of solidarity
A new type of solidarity

  • social solidarity: the cohesion of social groups

  • In modern societies, mechanical solidarityis supplanted by a new type of social cohesion: organic solidarity

     contemporary society still has a moral order!

There are two types of positive solidarity mechanical organic
There are two types of positive solidarity: mechanical & organic

  • mechanical solidarity, links the individual to society without any intermediary

    • Society is organized collectively and is composed of beliefs common to all members of the group

    • The individual consciousness depends on the collective consciousness

  • collective conscience: “the totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society” that “forms a determinate system which has its own life”

Mechanical vs o rganic solidarity
Mechanical vs. organic solidarity

  • Where mechanical solidarity is the main basis of societal cohesion, collective conscience completely envelops the individual conscience and therefore presumes an identity between individuals in their beliefs and actions

  • With organic solidarity, society is a system of different functions united by definite relationships, which bring about the DoL

Dol social solidarity
DoL & social solidarity

  • In modern DoL, each individual must have a sphere of action and a personality which is his own

  • Individuality grows at the same time as the parts of society

    • Society becomes more effective at moving in concert though at the same time each of its elements has more movements that are peculiarly its own

  • Solidarity stems not simply from acceptance of common set of beliefs but from functional interdependence in DoL

  • The growth of organic solidarity and the expansion of the DOL are associated with increasing individualism

  • The progress of organic solidarity is depends on the declining significance of the collectiveconscience

A science of morality
A science of morality

  • ED sought to treat the facts of moral life according to the method of the positive sciences

    • vs. the moral philosophers who began with a priori postulates about essential human nature

    • & vs. psychology, where propositions are applied through a process of logical deduction

  • ED sets out not to extract ethics from science, but to establish a science of morality

    • moral rules develop in society and are bound up with the conditions of social life pertaining in a given time and place

    • science of moral phenomena thus sets out to analyze how changing forms of society effect transformations in the character of moral norms and to observe and classify these

Sociology is the study of social facts
Sociology is the study of social facts

  • Sociology is a distinct field of study

  • Although the social sciences are distinct from the natural sciences, the methods of the latter can be applied to the former

  • The social field is also distinct from the psychological realm

    social facts: conditions and circumstances external to the individual that, nevertheless, determine the individual’s course of action

Crime is normal
Crime is normal

  • Crime is present in all societies of all types

  • Its form changes

    • acts thus characterized are not the same everywhere but everywhere and always there have been people whose behavior draws punishment

  • Crime is not only inevitable, it is necessary - an integral part of all healthy societies

What is crime
What is crime?

  • Crime consists of an act that offends certain very strong collective sentiments

  • It is not the intrinsic quality of a given act that makes it a crime, but the definition which the “collective conscience” of society gives it

Crime plays role in social evolution
Crime plays role in social evolution

  • Where crime exists, collective sentiments are sufficiently flexible to take on a new form, and crime sometimes helps determine the form they will take

    • ED: “Socrates’ crime, independence of thought, provided a service not only to humanity but to his country, preparing the ground for a new morality & faith in Athens, since traditions were no longer in harmony with current conditions”

      • his violation was a crime, but it was useful as a prelude to necessary reforms

Crime has a social function
Crime has a social function

  • Crime must no longer be conceived as an evil to be suppressed

  • Instead, we should attempt to discern its social function, the purpose it serves for society