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Date of Award

5-1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

Cyril Levitt

Abstract

This work examines the contributions of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to the study of moral phenomena. Durkheim advocated extreme social realism and explained morality as the product of the collective nature of society. However, ample evidence is found to suggest that he conflated the terms 'collective' and 'societal.' Durkheim gave a convincing explanation for the power of the beliefs and ideals of society, its 'collective representations,' but to the extent that his paradigm attempts to become holistic, it fails. Durkheim's errors are described and explained in relation to his own perspective of social realism and to the perspective of methodological individualism. Durkheim's theory readily comes to grip with moral issues faster than alternate theories, but in certain assumptions remains a matter of faith, especially in the belief that society is a collective entity. Methodological individualism remains a better approach for the study of moral phenomena, but is not yet, by itself, the only method. Research in this area can only benefit from an examination of the Durkheimian approach--without of course, accepting the genuine flaws in Durkheim's reasoning. It would appear that the final authority in the sociological investigation of moral phenomena must be methodological individualism. This does not mean that there can be no role for collective concepts derived directly from social realism and its extreme form of social holism. It appears that there are no grounds for formal rapprochement and integration between methodological individualism and collective concepts, at least no possibility was found by an examination of both Durkheim and Weber. Collective concepts may indeed be a useful heuristic device and a means to open up additional questions for investigation, but the final judgement of issues must be made within the premises of methodological individualism.

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