Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 21:35:02 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: Olduwan toolmakers"

    >From: John Wilkins <>
    >Subject: Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility
    >Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 15:48:45 +1100
    >On Friday, February 13, 2004, at 03:11 PM, Steven Thiele wrote:
    >>Durkheim spent his entire academic life arguing against individualism,
    >>which is precisely why he is so important in sociology. Besides, what
    >>might it mean to say that an idea can be applied without agreeing with it?
    >>Why is it that whenever supposedly scientific minds begin to look at
    >>social life that they turn to water, that they begin to repeat all the
    >>mistakes that sociologists have fallen into? The only way to understand
    >>social life is to study it, which memeticists (and most sociologists -
    >>including Durkheim) simply refuse to do. For both, inquiry amounts to
    >>little more than the collection of bits and pieces of information to back
    >>up taken for granted assumptions about how the social world works.
    >I meant that one need not agree with his ideas on individualism to agree
    >with his ideas on functionalism, or vice versa (it was exemplia gratia).
    >Likewise, one can agree with Durkheim on many topic without having to agree
    >with his view of the biological influence on social evolution or behaviour.
    >So he thought it was wrong to derive social laws from biological facts or
    >evolutionary ideas. So what? He was not god. At that time, social evolution
    >was founded on some truly abysmal social theories (e.g., Benjamin Kidd) and
    >a false, as it turned out, view of what evolution was in either domain,
    >owing much more to Lamarck and the Great Chain than to Darwin. Durkheim was
    >right to reject it. But not to reject all evolutionary models.
    >I was merely disputing the claim that if we make use of Durkheim's
    >sociological ideas we must therefore be opposed to memetics. As it happens,
    >I think memetics has some underlying problems, but they do not arise out of
    >the analogy of cultural evolution to biological evolution. They arise out
    >of a philosophical tendency to objectify abstractions such as "gene". I
    >have already argued in my major JoM article that what counts in evolution
    >of culture is any entity at any level, above and beyond the individual if
    >necessary, that is subjectible to selection. Memes can be social
    >institutions in my opinion. Or they can be fragments of ideas in single
    >You are completely correct that we must study social life rather than
    >dictate a priori what it must be. Folk sociology is no better than folk
    >psychology, physics or taxonomy...
    I agree that one might find merit in certain places of Durkheim's work without agreeing with him *in toto*. I'm against the SSSM bashing of the EP-ers or the colonization of the social sciences battleplan for the Universal Darwinist special operations units deployed around the globe, but OTOH, I'm kinda wondering how autonomous sociology could be. Sociologists could learn a lot from evolutionary theory in biology and read some evolutionary psychology, taking it with a grain of salt.

    Now not wanting to change the subject of your debate here by taking this thread back to the original topic, but if you could please go back over some of my recent posts and read the Durkheim quotes I've provided maybe you could help me with Durkheim's apparentt distinction between historic origin and current utility and his invoking of functional shifts. I think I remember you having said that you've been plodding along through Gould's brick. There's a part where he talks about somebody else's article on Durkheim and notes that Durkheim fails to appreciate these vary issues that I think I've shown he acknowledged in _The Rules of Sociological Method_. I admit that I'm going on one translation of Durkheim and I'll need to secure another translation at a later time for comparison.

    The discussion between Steven Thiele and you is very helpful to me as I'm also trying to re-read Durkheim's classic brick _The Elementary Forms of Religious Life_ and will keep whatever discussion that takes place on this list about Durkheim in mind as I proceed. I plan on diving back into Levy-Bruhl sometime too in order to see how his views compare to Durkheim's and to better understand what use Jung made of the "collective representations".

    _________________________________________________________________ Optimize your Internet experience to the max with the new MSN Premium Internet Software.

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 21:46:38 GMT