A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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We can see that Durkheim moves on to a second level of argument, based on the idea (at the foundation of sociology) that the individual does not exist outside society, that he is only an abstraction when considered for himself, and that in reality only the social whole exists. Consequently, an individual who denies the morality of his time (who claims that there is no basis for morality), denies society itself and considers himself to exist outside society. Durkheim condemns this idea with three distinct, if not contradictory, arguments:

First of all, this is impossible, as we have just seen: The only question man can ask himself is not whether he can live outside a society, but in what society he wants to live 1.
Or else, it amounts to affirming that we want to die, which is why Durkheim adds: It remains to be examined whether man should deny himself; the question is legitimate, but will not be examined. It will be assumed that we are right to want to live 2.
Or, finally, it amounts to wanting to cease being a man: We cannot get out of society without losing our humanity [...] We can only renounce it by renouncing ourselves 3.

So we see that moral sociologism proposes a foundation for morality (society, and the social conditions that give rise to a given rule); but the foundation it proposes is relative. Indeed, a moral rule that is founded today may well no longer be founded tomorrow, because the social state has evolved and it has lost all reason to exist; it will then have to be abandoned. No rule is founded in the absolute. What is fascinating about this doctrine, then, is that it reconciles objectivism and relativism, even though we might tend to think of them as opposites.

On the other hand, we can see the ambiguity that animates Durkheim's approach, which declares that he does not wish to judge the morality of a time (but only to explain it), as we have seen, but at the same time proposes a foundation for it.
This ambiguity is found in the two concepts by which Durkheim will judge a given moral rule: the concepts of "normal" and "pathological". Durkheim carefully avoids the concept of 'value', which would immediately show that he is not content to explain morality, but to judge it. As a result, he does not examine whether a particular rule of morality has a value, but whether it is "normal" or "pathological". A pathological law is one that remains even though the social cause that gave rise to it has disappeared. Normal is any law that is consistent with (or produced by) the social state of its time.

Thus the whole of Chapter III of the Rules of Sociological Method consists of this rhetorical effort to judge the value of a phenomenon without using the concept of value. The concept of "normality" makes it possible to create this optical illusion: a concept other than "value" is used, but at the same time it makes it possible to judge, surreptitiously, the value of a thing.

In fact, 'being normal', if we separate the concept of normality from any consideration of value, means nothing other than 'being frequent'. This is the meaning Durkheim gives to the concept. But to deny in this way that the concept of normality is linked to that of value leads him into insoluble paradoxes, such as the assertion that crime is normal in a society. In fact, Durkheim is saying nothing other than: "Crime is frequent in a society", since for him normal means nothing other than frequent (or general in relation to a given species). But the paradox arises from the fact that the notion of normality is in use linked to that of value, despite Durkheim's efforts.

One of the essential aspects of moral sociologism therefore consists in trying to avoid all value judgements, while surreptitiously reintroducing them through different concepts, such as those of 'normality' and 'pathology' (we can also cite the concept of 'reactionary', which hides behind an objective appearance - someone who adheres to moral rules whose conditions have disappeared - an implicit value judgement). Moral sociologism is thus characterised by the adoption of numerous axiological positions (or value judgements) and the careful concealment of these.

Yet this evasion of the notion of value is precisely what seems to prevent moral sociologism from founding morality. Sociologism, like Nietzsche, only seems to reveal the origin of morality. Moral rules originate in such and such a social condition. However, to demand that these moral rules be respected, i.e. to found morality, would require proving that these moral rules have a value (and not just conditions).
On the other hand, we would have to show that these social conditions themselves have a value. Durkheim succeeds in showing that such and such morality is necessary for the subsistence of such and such a society. However, what is the answer to the immoralist who says: "What is of value is the disappearance of that society (society in general or a particular society)", or: "Society has no value, so neither does morality"? He succeeds in showing that individualism is impossible, that the individual does not exist outside society. But how do you respond, even if you accept this dubious premise, to someone who says: "The individual is impossible, is only a dream, but the dream, the impossible is more valuable than the real"?

As we can see, moral sociologism is based on a series of unfounded value judgements, and Durkheim partly acknowledges this when he presents one of them as a postulate: It remains to be examined whether man should deny himself [by leaving society]; the question is legitimate, but it will not be examined. We will postulate that we are right to want to live 4.
A series of unfounded value judgements cannot constitute a foundation for morality, but only a series of opinions about morality. The failure of moral sociologism ultimately appears as a second example, after Nietzsche, of the impossibility of deducing a foundation for morality from its (in this case social) origin.

1. Sociology and philosophy, chap. II
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.