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Durkheim, Emile

  1. Steven Lukes

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee586

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Lukes, S. 2013. Durkheim, Emile. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) was one of the founders of sociology and the author of several of that discipline's classic texts. One is The Division of Labor in Society (1984 [1893]), which contrasts two forms of social solidarity: the “mechanical solidarity” of pre-industrial societies, with a strongly unifying, religiously based common consciousness, and the “organic solidarity” of advanced, organized socially differentiated societies integrated by functional interdependencies. A second is Suicide (1951 [1897]), which focuses on the distinctively modern social pathologies indicated by current high suicide rates whose social causes are the breakdown of restraining social norms (“anomie”), in both the economic and sexual spheres, and social isolation (“egoism”) (see Suicide). A third is The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1995 [1912]), which, through a study of totemism, proposes sociological explanations of the causes and consequences of religious beliefs and ritual practices and an interpretation of these in social terms (“I see in divinity,” he wrote, “only society transfigured and conceived symbolically” [1953: 52]). These works, together with his lectures on moral education (Durkheim 1961; see Moral Education) and on professional ethics and civic morals (see Professional Ethics), were pioneering contributions to the sociology of morality, as was much of the work of the “Durkheimian” scholars grouped around the Année sociologique, the remarkable journal of monographs and reviews whose 12 volumes he edited from 1898 to 1913.


  • ethics;
  • sociology;
  • duty and obligation;
  • individualism;
  • moral status