SY203 Lesson 5
The major thrust of Durkheim's argument was that individuals take their own lives not
because of what troubles them or the degree of their personal distress or misfortune.
Rather, Durkheim's thesis is that people take their own lives because of social forces
operating outside of them.
First, by stating that social causes precede individual causes, Durkheim eliminates the need to
look at the various forms suicide assumes in individuals. (ii) Second, in focusing his attention on
the various social environments to which the individual is connected, Durkheim eliminated the
necessity of looking at individual disposition or personality.
The Social Suicide Rate
Durkheim drew three fundamental
conclusions which turn on the question of the stability of the suicide rates: (i) First, he
reasoned that the stability of the rates was important because he was able to show that,
while individual motives for suicide varies from case to case and from individual to
individual, the regularity exhibited by the social rates for the society were consistently
stable. (ii) Second, though the rates varied from society to society, the stability of the
rates within a particular society over a period of time meant that that each society
produces a 'quota of suicidal deaths'. (iii) Third, the stability of the rates within each of
the societies meant certain social forces were operating to produce what Durkheim saw
as the 'yearly precision of rates.
Suicide and Integration Theory
Social Integration: system of social links which attach individuals to social groups
Durkheim believed that integration served three basic
functions: (i) First, it served to connect individuals to society by ensuring a high degree
attachment to commonly held values and beliefs; (ii) Second, social integration acts as
check against individualism by imposing restraints on needs and wants; (iii) Third, social
integration serves connective functions so far as it propels individuals out into the wider
The Theory of Suicide: The integrative Pole: Egoism- Altruism
First, the integrative pole in which suicide results from changes in the level of social
This pole gives us two corresponding types: egoism and altruism.
Egoism may be described as a state "where the individual ego asserts itself to excess
in the face of the social ego, and at its expense."3 We can call the particular type of
suicide that results from this excessive individualism, egoistic.4 Egoism may then be
defined as an excessive degree of individualism in which the network of social
obligation lying outside the individual is diminished and withdrawn to the individual ego.
Under these circumstances, individual needs and wants become dominant over
collective norms of society. What is important here, for Durkheim, is that egoism entails
a breakdown in the social links tying individuals to society. Under these circumstances,
egoism constituted athreat to society, to collective authority and to aggregate
Religion, Social Integration and Suicide
Religion, says Durkheim, serves the function of
social integration by linking the individual to persons and things outside themselves.
Specifically, it does this by integrating various spheres of social life and by placing
restrictions on the extent of indiv