Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Durkheim, Émile (1858–1917)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-R004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 15, 2020, from

Article Summary

Émile Durkheim is generally recognized to be one of the founders of sociology as a distinct scientific discipline. Trained as a philosopher, Durkheim identified the central theme of sociology as the emergence and persistence of morality and social solidarity (along with their pathologies) in modern and traditional human societies. His distinctive approach to sociology was to adopt the positivistic method in identifying and explaining social facts – the facts of the moral life. Sociology was to be, in Durkheim’s own words, a science of ethics.

Durkheim’s sociology combined a positivistic methodology of research with an idealistic theory of social solidarity. On the one hand, Durkheim forcefully claimed that the empirical observation and analysis of regularities in the social world must be the starting point of the sociological enterprise; on the other hand, he was equally emphatic in claiming that sociological investigation must deal with the ultimate ends of human action – the moral values and goals that guide human conduct and create the essential conditions for social solidarity. Accordingly, in his scholarly writings on the division of labour, on suicide, on education, and on religion, Durkheim sought to identify through empirical evidence the major sources of social solidarity and of the social pathologies that undermine it.

Citing this article:
Orru, Marco. Durkheim, Émile (1858–1917), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.