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Emil Durkheim and his Moral Critique of Evolution

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Emil Durkheim insisted on the reality of social facts that could be studied like biological facts, even though they had an ontology of a higher order.

John Searle writes concerning “understanding  the ontology of socially created reality” that observer-relative features of objects can provide epistemic objectivity, which for Searle is still a subjective ontology. [1] His example is that of a rock used as a paper weight. The latter is an observer-relative fact, while that it is a rock is an intrinsic ontologically objective fact.  Because Searle adheres to tenets of naturalism, he states, “There could not be an opposition between culture and biology, because if there were, biology would always win.[2]

Now Searle uses the concept of culture rather than society here, even though he is trying to understand the ontology of socially created reality. Sociological forces, however, are very real, in which natural forces play a small role, revolutions and wars, for example. Sociological realities can even play a large role in natural disasters, witness the weak institutions of Haiti ravaged by political and social turmoil and the resultant poverty.

These thoughts are intended as an explanatory preface to Durkheim’s moral critique of biological evolution that supposedly predominates so powerfully over culture and society.


[1] John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: the Free Press, 1995), see pages 12-13.

[2] Ibid., page 227. Compare this to George Herbert Mead’s citation. It is obvious why Mead is used to defend against biological reductionism in psychology and he is useful when it appears in philosophy, as well. Mead states, “Out of language emerges the field of the mind. It is absurd to look at the mind simply from the standpoint of the individual human organism; for although it has a focus there, it is essentially a social phenomenon; even its biological functions are primarily social.George Herbert Mead, On Social Psychology, Anselm Strauss, ed., (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 195.

I would be grateful if someone could provide me with the exact wording and the source of Talcott Parson’s famous citation on Durkheim.

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Written by peterkrey

January 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm

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