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Truth and Social Relations

Durkheim and the Critique of Pragmatism

Sue Stedman Jones

Durkheim's lecture course Pragmatisme et sociologie was given in 1913-14, and thus counts amongst the last of his works. It is interesting, not just for this reason, but because here we encounter Durkheim, less in his characteristic empirical sociological mode and more as a philosopher. Here we find him engaging in a logical attack on what was then a popular movement of philosophy and debating the logical issues arising out of pragmatism. William James and the movement of pragmatism had a huge prestige on the European continent and a great influence after the turn of the century and shared a cult of admiration with Bergson (Stuart Hughes 1958:112). Durkheim challenged this on a philosophical level and found what he held to be its weakest point—the question of truth.

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Sue Stedman Jones

‘Representation’ is the key theoretical term of Durkheim’s sociology. It is both central to the nature of social experience and to how this is accessed by the social theorist (see Pickering 2000). In the second edition of Les règles Durkheim stated: ‘Social life is entirely made of representations’ ([1895a] 1987:xi). He made this statement with an obvious degree of irritation, for he insisted that he had ‘expressly stated and repeated (this) in every way’ (ibid). Durkheim had clearly been stung by accusations that he had denied the ‘mental element’ from social experience.

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N. J. Allen, Roger Cotterell, Mike Hawkins, Jean-Christophe Marcel, Jennifer Mergy, David Moss, Robert Parkin, W. S. F. Pickering, Massimo Rosati, Sue Stedman Jones and William Watts Miller

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Louise Child, Ronjon Paul Datta, Mike Gane, Timothy Jenkins, Jean-Christophe Marcel, David Moss, W. S. F. Pickering, William Ramp, Derek Robbins, Raymond de la Rocha Mille, Anne de Sales, Sue Stedman Jones and William Watts Miller

Notes on contributors