Part Four— Suicide
DOI link for Part Four— Suicide
Part Four— Suicide book
Edited and translated from: Le Suicide: étude de sociologie, Paris, Alcan, 1897. Translation by Margaret Thompson.
Instead of taking pleasure in metaphysical meditation on social themes, the sociologist should take as the object of his research groups of clearly circumscribed facts, which are capable of ready definition and have recognizable limits, and he must adhere strictly to them.[…]
We have chosen suicide for this particular study from among many different subjects that we have had occasion to study during the course of our teaching because it seemed to be a particularly opportune example, and one which is unusually easily defined. Even so, some preliminary work has been necessary to outline it. On the other hand, in compensation, when one focuses in this way, one succeeds in finding real laws that demonstrate the possibilities of sociology much better than any dialectical argument. We shall be examining the laws that we hope to have established. We are quite likely to have made a few mistakes or to have made inductions beyond the observable facts. But at least each proposition is accompanied by proofs, which we have tried to make as plentiful as possible. Above all, we have tried hard to separate the arguments and the interpretations from the facts in each case.[…]
Sociological method as we practise it is entirely based on the fundamental principle that social facts must be studied as things; that is, as realities external to the individual. No precept has been more challenged, but none is more fundamental. For sociology to be possible it must first have an object, and one which is exclusive to sociology. It must take cognizance of a reality which does not belong to other sciences. But if there is-nothing real beyond individual consciousness then sociology must disappear for lack of any subject of its own. The only objects to which this observation might be applied are mental states of the individual, since nothing else exists. However, that is the field of
psychology. In fact, from this point of view, everything of significance, for example concerning marriage, the family, or religion, consists of individual needs to which these institutions are simply a response-paternal love, filial love, sexual desire, what used to be called religious instinct, etc. The institutions themselves, with their diverse and complex historical forms, become negligible and of little significance.[…]
But it seems hardly possible to us, on the contrary, that there will not emerge from every page of this book, evidence that the individual is dominated by a moral reality which transcends him-collective reality. When one sees that each population has its own suicide rate and that this rate is more constant than the general mortality, and that, if it changes, it does so according to a coefficient of growth specific to that society; when it seems that variations according to different times of the day, month and year merely reflect the rhythm of social life; and when one observes that marriage, divorce, family, religious society, the army, etc., affect it according to definite laws, some of which can even be expressed in numerical form, one stops seeing these states and institutions as just inconsequential, ineffective ideological arrangements. Rather, they are felt to be real, living, active forces, which, because of the way in which they determine the individual, adequately demonstrate that they do not depend on him; even if the individual enters as an element in the emerging combination, to the extent that these forces become formed, they are imposed upon him. In these circumstances it becomes clear that sociology can and must be objective, since it confronts realities which are as definite and substantial as the realities that concern the psychologist or biologist.