Durkheim Study Questions (1)
WHAT IS ASOCIALFACT?
Explain, in your own words, what Durkheim means by saying that there are ways of
acting and feeling which exist outside the consciousness of the individual.
This refers to the idea that the system of signs that people employ to express their
thoughts, the monetary system they use to pay their debts, the credit instruments
they utilise in their commercial relationships, the practices they follow in my
profession, etc., all function independently of the use they make of them.
What does it mean to say that some facts possess coercive power over individuals?
they consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual,
which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control
What does Durkheim mean by social “currents”?
no social fact can exist except where there is a well-defined social organization
social currents refers to the facts which do not present themselves in an already
crystalized form but which also possess the same objectivity and ascendancy over
What is a social fact, according to Durkheim?
commonly used to designate almost all the phenomena that occur within society
essentially no human occurrence that cannot be called social
a clearly determined group of phenomena separable, because of their distinct
characteristics, from those that form the subject matter of other sciences of nature
A social fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over
the individual an external constraint; which is general over the whole of a given
society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual
How can one identify a social fact?
social fact is identifiable through the power of external coercion which it exerts or
is capable of exerting upon individuals
presence of this power is in turn recognizable because of the existence of some
pre-determined sanction, or through the resistance that the fact opposes to any
individual action that may threaten it
THE DIVISION OF LABOUR IN SOCIETY
p. xxv-xxx What is the difference between deducing morality from science and constituting the
science of morality?
Science of morality = moral facts are phenomena like any others that consist of
rules for action that are recognizable by certain distinctive characteristics and thus
it is possible to observe, describe and classify them as well as to seek out the laws
that explain them
Morality from science is developing morality by studying positive sciences
What is the difference, according to Durkheim, between “the science of morality” and
philosophical conceptions of morality?
What does Durkheim believe the practical payoff of this book will be?
Why does Durkheim recommend a “prudently conservative” approach to ideological
intervention in social life?
Why does Durkheim mean by applying “methodical doubt”? Why does he think doing so
does entail any risk to “moral reality”?
What is, for Durkheim, the condition of all science?
What is the guiding question for this book?
What is the difference between Durkheim’s presentation of the division of labour and
Adam Smith focused on the DOL as it influences the economic sphere of life and
the central idea that each product is in itself a specialty demarcating the others
Durkheim expands this concept to include the entire society, politics, law, arts and
sciences have all become more and more specialized
What are, according to Durkheim, the two main moral responses to the rise of the
division of labour in society?
The question of whether we should abandon ourselves to the control of the DOL
or resist it
What method does Durkheim propose in order to determine whether the division of
labour can be classified as a moral rule?
What are the three main sections of the book? What does each aim to accomplish?
Why? 1. Investigate the function of DOL; its social need
2. Determine causes and condition that constitute DOL
3. Classify the principal abnormal forms that it assumes in order to avoid
confusing it with the rest
In order to evaluate objectively the DOL one must first study it in itself
investigating its utility and on what it is contingent
In what sense does Durkheim use the term “function”? What is the difference between
“aims or purposes,” “results or effects,” and “functions”?
Function is used in the sense of a corresponding relationship between a system of
living movements and their effects in regards to the needs of the organism i.e.
digestive functions in relation to a human being
What are the commonly cited effects of the division of labour in society? Why,
according to Durkheim, does the DOL not necessarily generate these effects?
It is often believed that DOL increases both the productive capacity and skill of
the workman = necessary condition for the intellectual and material development
It is unrelated to building moral character as it the economic activity that
accompanies civilization in which crime and suicide are most frequent
What is the difference, according to Durkheim, between art and morality? Between
science and morality?
While art is resistant to obligation, one which people are not compelled to
acquire, morality is the indispensable minimum which is strictly necessary that
society requires in order to function constraining us to an already established path
towards a definite goal
How does Durkheim define the field of ethics?
It comprises all the rules of action that are imposed categorically upon behavior
and to which a punishment is attached but goes no further than this
Why does Durkheim believe that “civilization” is not the reason for the division of
DOL function is to mitigate the effects that it produces, binding up the wounds
that it inflicts
What sorts of opposites tend to be attracted to one another, according to Durkheim?
We are very often drawn to people who do not resemble us precisely because they
do no not so
We seek in our friends those qualities that we lack because in uniting them we
share in some way in their nature feeling less incomplete What is the function of the DOL according to Durkheim if it isn’t “increasing civilization
Economic services that it renders when compared with the moral effect that it
True function is to create between two or more people a feeling of solidarity
It is because men and women differ that they seek out each other, different parts
of the same whole
What is the difference between the feeling of solidarity rooted in similarity to others and
the feeling rooted in complementary differences?
Solidarity stemming from similarity to others results in the two parts becoming
interdependent, being indistinct from each other they fuse and become one
Solidarity stemming from complementary differences results in the various parts
remaining outside from each other but are linked because they are distinct
How does Durkheim propose to determine the degree to which the DOL contributes to
the integration of society?
By studying law itself as law is often responsible for the definite organization of
social law itself
How does Durkheim propose to measure social solidarity? Why does he choose this
The study of solidarity lies within the domain of sociology, it is a social facts that
can be known only through its social effects
Specifically, since law reproduces the main forms of social solidarity, we only
have to classify the different types of law in order to be able to investigate which
types of social solidarity correspond to them
What is Durkheim’s definition of law?
Public law regulates the relationships of the individual with the state
Private law regulates the relationships of the individual with one another
In what ways can custom and law come into conflict? Why does Durkheim believe that
such conflict does not threaten his study?
Why does Durkheim reject the public/private law distinction?
All law is public in the sense that it is a social function and individuals are
functionaries of society
Why does Durkheim instead focus on sanctions and punishments? Because they are a characteristic essential to judicial phenomena but with much
What are the two main kinds of legal sanction?
Repressive, organized sanctions (penal law): injuring the perpetrator of a crime,
harm him through his honor, life, liberty; deprive him of some object who
possession he enjoys
Restoring the previous state of affairs: reestablishing relationships that have been
disturbed from their natural form by forcibly redressing the action, restoring it or
What is a crime, according to Durkheim?
Any act, regardless of the degree, which provokes against the perpetrator some
form of action
What does Durkheim mean by “collective or common consciousness”? What is the
difference between “collective consciousness” and “the psychological life of society”?
collective or common consciousness = the totality of beliefs and sentiments
common to the average members of a society that forms a determinate system
with a life of its own
Psychological life of society = constitutes a limited part of the collective
consciousness, consist of functions that appertain to the psychological order
How does Durkheim use the notion of collective consciousness to define crime?
An act is considered criminal when it offends the strong, well-defined states of the
Why do crimes committed by government officials, count, according to Durkheim, as
violations of the collective consciousness, even if they are not met by severe public
Wherever an authority to govern is established, its first and foremost function is to
ensure respect for beliefs, traditions and collective practices = to defend the
common consciousness from all of its enemies thus becoming the symbol of that
Why do punishments tend to bear a “certain stamp of religiosity”?
Because the acts that it punishes always appear as attacks upon something which
is transcendent whether this is a being or a concept How do punishments affirm the common consciousness?
The wrong done arouses among all who witness it or who know of its existence
the same indignation
It occurs in each individual not in isolation but together with all other individual
and in unison
How do feelings of collective outrage become organized into legal institutions?
Through the gathering of people in the court of law which later developed into a
system of conformity with general laws
What kind of solidarity does the penal law symbolize?
The conformity of each individual consciousness to a common type
Not attracted to each other because they resemble each other but linked to what is
the condition for this collective type
Describe the “two consciousnesses” that exist within us?
One is comprised only of states that are personal to us, characteristics of us as
individuals = individual personality
The other is comprised of states that are common to the whole society = collective
Why is it the case that punishment “above all intended to have its effect upon honest
It serves to heal the wounds inflicted upon the collective sentiments; can fulfill
this role only where such sentiments exist and in so far as they are active
Why is the number of repressive rules in a society proportional to the number of social
relationships defined by a common consciousness?
In determining what part of the judicial apparatus is represented by penal law, we
shall at the same time measure the relative importance of this solidarity
Durkheim Study Questions (2)
DIVISION OF LABOUR IN SOCIETY
What is the distinguishing mark of “restitutory sanction”?
That it is not expiatory but comes down to restoring the status quo ante Why, according to Durkheim, are restitutory laws not a part of the collective
They are specialized into bodies such as consular courts, tribunals, etc.
What is the difference between laws of restitution and private mediation?
Private mediation = applies general and traditional rules of law to a particular care
Laws of rest