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

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

PRAGMATISM AND SOCIOLOGY 1
EMILE DURKHEIM
FIRST LECTURE 2

INTRODUCTION
What are the reasons that lead me to choose the subject of this course? Why have I given it the title Pragmatism and Sociology? First of all, it is because of the contemporaneity of pragmatism, which is almost the only theory of truth that exists at present. It is also because pragmatism contains a sense of life and of action that it has in common with sociology. The two are children of the same period.However, I am far from accepting the conclusions of pragmatism. It is interesting, therefore, to characterize the respective positions of the two doctrines. The problem raised by pragmatism is, in fact, a very serious one. In our time we are witnessing an attack on reason; actually it is an all-out assault.3 Thus the interest of the problem is three-fold.
1. It is, first of all, of general interest. More than any other doctrine, pragmatism is capable of making us aware of the necessity for renovating traditional rationalism, for it shows us the inadequacies of rationalism.
2. Next, it is of national interest. Our whole French culture is at bottom essentially rationalistic. The eighteenth century is an extension of Cartesianism. Therefore, a total negation of rationalism would constitute a danger: it would upset our entire national culture. The whole French mind would have to be transformed if it were necessary to accept the form of irrationalism that pragmatism represents.
3. Finally, it is of specifically philosophic interest. Not only our culture but the whole of the philosophic tradition, including the first stages of philosophic speculation (with one exception, with which we shall deal shortly), tends to be rationalistic. If pragmatism were valid, we should have to proceed by completely reversing this whole tradition.

In the philosophic tradition, two currents are generally dis-

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