I’m rereading Durkheim’s Suicide for teaching purposes and I’d forgotten how fascinated I am by his account of the boundary between the psychological and sociological, as well what this means for our conception of the individual:
From pg 17:
Intention is too intimate a matter for it to be accessible from outside except by means of vague approximations. It even escapes internal observation. How often do we not ourselves mistake the true motives for our own acts! We continually explain what we do in terms of generous feelings or elevated intentions when they have in fact been motivated by petty impulses or blind habit. In any case, an act cannot in general be defined by the end desired by the agent, since a single system of movements may, without changing in kind, be adapted to too many different ends.
From pg 18:
They are distinguished from those by a characteristic that is easily recognized, since it is not an insoluble problem to know whether the individual did or did not know in advance the natural outcome of his act. Thus they form a distinct, homogeneous group, capable of being distinguished from all others and which, consequently, should be designated by a particular word.
From pg 21:
But is the phenomenon that we have defined in this way of interest to the sociologist? Since suicide is the act of an individual that concerns only that individual, it appears that it should depend entirely on individual factors and consequently pertain solely to psychology. In short, is not the suicide’s resolve normally explained by his temperament, his character, his antecedents and the events of his private history?
From pg 28:
Among individual conditions, there are surely many that are not general enough to affect the ratio of the total number of voluntary deaths to the population. These may perhaps lead this or that isolated individual to kill himself regardless of whether the society as a whole has a stronger or weaker tendency to suicide. Just as these do not relate to a particular state of social organization, so they do not have any social repercussions. As a result, they concern the psychologist, not the sociologist.
From pg 32:
There are two sorts of extra-social causes to which may be attributed, a priori, an effect on the suicide rate: these are organic-psychic tendencies and the nature of the physical environment. It may be the fact that there exists an inclination in the make-up of an individual, or at the very least of a significant class of individuals, which varies in intensity from one country to another and impels men directly to suicide; and, in the second case, climate, temperature, etc., might have indirectly the same effect by the way in which they act upon the organism.
Categories: Becoming Who We Are