Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 13 Feb 2004 - 21:54:49 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "RE: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility"

    >From: Steven Thiele <>
    >Subject: Re: Durkheim on historical origin versus current utility
    >Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 14:36:06 +1100
    >'The fault of the biological sociologists was not that they used it
    >[analogy] but that they used it wrongly. Instead of trying to control their
    >studies of society by their knowledge of biology, they tied to infer the
    >laws of the first from the laws of the second. Such inference is worthless.
    >If the laws governing natural life are found also in society, they are
    >found in different forms and with specific characteristics which do not
    >permit conjecture by analogy and can only be understood by direct
    >So much for those who think that Durkheim's work can be connected to
    >memetics. Memetics is hostile to all forms of sociology, both the good and
    >the bad.
    Scott's reply:

    On *this* thread I was pointing out how Durkheim may have appreciated the distinction between historic origin and current utility that Gould championed, a distinction important in terms of his arguments for the concepts of exaptation and spandrels, which memeticists and ev psychers should think about as much as possible.

    My interest in convergence of Durkheim and memetics rests mainly on Durkheim's discussion of "social facts" and "collective representations" not his work *in toto*. If you could elaborate on Durkeim's usage of these concepts and how they would be in opposition to "memes" I would greatly appreciate it. This thread was merely a side issue.

    Scott's original post below:
    >At 12:14 AM 12/02/2004 -0500, you wrote:
    >>Stephen (not Elliot) Gould has made important delineation between
    >>historical origin and current utility. Durkheim says some pertinent
    >>stuff in his _The Rules of Sociological Method_ (1938. The Free Press.
    >>New York. translated by Solavay and Mueller) that one might want to keep
    >>in mind when reading what Gould says about Durkheim in his brick-like
    >>magnum opus _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_. Durkheim says (page
    >>(bq)"To show how a fact is useful in not to explain how it originated or
    >>why it is what it is. The uses which it serves presuppose the specific
    >>properties characterizing it but do not create them. The need we have of
    >>things cannot give them existence, nor can it confer their specific
    >>nature upon them. It is to causes of another sort that they owe their
    >>existence. The idea we have of their utility may indeed motivate us to
    >>put these forces to work and to elicit from them their characteristic
    >>effects, but it will not enable us to produce these effects out of
    >>nothing." (eq)
    >>This quote is in the context of Durkheim criticizing a method employed
    >>by Spencer and Comte whom he mentions in the preceding paragraph, but at
    >>least to my eyes it looks like Durkheim is making the distinction
    >>between historic origin and currect utility that Gould focuses upon.
    >>Now in Gould's book _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_ (2002. The
    >>Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts) he
    >>is critical of Durkheim's apparent lack of knowledge of this distinction
    >>or his not using it in a certain case. Citing someone named Catton for
    >>critique of Durkheim, Gould says that Durkheim was unaware of functional
    >>shift which he could have gleaned from familiarity with Darwin. Gould is
    >>also impressed by Nietzsche's knowledge of this. Gould focuses on
    >>Durkheim's work on division of labor as elaborated by Catton. He notes
    >>Durkheim being correct on the utility of the division of labor, but then
    >>Gould says (page 1239]:
    >>(bq) "[Durkheim] then erred in assuming that this current utility also
    >>permits the inference that division of labor arose, in explicit analogy
    >>with speciation, as a direct adaptation for its current function of
    >>reducing competition and stabilizing both social and economic systems."
    >>I'll need to track down the source Gould cites (ie-Catton). I'm not
    >>familiar with Durkheim's work on division of labor. Maybe Durkheim did
    >>overlook the distinction between current utility and historic origin in
    >>the context of division of labor, but interestingly, as I think the
    >>quote of Durkheim I provided above shows, Durkheim was not ignorant of
    >>the distinction itself, which if he failed to utilize it in the instance
    >>of division of labor if this use was apt, would make one wonder why he
    >>failed to do so.
    >>Gould might have been quite interested in this quote as it seems to
    >>dovetail with his arguments on the importance of this distinction.
    >>I pulled this discussion of Durkheim from Gould's index. I haven't had a
    >>chance to read the whole brick from front to back.
    >>The citation for Gould's source on Durkheim is:
    >>Catton WR, Jr. 1998. Darwin, Durkheim, and Mutualism. In _Advances in
    >>Human Ecology_, Volume 7. JAI Press Inc. pp. 89-139
    >>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)

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