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SUICIDE (1897)
[Introduction: Durkheim argued that the consistency of suicide rates was a social fact,
explained by the extent to which individuals were integrated and regulated by the
constraining moral forces of collective life. Egoistic and altruistic suicide arose from the
respective under-integration and over-integration of the individual by society. Anomic
suicide and fatalistic suicide were respectively cause by under-regulation and overregulation in the society. Durkheim observed that in Western society, anomie was leading
to increased suicide rates.]
Durkheims definition of suicide: suicide is applied to every case of death which results
directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act, carried out by the victim himself,
knowing that it will produce this result.
Why is it a social fact: when we consider all suicides committed in a particular society
during a specific time period as a whole, the total is not simply a sum of independent
units, but constitutes in itself a new fact sui generis, which has its own unity and
individuality, and therefore, its own pre-eminently social nature.
The rate of mortality due to suicide: in each time period, each society has a certain
tendency towards suicide. The relative intensity of this tendency is measured by taking
the relationship between the total of voluntary deaths and the population of all ages and
Durkheim wants to find the social causes of suicide (not personal or psychological) and
therefore looks at the social environments (religious beliefs, family, political society,
occupations, etc.)
He delineates four types of suicide: egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic
Egoistic Suicide:
He observes that the rate of suicide is less among Catholics and Jews than among
Protestants. He prefers to make this comparison within a single society, rather than
across societies where one of these religious groups is the majority, since each national
society might have different reasons for having more or less suicides.
What are the reasons for this difference:
Partly because, whenever a religious community is a minority within a larger society, the
community exercises strict control over its members. But, for Durkheim, this factor
cannot adequately explain the difference.
The main reason is because Protestanism allows free inquiry to a much greater extent
than either Judaism or Catholicism. Free inquiry is the effect of another cause, the

overthrow of traditional beliefs. in Protestanism there is more freedom of thought

because it has fewer common beliefs and practices.
Suicide also increases with knowledge (education). But knowledge is not the cause of
increased suicide. Rather, it is when religious society loses cohesion that a man seeks to
have more knowledge and kill himself.
[The important point here is methodological. That two things are correlated doesnt mean
that one is the cause of the other.]
Thus, religion preserves men from suicide because it constitutes society.
Then, there are other types of society which would have a similar effect: the family, and
political society
Family: Married men and women (above 20 years of age) commit suicide less than
unmarried people. Widowed people commit suicide more often than married people, but
less often than single people.
What are the reasons? Durkheim looks at the constitution of the family group. The more
children people have, the less likely they will commit suicide.
But in general, marriage protects men from suicide more so than women.
Political Society: In a society where collective sentiments are strong, there is patriotism,
and political faith in the nation, then suicides are less. For that reasons, during periods of
social upheavals and popular wars, the suicide rate goes down.
Durkheims general conclusions regarding egoistic suicide:
** Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of the social groups to which
the individual belongs. Alternatively,
Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of religious society, degree of
integration of domestic society (family), and that of political society.
Altruistic Suicide:
Just as excessive individualism leads to suicide, insufficient individualism also does.
Durkheim says that among primitive (tribal and non-western) people, suicide is
common. In this case, a man or a woman might see it as his/her duty to commit suicide.
(Such as a wife killing herself when her husband is dead; a man killing himself in old
age, etc.) He calls this altruistic suicide for the following reason:
Having designated as egoism the condition in which the ego pursues its own life and is
obedient only to itself, the designation altruism adequately expresses the opposite
condition, where the ego is not its own property.

Durkheim observes that altruistic suicide is unlikely to occur much in modern western
society where individual personality is increasingly freed from the collective
Anomic Suicide:
Suicides increase during times of industrial and financial crises. However, the reason for
increased suicide is not poverty.
For Durkheim, crises of prosperity (periods of economic growth and prosperity) also
lead to increased rate of suicide.
This is because they are [both] crises, in other words, disturbances of the collective
order. Every disturbance of equilibrium, even though it may involve greater comfort and
a raising of the general pace of life, provides an impulse to voluntary death.
Why is this the case?
Society, which exerts a moral power over the individual, has the ability of regulating
human needs and desires. But in times of crises (abrupt change of a positive or negative
kind), the society becomes incapable of exercising regulation over individuals. It is then
that suicides increase. Because when abrupt social change occurs, values and needs
change. And it takes time for the reshaping, or regulation of different groups needs.
Durkheim calls this state anomie.
He argues that in the world of industry and trade, there is a constant state of crisis and
anomie. On the one hand religion has lost most of its power, on the other hand, nations
have become preoccupied with industrial growth. Industry has become an end in itself,
rather than a means to achieve an end. Therefore, he says, the rate of suicide in industrial
and trade occupations is high.
**Anomie is a regular and specific factor in causing suicide in our modern societies.
Anomic suicide is different from the previous two types in that it does not depend on the
way in which individuals are attached to society, but on the way in which they are
regulated by society.
Anomie can also be seen in marital relations. Divorce is an expression of this type of
anomie, which consists of a weakening of matrimonial regulation.
Fatalistic Suicide:
This is the opposite of anomic suicide. It results from excessive regulation. Examples are
suicides by very young husbands, childless married women, slaves, etc. These suicides
are all attributable to excesses of physical or moral despotism. They are people whose
futures are blocked and whose passions are suppressed by an oppressive discipline. But
Durkheim thinks that this type of suicide is unimportant in modern society.
Conclusion: the social suicide rate can only be explained sociologically. It is the moral
constitution of the society which always determines the quota of voluntary deaths. For

each population there is a collective force with a particular strength which impels men to
kill themselves.
He deals with the origins of religions in this book.
His general argument: Religions is eminently social. Religious representations are
collective representations which express collective realities; the rites are a manner of
acting which take rise in the midst of the assembled groups and which are destined to
excite, maintain or recreate certain mental states in these groups.
All religious beliefs, whether simple or complex, have a common characteristic: they
presuppose a classification of all the things, real and ideal, of which men think, into two
opposed groups: the profane and the sacred. This differentiation between the profane and
the sacred is absolute.
*Sacred things are those which the interdictions protect and isolate. Profane are the things
to which interdictions are applied.
*Religious beliefs are the representations which express the nature of sacred things and
the relations which they have with each other or with profane things
*Rites are the rules of conduct which prescribe how a man should comport himself in the
presences of sacred objects.
Durkheims definition of religion: a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to
sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into
one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.
Origins of the Idea of the Totemic Principle
Totemism. A totem: a plant or an animal which is a symbol
A totem (a) is the outward and visible form of the totemic principle or god. (b) It is the
symbol of the society called the clan. A totem is like a flag; it is the sign by which each
clan distinguishes itself from the others.
**Then, a totem is both the symbol of god and the society. apotheosis
a god is not merely an authority upon whom we depend; it is a force upon which our
strength relies. The man who obeys his god and believes the god is with him,
approaches the world with confidence. Likewise, social action does not confine itself
to demanding sacrifices, privations and efforts from us. For the collective forces is not
entirely outside of us; it does not act upon us wholly from without; but rather, since
society cannot exist except in and through individual consciousness, this force must also
penetrate us and organize itself within us; it thus becomes an integral part of our being
and by that very fact this is elevated and magnified.

the totemic principle, and in general, every religious force, [is] outside of the object in
which it resides. It is because the idea of it is in no way made up of the impressions
directly produced by this thing upon our senses or minds. Religious force is only the
sentiment inspired by the group in its members, but projected outside of the
consciousness that experience them, and objectified. To be objectified, they are fixed
upon some object which thus becomes sacred; but any object might fulfill this function.
the sacred character assumed by an object is not implied in the intrinsic properties of the
latter: it is added to them. The world of religious things is not one particular aspect of
empirical nature; it is superimposed upon it.
**Thus social life, in all its aspects and in every period of its history, is made possible
only by a vast symbolism. Collective sentiments can be symbolized through material
emblems, but also through real or mythical people.
***this reality, which mythologies have represented under so many different forms, but
which is the universal and eternal objective cause of these sensations sui generis out of
which religious experience is made, is society. We have shown what moral forces it
develops and how it awakens this sentiment of a refuge, of a shield and of a guardian
support which attaches the believer to his cult. It is that which raises him outside himself;
it is even that which made him. For that which makes a man is the totality of the
intellectual property which constitutes civilization, and civilization is the work of society.
This is explained by the preponderating role of the cult in all religions, whichever they
may be. This is because society cannot make its influence felt unless it is in action, and it
is not in action unless the individuals who compose it are assembled together and act in
common. It is by common action that it takes consciousness of itself and realizes its
it may be said that nearly all the great social institutions have been born in religion.. If
religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is
the soul of religion
Systematic idealization is a characteristic of all religions. Men have idealized a world (a
sacred one) which exists above their profane life. Although this ideal world exists only in
thought, men attribute a higher dignity to it.
The formation of the ideal world is a natural product of social life. A society can
neither create itself nor recreate itself without at the same time creating an idea. The
ideal society is not outside of the real society; it is a part of it.
For a society is not made up merely of the mass of individuals who compose it, the
ground which they occupy the things which they use., but above all is the idea which it
forms of itself.
Thus the collective ideal which religion expresses is far from being due to a vague
innate power of the individual, but it is rather at the school of collective life that the
individual has learned to idealize.

Durkheim emphasizes that his theory of religion is different from historical materialism
(Karl Marx) in that he does not see religion as simply a translation of the material forms
of society into a different language. Collective consciousness is more than an
epiphenomenon of the material basis of society.
Every society needs to regularly reaffirm and uphold its collective sentiments and
collective ideals. This requires reunions, assemblies, and meetings where people get
together and reaffirm their common sentiments.
Science versus religion:
Scientific thought is a more perfect form of religious thought. There is a historical
tendency for science to replace religion in society.
But science cannot deny religion. Yet, in one sphere, namely the speculative function of
religions, science contends with religion. It doesnt allow religion the right to dogmatize
upon the nature of things, because science claims the competence to know the world and