Discuss Durkheim's association of egoistic suicide with modern society and obligatory altruistic suicide with pre- modern society

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This essay will focus on Durkheim’s association of egoistic suicide with modern society and obligatory altruistic suicide with pre-modern society. Suicide, by many, is commonly considered to be understood as an individual act for ones own personal reasons or as Ian Macintoshes’ puts it “ the term suicide is applied to any death which is the direct or indirect result of a positive or negative act accomplished by the victim himself “ (MacIntosh, I. 1997). Durkheim along with MacIntosh refute this idea and believe that suicide should not be placed in only one category. He explores that suicide can contain objectives that are only satisfied through sacrifice of life and are not always a desire by the individual for loss of life. The beginning of this essay will discuss Durkheim’s approach to the subject of suicide. The body of the essay will discuss both egoistic suicide and obligatory altruistic suicide.

It will also discuss the reasons why both suicides are independently associated with different societies. The essay will then end with a conclusion summing up the main points discussed.

Durkheim approached the subject of suicide with the main focus on science and statistics in mind acknowledging that there is a pre disposition to suicide. Durkheim wanted to explore the varied types of suicide which oppose the idea of suicide being only an individual in aid of the persons own pursuit. The interest for him was to study the comparison of different suicides and seek what common factors featured in these suicides. Durkheim suggests pre modern and modern society both have a separate characteristic, influencing the rates of suicide. Society being this characteristic. Considering this pre disposition he found that egoistic suicide is more common in modern society where as obligatory altruistic suicide is more common in pre modern society.

The term “egoism” is used to define an individual in a community detaching himself from the bigger group for personal reasons. If he were to feel the group was not sufficient he gradually depends on himself more and became only concerned about his personal pursuit. This “egoism” is a main cause for egoistic suicide. Therefore the term “egoistic suicide” is an individual act putting the individuals interests above all. (MacIntosh, I. 1997). According to Durkheim, in modern society a person needs to feel validated and wanted to have a satisfactory existence. There needs to be an attachment to an entity which will survive longer than the person, for example a family, for him to feel that life is “worth it”. A strong society will contain persons who are aware of their role in this society and of the deficit it will feel with the loss of this person. Society requires that it stays and the person obeys, however on the other hand a weak society contains persons who feel isolated from this society for many different reasons and feels no need to obey the requirements of society. They have a sense of lack of purpose. This is what leads to egoistic suicide. This form of suicide is much more common in modern society. An aspect of the modern society is that it allows for man to desire goals. This desire is under supervision by the controlling factor which is society. If there is a remodelling in society the persons, who were once accustomed to their social “allowance”, feel a sense of disorientation. ( MacIntosh, I. 1997). For example, a businessman once earning a high salary suddenly can not afford his annual holiday which he has expected. He feels society is not guiding him anymore. Society has abandoned them also and the competition and fear of depression along with other factors which cause them to feel isolated ensue and this forces them to isolate themselves from society. With no definite pattern they depend on themselves and this is a common factor in suicide in modern society. Durkheim also noticed that poverty stricken communities have a “shield” against suicide. They know no different of what they have and therefore experience no sense of inadequacy in society or as some say ignorance is bliss. Durkheim acknowledges that women are less prone to egoistic suicide than men in modern society. The reason for this is they are less integrated into society. They do not need others and are content with their own personal “society” including religion and children and assisting man in his life. Sociability does not affect them when detached from the bigger society.

On the other hand he associates obligatory altruistic suicide only with pre-modern society. In modern society one of the causes at the forefront is isolation from community or society. The opposite can be said for pre-modern society. Too strong of an integration and regulation by their society is the main cause of altruistic suicide. The pressure they receive from their society is too great so they chose to commit suicide. Examples of cases in Denmark. The warriors had a ritual that once a man surpasses the age of having an essential role in life they are required by the whole of society to honourably commit suicide. (MacIntosh, I. 1997). In some cases it was also a requirement as in the case of the Hindu’s in India where the widows take their own lives by throwing themselves on the fire as their husband were being cremated. It was their duty to their husband to do this and in the same society a princes servants were not to outlive him. The person committing the suicide viewed these acts as acts of glory and honour. If they were not to commit them they would be punished by society. As we have seen, according to Durkheim, this is the opposite case in modern society.

In conclusion, Durkheim found that the social organization of pre modern times demanded solidarity and a mechanical way of working. There was no room for individualism and suicide was committed for the purpose of the community and not the individual. Modern society is dependant on rather than repressive of individual actions. This in turn accounts for more dependency from the individual on society and integration to the community. Obligatory altruistic suicide is almost demanded by pre modern society as honour and dignity in both life and death was an essential part of the community.

BibliographySuicide: A Study in Sociology.’ In Ian MacIntosh, Classical Sociological Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1997, pp. 212-231