Suicide - Book Three
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Suicide - Book Three

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This is a presentation on the book Suicide by Emile Durkheim. It is a book within the classical sociology canon.

This is a presentation on the book Suicide by Emile Durkheim. It is a book within the classical sociology canon.

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Suicide - Book Three Suicide - Book Three Presentation Transcript

  • Suicide Book Three: General Nature of Suicide as a Social Phenomenon
  • The Social Element of Suicide The individual conditions on which suicide might, a priori, be supposed to  depend, are of two sorts: P. 297 ―There is first the external situation of the agent. Sometimes men who  kill themselves have had family sorrow or disappointments to their pride, sometimes they have had to suffer poverty or sickness, at others they have had some moral fault with which to reproach themselves, etc.‖ P. 298 ―The most varied and even the most contradictory events of life may  equally serve as pretexts for suicide. This suggests that none of them is the specific cause. Could we perhaps at least ascribe causality to those qualities known to be common to all? But are there any such? At best one might say that they usually consist of disappointments, of sorrows, without any possibility of deciding how intense the grief must be to have such tragic significance. Of no disappointment in life, no matter how insignificant, can we say in advance that it could not possibly make existence intolerable; and, on the other hand, there is none which must necessarily have this effect. We see some men resist horrible misfortune, while others kill themselves after slight troubles. Moreover, we have shown that those who suffer most are not those who kill themselves most. Rather it is too great comfort which turns a man against himself. Life is most readily renounced at the time and among the classes where it is least harsh. At least, if it really sometimes occurs that the victim's personal situation is the effective cause of his resolve, such cases are very rare indeed and accordingly cannot explain the social suicide-rate.‖
  • The Social Element of Suicide P. 299 ―Wholly different are the results we obtained when we forgot  the individual and sought the causes of the suicidal aptitude of each society in the nature of the societies themselves. The relations of suicide to certain states of social environment are as direct and constant as its relations to facts of a biological and physical character were seen to be uncertain and ambiguous. Here at last we are face to face with real laws, allowing us to attempt a methodical classification of types of suicide. The sociological causes thus determined by us have even explained these various concurrences often attributed to the influence of material causes, and in which a proof of this influence has been sought. If women kill themselves much less often than men, it is because they are much less involved than men in collective existence; thus they feel its influence—good or evil—less strongly. So it is with old persons and children, though for other reasons. Finally, if suicide increases from January to June but then decreases, it is because social activity shows similar seasonal fluctuations. It is therefore natural that the different effects of social activity should be subject to an identical rhythm, and consequently be more pronounced during the former of these two periods. Suicide is one of them. The conclusion from all these facts is that the social suicide rate can be explained only sociologically.‖
  • The Average Man Argument P. 303 ―Thus, in a country like France, where for a long time there  have not been more than 150 suicides per million inhabitants, the average intensity of the suicidal inclination would be expressed by the proportion 150/1,000,000 or 0.00015; and in England, where there are only 80 cases for an equal number, this proportion would be only 0.00008. There would therefore be an inclination to suicide, of this strength, in the average individual. But such figures practically amount to zero. So weak an inclination is so far from an act that it may be considered non-existent. It has not strength enough to occasion a singled suicide unaided.‖ What’s his point here?  We don’t all have an inclination to suicide  Some are under pressure to commit suicide while others have no pressure to  suicide What does this have to do with the social suicide rate?  You can’t explain it by claiming there is an equal suicidal tendency among  everyone The factors that lead to suicide are relatively constant, but they don’t  affect everyone equally
  • The Social Element of Suicide Pp. 307-308 ―It has been thought that this conclusion might be  avoided through the observation that this very continuity was the work of individuals and that, consequently, to account for it there was no need to ascribe to social phenomena a sort of transcendency in relation to individual life. Actually, it has been said, quot;anything social, whether a word of a language, a religious rite, an artisan's skill, an artistic method, a legal statute or a moral maxim is transmitted and passes from an individual parent, teacher, friend, neighbor, or comrade to another individual.― If this is true, does that mean suicide is learned and transmitted from  generation to generation? P. 307 ―The number as such cannot be directly transmitted. Today's  population has not learned from yesterday's the size of the contribution it must make to suicide; nevertheless, it will make one of identical size with that of the past, unless circumstances change. Are we then to imagine that, in some way, each suicide had as his initiator and teacher one of the victims of the year before and that he is something like his moral heir?‖ So, how does the social suicide rate remain constant? 
  • The Social Element of Suicide P. 309 ―The terms therefore must be strictly understood. Collective  tendencies have an existence of their own; they are forces as real as cosmic forces, though of another sort; they, likewise, affect the individual from without, though through other channels. The proof that the reality of collective tendencies is no less than that of cosmic forces is that this reality is demonstrated in the same way, by the uniformity of effects. When we find that the number of deaths varies little from year to year, we explain this regularity by saying that mortality depends on the climate, the temperature, the nature of the soil, in brief on a certain number of material forces which remain constant through changing generations... Since, therefore, moral acts such as suicide are reproduced not merely with an equal but with a greater uniformity, we must likewise admit that they depend on forces external to individuals. Only, since these forces must be of a moral order and since, except for individual men, there is no other moral order of existence in the world but society, they must be social. But whatever they are called, the important thing is to recognize their reality and conceive of them as a totality of forces which cause us to act from without… Thus, the basic proposition that social facts are objective… finds a new and especially conclusive proof in moral statistics of suicide.‖ What is he saying here? 
  • The Social Element of Suicide P. 310 ―This world is nothing if not a system of realities.  But just because it encounters traditional prejudices this conception has aroused objections to which we must reply. First, it implies that collective tendencies and thoughts are of a different nature from individual tendencies and thoughts, that the former have characteristics which the latter lack. How can this be, it is objected, since there are only individuals in society? But, reasoning thus, we should have to say that there is nothing more in animate nature than inorganic matter, since the cell is made exclusively of inanimate atoms. To be sure, it is likewise true that society has no other active forces than individuals; but individuals by combining form a psychical existence of a new species, which consequently has its own manner of thinking and feeling.‖ What is he saying here? 
  • The Social Element of Religion P. 312 ―Religion is in a word the system of symbols by means of  which society becomes conscious of itself; it is the characteristic way of thinking of collective existence.‖ P. 318 ―With good reason, religions and many philosophies with them  have regarded morality as deriving its total reality only from God. For the pallid, inadequate sketch of it contained in individual consciences cannot be regarded as the original type. This sketch seems rather the result of a crude, unfaithful reproduction, the model for which must therefore exist somewhere outside individuals. This is why the popular imagination, with its customary over-simplicity assigns it to God. Science certainly could waste no time over this conception, of which it does not even take cognizance. Only, without it no alternative exists but to leave morality hanging unexplained in the air or make it a system of collective states of conscience. Morality either springs from nothing given in the world of experience, or it springs from society. It can only exist in a conscience; therefore, if it is not in the individual conscience it is in that of the group. But then it must be admitted that the latter, far from being confused with the average conscience, everywhere surpasses it.‖
  • The Social Element of Suicide P. 320 ―Nothing is more reasonable, then, than this  proposition at which such offense has been taken; that a belief or social practice may exist independently of its individual expressions. We clearly did not imply by this that society can exist without individuals, an obvious absurdity we might have been spared having attributed to us. But we did mean: 1. that the group formed by associated individuals has a reality of a different sort from each individual considered singly; 2. that collective states exist in the group from whose nature they spring, before they affect the individual as such and establish in him in a new form a purely inner existence.‖ P. 324 ―The productive cause of the phenomenon  naturally escapes the observer of individuals only; for it lies outside individuals. To discover it, one must raise his point of view above individual suicides and perceive what gives them unity.‖
  • The Social Element of Suicide The rate of suicide varies by society  But within a society it is fairly constant  Assuming the factors that influence the rate are fairly  constant This suggests that the forces that influence the rate  of suicide are external to the individual They are social facts  The totality of beliefs and practices, of folkways and  mores, is the collective conscience of a society It is the aggregation of social facts:  Things that ―exist‖ outside of individuals in the sense that  individuals behave as though they do exist outside of them Today we call this ―culture‖ 
  • Relations of Suicide with Other Social Phenomena P. 334 ―Because we have an immortal soul in us, a spark of  divinity, we must now be sacred to ourselves. We belong completely to no temporal being because we are kin to God. But if this is why suicide has been classed among illicit actions, should we not henceforth consider the condemnation to be without basis? It seems that scientific criticism cannot concede the least value to these mystical conceptions, nor admit that man contains anything whatever that is superhuman. Reasoning thus, Ferri in his Omicidio-suicidio thought himself justified in regarding all prohibitions of suicide as survivals from the past, doomed to disappear. Considering it absurd from the rationalist point of view that the individual could have an extra-personal aim, he deduces that we are always free to renounce the advantages of community existence by renouncing life itself. The right to live seems to him logically to imply the right to die.‖ P. 328 – Should suicide be treated as a crime? 
  • The Morality of Suicide P. 337 ―Under these conditions suicide must be classed among  immoral acts; for in principle it denies this religion of humanity. A man who kills himself, the saying goes, does wrong only to himself and there is no occasion for the intervention of society; for so goes the ancient maxim Volenti non fit injuria (to a willing person, no injury is done). This is an error. Society is injured because the sentiment is offended on which its most respected moral maxims today rest, a sentiment almost the only bond between its members, and which would be weakened if this offense could be committed with impunity. How could this sentiment maintain the least authority if the moral conscience did not protest its violation? From the moment that the human person is and must be considered something sacred, over which neither the individual nor the group has free disposal, any attack upon it must be forbidden. No matter that the guilty person and the victim are one and the same; the social evil springing from the act is not affected merely by the author being the one who suffers. If violent destruction of a human life revolts us as a sacrilege, in itself and generally, we cannot tolerate it under any circumstances. A collective sentiment which yielded so far would soon lose all force.‖
  • The Morality of Suicide P. 341 ―Suicide is, then, a transformed and  attenuated homicide. In this view, it seems almost salutary; for if it is not a good, it is at least a lesser evil, which spares us a greater. It would even seem that one should not try to restrain its scope by prohibitive measures; for by so doing one would be giving rein to homicide. It is a safety-valve which is useful to leave open. In short, suicide would have the very great advantage of ridding us of a number of useless or harmful persons without social intervention, and hence in the most simple and economical way. Is it not better to let them put themselves out of the way voluntarily and quietly, than to force society to eject them from its midst by violence?‖
  • Table XXXI – Comparative Development of Murders (Pre- Meditated and Unpremeditated) and Suicides at Different Ages, in France (1887) Suicides per 100,000 Unpremeditated Premeditated Age Men Women Murders Murders From 16 to 21 6.2 8 14 9 21 to 25 9.7 14.9 23 9 25 to 30 15.4 15.4 30 9 30 to 40 11 15.9 33 9 40 to 50 6.9 11 50 12 50 to 60 2 6.5 69 17 Above 60 2.3 2.5 91 20 What are we looking for here? If suicides continue to increase with age, but murders don’t, what does that mean? Is the implication that suicides prevent murders later on?
  • Table XXXII – Monthly Variations of the Different Forms of Homicidal Criminality (1827-1870) Unpremeditated Premeditated Infanticides Manslaughter Murders Murders January 560 829 647 830 February 664 926 750 937 March 600 766 783 840 April 574 712 662 867 May 587 809 666 983 June 644 853 552 938 Is the implication that suicides prevent murders later on? July 614 776 491 919 August 716 849 501 997 September 665 839 495 993 October 653 815 478 892 November 650 942 497 960 December 591 866 542 886 Correlation -.15 -.53 .24 .15 Correlation is with Table XII data.
  • Suicide and Murder P. 351 – He actually ends up arguing:  ―It is even a general rule that where homicide is very  common it confers a sort of immunity against suicide.‖ P. 353 ―homicides are much more frequent in  Catholic countries than among Protestant peoples‖… P. 354 ―while family life has a moderating effect upon  suicide, it rather stimulates murder.‖ What do you think? 
  • Suicide and Murder Premeditated Premeditate Premeditated & d and More Than and Catholic Catholic Unpremeditat Unpremedita 90% Unpremeditat Minority Majority ed Murders ted Murders Catholic ed Murders per Million per Million per Million Rhine Upper 2.8 4.3 Palatinate Palatinate Central Lower Upper 6.9 9 13 Franconia Franconia Bavaria Upper Lower 6.9 Swabia 9.2 13 Franconia Bavaria Average 5.5 Average 9.1 Average 10.1
  • Homicide Rates – Catholic Countries Simple Homicides per Premeditated Murders Catholic Countries Million per Million Italy 70 23.1 Spain 64.9 8.2 Hungary 56.2 11.9 Austria 10.2 8.7 Ireland 8.1 2.3 Belgium 8.5 4.2 France 6.4 5.6 Averages 32.1 9.1
  • Homicide Rates – Protestant Countries Simple Homicides per Premeditated Murders Protestant Countries Million per Million Germany 3.4 3.3 England 3.9 1.7 Denmark 4.6 3.7 Holland 3.1 2.5 Scotland 4.4 0.7 Averages 3.8 2.3 What’s the implication? Rather than kill themselves they kill each other? Are those murdered those who would kill themselves anyway?
  • Suicide and Murder P. 355 ―By way of summary, then, suicide sometimes  coexists with homicide, sometimes they are mutually exclusive; sometimes they react under the same conditions in the same way, sometimes in opposite ways, and the antagonistic cases are the most numerous. How explain these apparently contradictory facts? The only way to reconcile them is by admitting that there are different sorts of suicide, some of which have a certain kinship to homicide, while it is repugnant to others. For the identical phenomenon cannot possibly behave so differently under the same circumstances. The suicide which varies in the same proportion with murder and that which varies inversely with it cannot be of like nature.‖
  • Suicide and Murder P. 356 ―The less respect there is for individual persons,  the more they are exposed to violence, while this violence at the same time appears less criminal. Egoistic suicide and homicide, therefore, spring from antagonistic causes, and consequently it is impossible for the one to develop readily where the other flourishes.‖ P. 357 ―This is anomic suicide. Anomy, in fact, begets a  state of exasperation and irritated weariness which may turn against the person himself or another according to circumstances; in the first case, we have suicide, in the second, homicide. The causes determining the direction of such over-excited forces probably depend on the agent's moral constitution. According to its greater or less resistance, it will incline one way rather than the other. A man of low morality will kill another rather than himself.‖
  • Practical Consequences How do you solve the problem now that we ―know‖  the cause? Education, exhortation, or repression are ineffective  Egoistic suicide – reintegrate individuals;  occupational groups, compact voluntary associations based on work interests Altruistic suicide – declining as a result of  individualism; not of much concern Anomic suicide – same as for egoistic suicide –  integrate individuals with society via occupational work groups; also, give women greater freedom and equality to address suicide that results from divorce
  • Religion as Solution P. 374 ―Religious society is equally unadapted to this  function. Of course, it has been able to exert a beneficent influence under given conditions; but the necessary conditions are no longer given. In reality, it secures against suicide only if powerfully enough constructed to have a close grip on the individual. Because the Catholic religion imposes on its faithful a vast system of dogmas and practices, and so penetrates all the details of even their earthly life, it attaches them to this life with greater force than Protestantism.‖
  • Family and Politics as Solutions to Suicide What about the family as a solution? Will increasing  marriage rates reduce suicide? (p. 376) P. 384 ―The only way to reduce the number of  suicides due to conjugal anomy is to make marriage more indissoluble.‖ Is this a good solution? Who would it benefit?  What about a political solution? Can we increase  patriotism to reduce suicide?
  • Organic and Mechanical Solidarity P. 378 ―Besides the society of faith, of family and of  politics, there is one other of which no mention has yet been made; that of all workers of the same sort, in association, all who cooperate in the same function, that is, the occupational group or corporation.‖ P. 379 ―Thus the corporation has everything needed  to give the individual a setting, to draw him out of his state of moral isolation; and faced by the actual inadequacy of the other groups, it alone can fulfill this indispensable office.‖ Do you want this role for corporations?  Are corporations the answer to suicide? 