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Durkheim's 'Dualism of Human Nature'

Personal Identity and Social Links

Giovanni Paoletti

Durkheim's 'Dualism of Human Nature' (1914) is the last scientific work by him published in his lifetime. This circumstance, and the subject of the essay, can suggest it is the definitive exposition of his philosophical view of human nature as homo duplex. But readers do not agree about the description of this view. What kind of dualism has he in mind, and is he consistent about it throughout his work? The problem is that his essay gives different meanings to the doubleness of human nature and combines them in a complex model of explanation. Reconstructing this model can throw new light on what is really at stake in Durkheim's text and on the nature of the dualism he upheld at the end of his career.

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'Well-founded Delirium'

Giovanni Paoletti

To understand a [case of delirium] properly and to be able to apply the most appropriate treatment, the doctor needs to know what its point of departure was' (Durkheim 1912a:10; t.6). Durkheim's linking of the study of religions with the practice of the alieniste shows above all that the believer's point of view does not have explanatory value when it comes to religious phenomena. Does this necessarily mean that religious beliefs are mere misunderstandings or illusions? On the contrary, Durkheim thought that they had objective meaning, and even suggested that thought categories themselves had a religious origin (ibid.: 3). To discover this meaning, what was needed was simply a more reliable point of view than the believer's. However, having recourse to the scientific viewpoint still left him open to a petitio principii, since he also held that the objectivity of abstract thought was genetically derived from that of religious representations, i.e. from the demonstrandum. If we answer, as Durkheim in fact did, (1) that religious representations obey practical necessities only, not theoretical ones, we would be sidestepping the problem, since representations are always representations of something; (2) they always have a cognitive or speculative aspect. The comparison with thealieniste contains another paradox: whereas discovering the objective cause of a case of madness makes it possible to measure the great distance between pathology and a normal relation to reality, the doctor must also apply therapy, which is a means of making the phenomenon itself disappear. The search initiated by the postulate of objectivity (of religion, of collective representations) would thus seem to lead to the discovery that there is no objectivity at all.

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Book Reviews

William Watts Miller, W. S. F. Pickering, Giovanni Paoletti, Massimo Rosati, Mike Hawkins, W. D. Halls, Jean de Lannoy, and Alexander T. Riley

Neil Gross and Robert Alun Jones (eds., trans.). Durkheim’s Philosophy Lectures: Notes from the Lycée de Sens Course, 1883-1884, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004. pp. 339.

Massimo Borlandi and Giovanni Busino (eds.), ‘La sociologie durkheimienne: tradition et actualité. À Philippe Besnard, in memoriam’, Revue européenne des sciences sociales, XLII (129) 2004. pp.410.

Warren Schmaus. Rethinking Durkheim and His Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004. pp. 195.

Anne Warfield Rawls. Epistemology and Practice: Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005. pp. 355.

W. Schmaus, Rethinking Durkheim and His Tradition, and A. W. Rawls, Epistemology and Practice. Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.

Jonathan S. Fish. Defending the Durkheimian Tradition: Religion, Emotion and Morality, Aldershot: Ashgate. 2005. pp. 207.

E. Dubreucq. Une éducation républicaine. Marion, Buisson, Durkheim, Paris: Vrin. 2004. pp. 236.

Annette Becker. Maurice Halbwachs. Un intellectuel en guerres mondiales, 1914-1945. Paris: Agnès Viénot. 2003. pp. 478.

Jeffrey Alexander. The Meanings of Social Life, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. pp. 296.

Randall Collins. Interaction Ritual Chains, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. 2004. pp. 464.

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Irène Eulriet, W. D. Halls, Mike Hawkins, Jean-Louis Fabiani, Jean de Lannoy, Giovanni Paoletti, W. S. F. Pickering, Romain Pudal, Ilkka Pyysiäinen, Alexander T. Riley, Massimo Rosati, and W. Watts Miller

Notes on contributors