Many doctors and psychologists develop the theory that majority of people who take their own life are in a pathological state, but Durkheim emphasizes that the force, which determines the suicide, is not psychological but social
According to Durkheim, suicide is neither an individual act nor a personal action. It is caused by some power, which is over and above the individual or super individual. He viewed “all classes of deaths resulting directly or indirectly from the positive or negative acts of the victim itself who knows the result they produce” Having defined the phenomenon Durkheim dismisses the psychological explanation. Many doctors and psychologists develop the theory that majority of people who take their own life are in a pathological state, but Durkheim emphasizes that the force, which determines the suicide, is not psychological but social. He concludes that suicide is the result of social disorganization or lack of social integration or social solidarity.
Suicide as a social phenomenon
At any given moment therefore, the moral constitution of a society, its insufficient or excessive degree of integration or regulation establishes its contingent rate of voluntary deaths, its "natural aptitude" for suicide; and individual suicidal acts are thus mere extensions and expressions of these underlying currents of egoism, altruism, and anomie. Moreover, the terms that Durkheim employed in making this argument -- "collective tendencies," "collective passions," etc. were not mere metaphors for average individual states; on the contrary, they are "things," sui generis forces which dominate the consciousness’s of individuals. In fact, the stability of the suicide rate for any particular society could have no other explanation then ‘the numerical equality of annual contingents can only be due to the permanent action of some impersonal cause which transcends all individual cases’. The proof that the reality of collective tendencies is no less than that of cosmic forces is that this reality is demonstrated in the same way, by the uniformity of effects.
Such an argument, Durkheim admitted suggests that collective thoughts are of a different nature from individual thoughts, that the former have characteristics, which the latter lack. But how can this be if there are only individuals in society? Durkheim's response was an argument by analogy alluded to in ‘The Division of Labor’ and developed more fully in "Individual and Collective Representations" (1898). The biological cell, Durkheim observed, is made up exclusively of inanimate atoms; but surely this doesn't mean that there is "nothing more" in animate nature. Similarly individual human beings, by associating with one another, form a psychical existence of a new species, which has its own manner of thinking and feeling: "When the consciousness of individuals, instead of remaining isolated, becomes grouped and combined," Durkheim observed, "something in the world has been altered. Naturally this change produces others, this novelty engenders other novelties, and phenomena appear whose characteristic qualities are not found in the elements composing them."(41,Social life) Durkheim thus admitted, is essentially made up of representations; but collective representations are quite different from their individual counterparts. Indeed, Durkheim had no objection to calling sociology a kind of psychology, so long as we recall that social psychology has its own laws, which are not those of individual psychology.
Moreover, it is simply not true that there are "only individuals" in society. First, a society contains a variety of material things (e.g., written laws, moral precepts and maxims, etc.) which "crystallize" social facts, and act upon the individual from without; and second, beneath these immobilized, sacrosanct forms are the diffused, mingling subjacent sentiments of which these material formulae are the mere signs, and which are equally external to the individual conscience. The result was a critique of Quetelet reminiscent of Kant's rejection of any empiricist ethics. Struck by the statistical regularity of certain social phenomena over time, Quetelet had postulated "the average man" - a definite type representing the most generalized characteristics of people in any given society. Such an approach, Durkheim insisted, makes the origin of morality an insoluble mystery; for it conflates the collective type of a society with the average type of its individual members, and since the morality of such individuals reaches only a moderate intensity, the imperative, transcendent character of moral commands is left without an explanation. Beyond the vacuous conception of "God's will," Durkheim insisted, "no alternative exists but to leave morality hanging unexplained in the air or make it a system of collective states of conscience. Morality either springs from nothing given in the world of experience, or it springs from society.
In fact, these three currents of opinion - that the individual has a certain personality (egoism), that this personality should be sacrificed if the community required it (altruism), and that the individual is sensitive to ideas of social progress (anomie) - coexist in all societies, turning individual inclinations in three different and opposed directions. Where these currents offset one another, the individual enjoys a state of equilibrium, which protects him from suicide; but where one current exceeds certain strength relative to others, it becomes a cause of self-inflicted death. Moreover, this strength itself depends on three causes: the nature of the individuals composing the society, the manner of their association, and transitory occurrences, which disrupt collective life. The first, of course, is virtually immutable, changing only gradually over a period of centuries; the only variable conditions, therefore, are social conditions, a fact that explains the stability observed by Quetelet so long as society remains unchanged.
The decisive influence of these currents, however, is rarely exerted throughout an entire society; on the contrary, its effect is typically felt within those particular environments whose conditions are especially favorable to the development of one current or another. But the conditions of each individual environment are themselves dependent on the more general conditions of the society as a whole - the force of altruism in the army depends on the role of the military in the larger civilian population; egoistic suicide increases among Protestants to the extent that intellectual individualism is a feature of the entire society; and so on. No collective sentiment can affect individuals, of course, when they are absolutely indisposed to it, but the same social causes that produce these currents also affect the way individuals are socialized, so that a society quite literally produces citizens with the appropriate dispositions at the same time that it molds the currents to which they will thus respond. Durkheim did not deny, therefore, that individual motives have a share in determining who commits suicide but he did insist that the nature and intensity of the "suicidogenic" current were factors independent of such psychological conditions. Indeed, this was why Durkheim could claim that his theory, however "deterministic," was more consistent with the philosophical doctrine of free will than any psychologistic theory which makes the individual the source of social phenomena; for the intensity of his currents, like the virulence of an infectious disease, determines only the rate at which the population will be affected, not the identity of those to be struck down. Recent incidents in Kashmir show the culmination of two forms of suicide i.e. egoistic and anomic. In post covid situation, Kashmir witnessed massive scale economic slowdown that led drastic effects on the minds of the marginalized sections of society.
(Author is Contractual Lecturer Sociology, GDC Handwara)