Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography

By Emile Durkheim; Kurt H. Wolff | Go to book overview

THE DUALISM OF HUMAN NATURE AND ITS SOCIAL CONDITIONS 1

EMILE DURKHEIM

Although sociology is defined as the science of societies, it cannot, in reality, deal with the human groups that are the immediate object of its investigation without eventually touching on the individual who is the basic element of which these groups are composed. For society can exist only if it penetrates the consciousness of individuals and fashions it in "its image and resemblance." We can say, therefore, with assurance and without being excessively dogmatic, that a great number of our mental states, including some of the most important ones, are of social origin. In this case, then, it is the whole that, in a large measure, produces the part; consequently, it is impossible to attempt to explain the whole without explaining the part--without explaining, at least, the part as a result of the whole. The supreme product of collective activity is that ensemble of intellectual and moral goods that we call civilization; it is for this reason that Auguste Comte referred to sociology as the science of civilization. However, it is civilization that has made man what he is; it is what distinguishes him from the animal: man is man only because he is civilized. To look for the causes and conditions upon which civilization depends is, therefore, to seek out also the causes and conditions of what is most specifically human in man. And so sociology, which draws on psychology and could not do without it, brings to it, in a just return, a contribution that equals and surpasses in importance the services that it receives from it. It is only by historical analysis that we can discover what makes up man, since it is only in the course of history that he is formed.

The work that we recently published, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,2 offers an example of this general truth. In attempting to study religious phenomena from the sociological point of view, we came to envisage a way of explaining scientifically one of the most characteristic peculiarities of our nature. Since the critics who have discussed the book

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