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A comparison of the concept of "morality in community life" in the works of John Dewey and Emile Durkheim

Introduction and Summary
1. John Dewey
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Dewey's idea of community in The Public and its Problems
1.3. Reflections:
1.3.1. Truth and morality:
1.3.2. Individual and society
1.3.3. Thought and action
1.4. Dewey's concept of morality in action in Human Nature and Conduct
2. Emile Durkheim
2.1. Introduction:
2.2. Community
2.3. Reflections:
2.3.1. Truth and morality
2.3.2. Individual and society
2.3.3. Thought and Action
2.4. The elements of morality in Durkheim's Moral Education
3. Conclusion

Introduction and Summary

John Dewey who lived and taught in the United States of America, and Emile Durkheim who lived and taught in France were contemporaries at the turn of the 20th century. Both of these thinkers were concerned with "morality", and the adaptation of the prevailing morality to social change. I will investigate their views and concepts in order to present their different approaches to the theme of community life in a changing modern environment.

John Dewey's pragmatist approach leads to a radical reconstruction of the definition of morality on the bases of human action. Emile Durkheim as a founder of sociology and an exponent of social facts proposes the transformation of a religiously bound morality to a secular morality. Whereas Dewey prescribes a process of scientific inquiry and democratic communication in communities, accordingly to his focus on human life (- and moral) activity, Durkheim distinguishes the "elements of morality", which he takes as social facts deriving from the collective conscience, societies form. Whereas "discipline" for example presents one element of morality in Durkheim's approach, Dewey thinks that discipline appears only as an element of morality because we have developed customs of dominance and oppression which we take now as a sort of "natural order", although it is only a custom, we might change in the future. Morals according to Dewey do not have a distinct character to other customs we develop in associated living, and do not reflect a "truth" outside of present life activity in a specific group. They are subject to negotiation and change in just the same way other customs are, and they fulfill a practical task in the longest course of time. Moral elements according to Durkheim are social facts, and as such they go beyond individual utility. We can study them scientifically, and so contribute to a necessary transformation-process from a religiously bound morality to a rationally formulated morality.

In order to illuminate their differing conclusions, it is necessary to explore their concepts of morality in community life in relation to their general theoretical positions and in connection to their biographical and historical standpoint. In my essay I will concentrate on analysing the differences in their approaches, although there are also fascinating similarities which might be rooted in the time period following the industrial revolution, for example their motivation to adapt morality to social change.

My aim in this essay is to "open up" their concepts on morality in community life, to explore their way of thinking, in order to gain a deeper insight in the different ways they theorised the same theme.

The order of my project, after this introductory summary, is to consider first John Dewey, and then Emile Durkheim in comparison to Dewey. The essay is structured in four chapters for each author: The first chapter provides general information about the author, and an introduction to his thoughts about morality. In this part I outline Dewey and Durkheim's general directions, aims or visions in reference to morality in community life. The first chapter also serves as a brief biographical literature review, as I will refer to selected works of the authors which contribute to the understanding of their contrasting theoretical approaches to the theme.

I will outline then their ideas about "community" in the second chapter, which provides the basic understanding for their concepts of morality in community life.

Before I go on to outline their concept of morality, I will include my own reflections upon their work to selected points in their theories, in the form of a third chapter. Reflection on those points helped me to understand their different approaches to morality in community life in more depth. First I will explain their understandings of "process", and "the state (or laws)" as I perceived them in my readings of Dewey and Durkheim. The difference is fundamental, and leads necessarily to different concepts of morality in community life. Furthermore I have distinguished three key connections which I find to be crucial for an understanding of their different approaches to morality in community life: their views on morality in connection with truth, their views on the individual in connection with society and their views on the connection between thought and action. I will explain those key points in the "reflections", before I will outline their concept of morality in the fourth chapter.

As I will consider Emile Durkheim in connection to John Dewey, a separate chapter on the comparison of both authors will not be needed in order to contrast their ideas. As the chapters are put in the same order for each author the reader can easily compare the views of the authors on morality in community life on the bases of the provided structure. Therefore the "conclusions" will not serve as a summarising comparison, but as a final reflection on causal relations in each theorists thinking. Maybe those causal relations I see, will provoke disagreement and will lead the reader back to read the essay again. But in any case they should provoke further discussion.....

1. John Dewey

1.1. Introduction

John Dewey lived from 1859 to 1952 in the United States of America. He was a philosopher, who also engaged in politics. He taught at Chicago University, where he founded a "laboratory-school". There, educational concepts were to be proved and challenged in school - practice. This clearly reflects his association with Pragmatism. Pragmatism is a philosophical concept, which evaluates thought on the basis of usefulness for practical action.

Dewey lived and taught at Chicago University at a time when the effects of the industrial revolution made a great impact on the city. There was a major problem of integration, because the population of Chicago had doubled by the decade through massive immigration. In Dewey's perception the challenge of new conditions caused by the industrial revolution disrupted community life and caused disorientation for people, because the changes were not accompanied by a concurrent change of ideologies in order to deal with the new conditions. As he says in Liberalism and Social Action:

"Change in patterns of belief, desire and purpose lagged behind the modification of the external conditions under which men associate." (Dewey, J. 1935/LS, p. 58)

One of the reasons that philosophical thought lags behind the social conditions of that time, lies in scientific practices according to Dewey, namely that philosophical truths are being imposed upon reality, rather than developed in exchange with that reality.

He refers to common philosophical practices when he states in his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry that:

"The concepts involved were not regarded as hypotheses to be employed in observation and ordering of phenomena, and hence to be tested by the consequences produced by acting upon them. They were regarded as truths already established and therefore unquestionable. Furthermore, it is evident that the conceptions were not framed with reference to the needs and tensions existing at a particular time and place, or as methods of resolving ills then and there existing, but as universal principles applicable anywhere and everywhere." (Dewey, J. 1938/Log., p. 505-6 , quoted in Schlipp, P.(ed.) 1951/Phi., p. 343)

Dewey said that the field of logic was his "first love," and in this later book he finally attempts a radical reconstruction of that field. He holds, in opposition to abstract theories that it is only in the struggle of intelligent organisms with the surrounding environment that theories acquire significance, and only with a theory's success in this struggle that it becomes true. He rejects abstract conceptions of "truth". and quotes Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914, the founder of American pragmatism) to define what truth is to him.

"The best definition of truth from a logical standpoint which is known to me is that of Peirce: "The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented by this opinion is the real." (Dewey, J. 1938/Log., p. 345, quoting from volume 5, p.268 of the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Pierce)

This quote shows that there are two inevitable factors involved in his concept of truth: "investigation", and a consensus between different investigators, which points to a communication process involved.

Dewey seeks to employ scientific inquiry in community life, and communication about those inquiries to develop better living conditions for all people through intelligent control of change. For Dewey our organisation of community life did not develop out of ideas, and concepts (like the concept of democracy). It is the other way round. On the basis of changes which occur, and forms of active organisational practices we develop specific ideas about community life. When we hold on to the ideas which were developed through actions in history, they do not serve to conduct life in the present under changed circumstances. He says that those old ideas keep us from investigating present facts, which is necessary in order to democratically control our living conditions, in order to organize the best living conditions for all humans in the long run.

In one of his early works, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), he concentrates in his description of what he means by a "society" on the process:

"..society is one word, but infinitely many things. It covers all the ways in which by associating together men share their experiences, and built upon common interests and aims. (Dewey, J. 1920/RP, p. 200) "Society is the process of associating in such ways that experiences, ideas, emotions, values are transmitted and made common." (Dewey, J. 1920/RP, p. 207)

When he thinks of associated living he thinks of democratic processes. In one of his major works, Democracy and Education (1916), he outlines what he means by democracy. By democracy he does not simply mean a form of government. As the state does not incorporate all possible associations between people according to Dewey, he sees democracy in a broader sense as a process of living together.

"..democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living." (Dewey, J. 1916/DE, chapter 7, p.101)

Democratic processes in that sense are what is to enhance for smaller communities as well as for the larger society. The next quote expresses clearly his vision:

"Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning, it is found in resolving that the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all - round growth of every member of society" (Dewey, J. 1920/RP, p.186).

Morality, as it was perceived and theorised at his time did not, according to Dewey, serve to enhance the democratic process, therefore his aim is to change the substance of that morality. Dewey offers a alternative mode of value judgments, in accordance with a democratic process grounded in developmental and social psychology in Human Nature and Conduct (Dewey, J. 1922/HN). In this book he explores the ways in which individuals develop within and integrate themselves into the dominant shaping practices of cultures and societies. He clearly develops his social morality based on human action, and evaluated within human action. In The Public and its Problems (Dewey, J. 1927/Pub.) he concentrates on the process of "state building" under conditions of constant change.

1.2. Dewey's idea of community in The Public and its Problems

Society for Dewey is composed of individuals in varying associations, and is not an entity in itself. He distinguishes different forms of associations on the basis of the results of those associated actions. There are actions which cause direct consequences to the associated persons, but there are also actions which cause indirect consequences to the broader society. The need to make those indirect consequences predictable and controllable by the people who are not directly involved in the action is, for Dewey the drive to establish something like a state. A state is established through indirect consequences of associated actions, the rise of a publicity who seeks to control those consequences, and further, the designation of officials who act on behalf of that publicity who has designated them for that reason, which is then a state. Vice versa the state affects the individuals through laws which delineate patterns of action which are predictable and controllable. The law is for Dewey not anything we have to "obay" to, the only function of a law is that it makes results of our actions predictable when we follow the law, as the law describes patterns of behaviour which are already controlled by the community. When we do not follow the described patterns, we might have to deal with unpredictable results.

The process of a rise of new publicities who organize themselves differently than their predecessors, and stand for different topics and aims is ongoing. Because Dewey believed that "process" is always fluctuating, he disagreed with repressive actions of the state (to suppress new publicities with their new forms of activities) with old established customs to which the state adheres. Dewey's idea of community is based on democracy. Democracy is not an alternative idea to other principles of associated life. For Dewey it is the idea of community life itself. Communities are based on associated action and communicated meaning of that shared action.

1.3. Reflections:

In my analysis of Dewey's book: The Public and it's Problems, I found that his understanding of process is not a teleological concept of progress, or development. He investigates a process (of state building) and wants to gain control over that process, by looking at how it works, not by an explanation where the process started, and where it leads to. This "method", to look at ongoing processes and to try to explain how they work is typical for Dewey's theoretical approach. It enables him to abolish all moral foundations of a definition of the state (or laws), and only concentrate on the ends of the state in terms of human activity. As his distinction of public/private is only based on the range of consequences of actions, there is no such thing as a hierarchy of public interest over private interest. This is important for the understanding of his concept of morality, as people do not have to subordinate their private interest to public interest in Dewey's terms.

The distinction between private (egoistic) interest and public (altruistic) interest does not exist in his concept. Dewey creates a hierarchy of interests on the bases of short term and long term aims. I must quote out of the German version of his book Democracy and Education, which was edited by Jürgen Oelkers, because the English version was not available :

"Dies führt zu einer Rangordnung der Werte; die beurteilten oder bewerteten Dinge müssen abgeschätzt werden in bezug auf ein drittes, auf ein ferneres Ziel. In Hinblick auf dieses sind sie Mittel oder mittelbare Werte." (Oelkers, J. 1993, p. 315)


This leads to a hierarchy of values; we have to judge things in reference to a third, to a further aim. In reference to this aim those things are means, or mediate values.

In this quote, Dewey refers to a hierarchy which has to be installed in decision making - processes. The evaluation of things we would like to do now, has to be reflected in consideration of long term aims. Dewey believes that those long term aims would serve the most human good over the longest course of time.

Other important connections which help to understand Dewey's approach to morality are his perceptions of "truth and morality", "individual and society", "thought and action":

1.3.1. Truth and morality:

We can see from Dewey's "best definition of truth", in 1.1. above, that truth is not related to any moral statement. Truth is simply what becomes true through a process of inquiry and communication. Truth is a consensus, not something stable "outside" the community. Correspondingly, the morality of an existing community does not reflect "truth". For Dewey, it reflects only a particular form of organisation of community life bound to specific interests which are expressed through habits and customs which have become consensual, as we will see in the outline of Human Nature and Conduct (1.4 below)

The interest he thinks of, should be "...the all - round growth of every member in society".

1.3.2. Individual and society

The tension between the individual and the society is dissolved in that way that human beings always are in associations, however. Therefore morals must not be employed to make individuals behave solidaric.

"Association in the sense of connection and combination is a "law" of everything known to exist. Singular things act, but they act together. Nothing has been discovered which acts in entire isolation. The act of everything is along with the action of other things. The "along with" is of such a kind that the behaviour of each is modified by its connection with others." (Dewey, J. 1927/Pub., p. 22)

Instead of drawing a border between the individual (will) and the larger society, Dewey creates a new distinction based on actions. Associated actions which only have an effect on the people involved, and associated actions which also affect the larger society. The latter should be controlled by the parts of the society which are affected by that action, what would then form a community. The dissolution of the tension between the individual and the society is only possible on the basis of the disassociation of truth and morality. There is no stable "good" and "bad" in living together, judged from "above". Associations always exist. The question for Dewey is how these associations are organised, and therefore he wants to employ morality in action.

1.3.3. Thought and action

As thought comes into play when there is an obstacle in human activity, thought is bound to activity, and fulfills primarily a practical task. Dewey does not accept a duality between thought and action and therefore also no hierarchy between them. In his concept, thought is not supposed to control the body, passions must not be eliminated in order to make rational decisions. The hierarchy he creates instead is a hierarchy between a "narrow minded decision" and a "deliberate decision". Both may also include passions. Whereas a narrow minded decision emphasises only one aspect of a problem, or one explanation dominates the whole deliberation process, a deliberate decision includes as many aspects of the problem as possible. For example, a decision only on the basis of efficiency in terms of profit would be a "narrow minded decision" in Deweys concept because one aspect dominates the whole deliberation process. So, all decisions made in a society, which are deliberate decisions would also include aspects of "morality" through the long term aim of a community to contribute to the all round growth of each member of that community (which is "democracy" in moral terms), and morality would cease to be a seperate "entity", imposed upon people.

1.4. Dewey's concept of morality in action in Human Nature and Conduct

Morality, for Dewey, embodies no universal "good" and "bad" , as it is not connected to "truth". No morality is needed to make human beings "social", because they always act in associations which is to him the meaning of "social". As far as Dewey is concerned morals are identical with customs, as he ties thought and action together in his concept of human activity: Habit according to Dewey's concept is the basic form of human activity.

"All virtues and vices are habits which incorporate objective forces. They are interactions of elements contributed by the make-up of an individual with elements supplied by the outdoor world. They can be studied as objectively as physiological functions, and they can be modified by change of either personal or social elements." (Dewey, J. 1922/HN, p.16)

Dewey compares habit with physiological functions to make clear that habits are not "owned" by an individual or independent from social surroundings and objective material , as it may be perceived through the distinction between individual and society . He states that physiological functions like breathing and digesting include the social surrounding (air, food) for their outcome, and habits do also.

His classification of human activities in impulses, habits and customs is not clearly distinguished. But it seems to be a hierarchical construction following the degree of organisation. Whereas an impulse designates an accidential, unplanned action, habits are more established, often repeated actions. Customs refer to wide - spread patterns of activities in a society. But non of those activities are disconnected from the social sourroundings, and only individual or "private".

Furthermore, free will, motives or character are not the initials of actions as often perceived. All those categories are socially constructed, as they show a clear dependence upon consequences in a certain social surroundings.

This is important for Dewey's concept of change. Change does not occur by concentration on one individuals ‘will' to bring about a future aim, but by rearranging presently occurring habits to develop new tendencies towards an unknown future.

For the rearrangement of those habits, impulse is an important term in Dewey's concept. Impulses are less organised habits which are diverse and contradictory.

"Impulses are the pivots upon which the re-organization of activities turn, they are agencies of deviation, for giving new direction to old habit and changing their quality" (Dewey, J. 1922/HN, p.93)

Impulses generate conflicts with the more organized and rigid habits, and bring intelligence into action…

"Thought is born as the twin of impulse in every impeded habit."(Dewey, J. 1922/HN, p.171)

Thought is not born of an individual intellect, but directly connected to habit, as thought comes into action when obstacles in the environment hinder activities. Through an irritation, an interruption or a conflict, which hinders the accustomed activity, humans gain a perspective of their present activities.

The basis of Dewey's deliberation concept is: recognising habits through investigation of objective conditions. Rational decision-making means, according to Dewey, not the elimination of passion, as the duality of body and mind would presuppose, it means the successful consideration of as many aspects of the problem as possible, in order to open new prospects for action. The discovery of new aspects could result in a new combination, a new avenue for activity.

In Dewey's concept, decisions are narrow-minded or not rational, when one aspect, one explanation dominates the whole deliberation. The perspective Dewey provides is therefore the perspective to ask for qualities of objects. His concept presents a method of gaining a differentiated view of our conditions and actions. One act is not initiated by a single motive, not by a general feature of human nature; - there are competing impulses and habits within one act, which might become united in the form of a new tendency, a new direction of activity. Changing one component of present activities causes other changes by evoking impulses of a different kind. This happens accidentally.

Controlling this process through the recognition of tendencies (the consequences of several actions from the point of view of a future prospective) and rearranging actual habits, is what Dewey suggests. This is according to Dewey morality in action, because Morals are customs.

Dewey states that there is an artificial division between recent morality and life-activity with the consequence that morality as a separated entity is imposed upon human actions. That form of a moral system would only lead to a phenomenon Dewey did not like: that the bottom line for people's activities is the need to make no visible mistakes, and the attempt to proclaim a "neutral" position of one's own. But Dewey emphasizes that even "no action" is action in reference to the social process because there are always certain consequences; there is no neutral position in the world. With the image of a neutral position, one could imagine to be a morally "good man", without any visible result in the social world.

The aloof morals to which Dewey refers, are a construction built upon knowledge of a stable human essence or of an ideal in the remote future. Therefore this morality provides for only "right" and "wrong" action in reference to something stable outside of the perceivable reality. As Dewey thinks change is constant, we make the wrong decisions when we concentrate on something stable which is not based on the investigation of our concrete present world. He rather suggests to investigate the present world and make judgments on that basis. For him it is a present human activity which produces knowledge of the past and for the future. But it is always knowledge, produced by the present world order, out of the present habits and customs. Hence, a description of human nature is a nature which fits into the present organization of activities. A description of a future is a kind of future which is conceivable out of the present practices and world order, as imagination is tied to action. As an example, Dewey explains in accordance to his concept, how it came that we perceive morality as something imposed upon us: As society developed customs within a system of suppression and oppression, the abiding moral system works mainly as an inner- controlling force from somewhere "above", and demands "discipline". Like an authority morality admonishes to rein men's passions. Dewey states that this is not because thought is naturally supposed to control the body, but because control has been a habit which became the basis for this special form of morality developed throughout history. As habits are not unchangeable, they provide a conservative force when people hold on to developed customs, and a progressive force when people change them.

2. Emile Durkheim

2.1. Introduction:

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist and educationalist lived at approximately the same time as Dewey, from 1858 to 1917. He established sociology as distinct from other social sciences, on the basis of the study of social facts. Social facts are a particular kind of collective consciousness - a common social bond that is expressed by the ideas, values, norms, beliefs and ideologies of the culture, institutionalized in the social structure, and internalized by individual members of the culture. Durkheim thought that the investigation of social facts was not an end in itself, but should also identify the necessary elements in the establishment of social order, as he states in The Rules of Sociological Method:

"To explain a social fact it is not enough to show the cause on which it depends; we must also, at least in most cases, show its function in the establishment of social order" (Durkheim E. 1950 p. 97).

This is nowadays referred to as a social functionalist approach.

Durkheim thought that societies undergo a process of diversification from primitive to civilized as a general law of development. Due to that process which he outlines in reference to labour in his book Division of Labour, morality must become diversified too. Simple rules of behaviour cannot exist anymore, because they have become contradictory in a diversified society. The difference between a "mechanic solidarity" in societies with no or a simple division of labour , and an "organic solidarity" in a society with a progressed division of labour is, that in the first case the solidarity is upheld by similarities among people, whereas the organic solidarity needs to deal with differences among people according to different tasks in the labour market. Although the organic solidarity provides more freedom of choice to the people there is also an inherent danger of abandonment of individuals from the social bond which holds people together through the collective consciousness. In the following quote Durkheim expresses that we have to make a choice: either we adapt our moral system to the changes (which he thinks of as a natural law), or we will cease to be a rounded, complete creature, a whole sufficient unto itself (which is provided by the social bond) and only be a part of the whole like an organ of the organism:

"Such a fact [Division of labour as a general law, AN] cannot manifest itself without affecting profoundly our moral constitution, for the evolution of mankind will develop in two utterly opposing directions, depending on whether we abandon ourselves to this tendency or whether we resist it. Yet, then, one question poses itself urgently: of these two directions, which one should we choose? Is it our duty to seek to become a rounded, complete creature, a whole sufficient unto itself or, on the contrary, to be only a part of the whole, the organ of an organism? In short, whilst the division of labour is a law of nature, is it also a moral rule for human conduct and, if it possesses this last characteristic, through what causes and to what extent?" (Durkheim, E. 1893 p. 3)

Durkheim thought that societies become even more integrated according to how advanced/progressed the division of labour is. But there are anomal developments which have to be prevented. The moral system has to be enriched and modified through each generation, which should be welcomed and not blocked. Otherwise morals become an empty form without creating the social bond among all people. He did not think like Dewey that the moral system must, or even could change completely as Durkheim thinks of a social structure which underlies society: social facts which change, but not in their essence:

"The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the states of individual consciousness" (Durkheim 1895 p. 110).

To understand a social fact, Durkheim suggests we should go back to its origins. In his book Elementary Forms of the Religious Life Durkheim investigates the essential social facts in religious life, by studying "...the most primitive and simple religion which is actually known" (Durkheim, E. 1912 p. 1)

Religion was capable of forming a social bond between people in primitive societies, and their morality was bound religiously. Durkheim thinks however, that collective consciesness, formed by an industrialized (and therefore more differenciated) society could fulfill the - then more demanding - task to create a social bond between people and formulate a morality in rational terms. He thought that the secularisation of the former religiously bound morality was a necessity of the time.

In the book Moral Education. A Study in the Theory and Application of the Sociology of Education (Durkheim, E. 1925) which was first published in French in 1925 after his death, based on his lectures he gave at the Sorbonne, where he became chair in 1902, he develops a secular moral, based on elements of morality which existed earlier, then mingled with religious beliefs . The moral he develops, based on reason should be applicable to a society with a progressed division of labour:

"We must seek, in the very heart of religious conceptions, those moral realities that are, as it were, lost and dissimulated in it. We must disengage them, find out what they consist of, determine their proper nature, and express them in rational language. In a word, we must discover the rational substitutes for those religious notions that for a long time have served as the vehicle for the most essential moral ideas." (Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 9)

2.2. Community

We have seen that Dewey thinks that the communication about and the search for control over consequences of indirect actions would already establish a community ("Communities are based on associated action and communicated meaning accordingly to that shared action" 1.2. above). Durkheim, however, argues that social solidarity does not arise out of the sum of self - interests.

"Self-interest is, in fact, the least constant thing in the world. Today it is useful for me to unite with you; tomorrow the same reason will make me your enemy. Thus such a cause can give rise only to transitory links and associations of a fleeting kind." (Durkheim, E. 1893 p. 152)

Dewey abolishes the distinction between self-interest and public interest and instead, thinks that the organisation of a democratic communication process would enable all individuals to connect to long term aims, and make deliberate decisions, in which the most human good over the longest course of time would be an issue. (see ch. 1.3. and 1.4. in this essay). By contrast, Durkheim doubts "...that all individuals can represent to themselves what are the general conditions for collective life, so that they can make an informed choice." (Durkheim, E. 1893, p. 150)

Durkheim thinks that society is capable of an establishment of a collective consciousness, which goes beyond individual utility. Individuals in Durkheim's concepts are not only associated, they are connected through the spirit of the collective consciousness which connects them to each other as well as to something transcendent. The collective consciesness makes them also "feel" attached to the group and "nourished" through the group. In Durkheim's concept people are not only connected through decision making, but through the collective consciousness.

Concerning morality in community life (see Moral Education page 10), Durkheim thinks that "transcendence" is a crucial element of morality. This element was in primitive societies given through the existence of god. Durkheim thinks that society with its collective consciesness could replace the element of "transcendence" for a secular moral.

If this collective consciousness would be informed by scientific research about the social facts, needed in order to establish and keep social order, it would work the best. Therefore he researches the essential elements of morality: to be able to seperate them from religious beliefs, and formulate them in rational terms.

He thinks as well as Dewey that societies are always in a process, and that no collective consciousness could arise for now and any time, but his ideas of process differ from Dewey's, as we will see in the next chapter.

2.3. Reflections:

Whereas Dewey's idea of process does not include an ideal destination for this process, Durkheim has a clear general concept of development in his mind in terms of progress in rationalism and individualism.

"Indeed, if we have felt with greater force than our fathers the need for an entirely rational moral education, it is evidently because we are becoming more rationalistic. Rationalism is only one of the aspects of individualism: it is the intellectual aspect of it. " ......"All development of individualism has the effect of opening moral consciousness to new ideas and rendering it more demanding. Since every advance that it makes results in a higher conception, a more delicate dignity of man, individualism cannot be developed without making apparent to us as contrary to human dignity, as unjust, social relations that at one time did not seem unjust at all. Conversely , as a matter of fact, rationalistic faith reacts on individualistic sentiment and stimulates it. Consequently, a given advance in moral education in the direction of greater rationality cannot occur without also bringing to light new moral tendencies, without inducing a greater thirst for justice, without stirring the public conscience by latent aspirations." (Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 12)

This concept of progress is very important in order to understand Durkheim's adaptation of morality to social change. He says that we devolop more sensitivity to the rights of reason, and that we recognise unjust conditions which we did not perceive earlier in history. This makes us feel that there is a restricition (through the old laws), although our recognition is already a sign of progress. Therefore, the new morality must not be a conservation of the past, but must .....

"help the younger generations to become conscious of the new ideal toward which they tend confusedly." (Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 12)

He thinks that the formulation of morality in rational terms has become a necessity at his time. And society and the development of society could be the new ideal, instead of a supra-natural being as god is.

Whereas Dewey abolishes all moral foundations for a definition of the state (or laws), the law for Durkheim is an expression of morality. The better informed by scientific research about the social facts the laws are, the more enriched by new aspirations, the more accurate and higher developed the law becomes in terms of morality. This is easier to grasp, when we recognise the connection between truth and morality in Durkheim's concept.

2.3.1. Truth and morality

Durkheim rejects pragmatist dismissal of truth as simply individual utility. In Pragmatism and Sociology he contrasts the "pragmatist doctrine" to sociology and takes opposition to Dewey's understanding of truth as simply a consensus between different parties of investigators.

"Truth cannot be separated from a certain moral character"..... "When our mind perceives a true representation, we feel that we cannot not accept it as true. The true idea imposes itself on us. It is this character that is expressed in the old theory of the evident nature of truth". (Durkheim, E.1914/PR, Fifteenth Lecture)

Whereas Dewey does not offer a tool to judge the moral condition of a community from "outside", because morality is disassociated from "truth" in his concept, Durkheim distinguishes in normal and abnormal developments, a society could undergo. A normal moral development of a society should enable individuals "to become a rounded, complete creature, a whole sufficient unto itself", whereas a stage of "anomie" (abnormal development) could make a lot of people feel disconnected to the group, and for example raise the rate of suicides

2.3.2. Individual and society

Whereas Dewey dissolves the tension between the individual and the society by stating that individuals live in any case in associations (p. 8 in this essay). Durkheim's major question for his first and famous book The Division of Labour in Society was the connection between the individual and the society:

"The question that has been the starting point for our study has been that of the connection between the individual personality and social solidarity. How does it come about that the individual, whilst becoming more autonomous, depends ever more closely upon society?" (Durkheim, E. 1893, p. XXX)

Durkheim thinks the laws of the collective consciousness inevitably differ from the individual psyche which develops within social environment. The collective consciousness works on a different level than individual consciousness and was left out by the pragmatists, as they do not explain the phenomena which derive from that difference: for example the feeling that truth is imposed upon oneself. That feeling arises, because individuals internalise the social structures, and those structures are there before the individual is born, and also after his death.

"All the things it [the domain of morality, AN] comprises are as if invested with a particular dignity that raises them above our empirical individuality, and that confers upon them a sort of transcendent reality." (Durkheim, E. 1925, p.10)

However, Durkheim does not think that individuals are fully determined by societal structures, as in primitive societies with a mechanical solidarity. He thinks that individuals should through moral development become self determined individuals and full members of a society which means that "take from it" and contribute to it.

2.3.3. Thought and Action

Durkheim holds a dualistic view, which means that he believes, that mental things and physical things are fundamentally distinct kinds of entities. In his notion of progress (p. 14 in this essay) he clearly distinguishes "rationalistic faith" and "individualistic sentiment" as two seperate, but connected entities. As ideas lead our actions in Durkheim's concept, we have to, also control our actions thinkingly . This is expressed in his idea of "self-mastery":

"Self-mastery is the first condition of all true power, of all liberty worth the name. In fact, the most essential element of character is the capacity for restraint or - as they say of inhibition, which allows us to contain our passions, our desires, our habits, and subject them to law." (Durkheim, E. 1925, p.46)

Durkheim thinks that we have to resist our desires, that they do not themselves become masters of us. It is through limitation, that we define the goals of activity, otherwise "our appetits of all kinds" would go to violent extremes, which are self destroying. Morality in Durkheim's view helps us to give our life a direction, because they prescribe some patterns of thought and behaviour, to which we devote ourselves without having to think about it all the time. That gives us freedom.

"In order to get through life we have to accept many things without contriving a scientific rationale for them. If we insist on a reason for everything all our capacities for reasoning and responding are scarcely enough for the perpetual "why". This is what characterizes those abnormal subjects whom the doctors call douteurs." Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 39)

Durkheim thinks that morality does not have only a practical character, like Dewey does. For Durkheim, morality possesses somehow a "sacred" character, as it derives from society which goes beyond our individual consciesness. And this is positive, because it gives people the possibility to connect to something more transcendent than their own lifes.

Moral organisation, as it goes beyond the individual consciesness, is therefore not entitled to as free discussion as other issues, and also not as freely subjected to criticism as are other issues.

"There is even stronger reason for the feelings incited by infractions of moral rules being altogether different from those provoked by ordinary infractions of the precepts of practical wisdom or of professional technique." Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 9 -10)

Although the younger generation should contribute to the moral development of the society, they have to be "prepared" in order to do so. That is, because there are moral elements involved, a moral structure which has to be transformed but not abandoned.

2.4. The elements of morality in Durkheim's Moral Education

Durkheim thinks, like Dewey, that there is no "good" and "bad" in general, but that morality has to be specific, in accordance to specific living conditions.

"In this book, our aim is not to formulate moral education for man in general; but for men of our time in this country." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.3)

Durkheim considers the major difference in living conditions to be the difference between industrialised and non-industrialised societies.

"However, the morality of undeveloped societies is not ours. What characterizes them is that they are essentially religious." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.6)

Durkheim wants to provide the scientific basis for a new moral order, in finding the elements of morality in religious beliefs and transforming them to a proper secular moral. The character of "duty" can serve as an example for a moral element. According to Durkheim, both a religiously bound morality and a new secular morality prescribe a duty. In the religious moral system it is a duty to serve god, a secular morality only prescribes duties towards our fellow-men.

The elements of morality he works out in his books are namely: The spirit of discipline (as the first element), the attachment to social groups (as the second element) and autonomy or self - determination (as the third element)

The spirit of discipline combines the necessity of an authority and the necessity of regularity in moral behaviour.

The meanings of regularity and of authority constitute but two aspects of a single complex state of being that may be described as the spirit of discipline. Here, then, is the first basic element of all moral temperament-the spirit of discipline." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.35)

Durkheim argues, in opposition to Dewey, that morals can not be merely customs (or personal habits), because the element of authority is crucial in morality. To overcome personal preferences, individuals need to feel an authority above their personal preverences. (That is what Dewey wants to abolish through the redefinition of public and private interest on the bases of action, which I have explained in chapter 1.3. on p. 7)

..." since moral requirements are not merely another name for personal habits, since they determine conduct imperatively from sources outside ourselves, in order to fulfill one's obligations and to act morally one must have some appreciation of the authority sui generis that informs morality. In other words, it is necessary that the person be so constituted as to feel above him a force unqualified by his personal preferences and to which he yields. "......"It is the nature of rules that they are to be obeyed, not because of the behaviour they require or the probable consequences of such behaviour, but simply because they command." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.34)

The attachment to social groups is the second element of morality in Durkheim's concept, and there is a hierarchy of "groups" in reference to abstraction. The nation surpasses family, clubs and societies as the highest level of "group" one can feel attached to. The first two elements of morality,discipline and attachment to social groups represent for Durkheim two sides of the same coin. Whereas discipline is a necessary element of morality, the attachment to social groups is also rewarding. He also identifies two types of individuals on the bases of the two elements. One who does his/her duty without a question, and one who gives himself/herself in a generous moment, because s/he feels rewarded through the attachment to social groups. He argues that a balanced person would combine both elements. Whereas the discipline presents a necessary conservative force the attachment to groups represents an equally necessary active and imaginative force.

He also analyses the stage of moral development in society on that basis. For example he sais .." the preference for rule and order was preponderant..." at the time of Ludwig XIV..., whereas at Durkheim's lifetime .."Collective discipline in its traditional form has lost its authority" Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 101) . But he still thinks positively about the stage of moral development during his lifetime (it is still in the realm of "normal") because when the conservative forces are weaker the active and imaginative forces become stronger.

"When, on the contrary, morality yet has to be established, when it is still nebulous and unformulated, then to achieve this end we must have recourse to the active and imaginative forces of the consience, rather than to purely conservative forces - since it is not a matter of conserving anything. While we must certainly not lose sight of the need for the disciplinary element of morality, the educator should apply himself first and above all to evoking and developing this morality." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.102)

Durkheim thinks that the active and imaginative forces, which dominate at the time over conservative forces should be employed to formulate a new moral ideal. The new ideal should be one that ...

...." substitute(s) for the conception of a supernatural being the empirical idea of a directly observable being, which is sociey-..." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.104)

Durkheim's adaptation of morality to social change indicates keeping the elements of morality which we can research scientifically, and filling them with new ideas. Contrastingly, Dewey demands a radical reconstruction and revolts against some of the essential elements Durkheim elaborates in Moral Education (for example authority).

The third element of morality in Durkheim's concept is autonomy or self-determination. Although he thinks that autonomy or self-determination is an element of morality, he does not accept an abstract freedom of will inherent in each individual (which would not be subjected to the law of nature insofar as it is purely rational). Dewey also rejects the notion of an abstract freedom of will. Whereas Dewey rejects this idea on the basis of his theorised affiliation between thought and action, and between individual and society, Durkheim argues otherwise. Reason, according to Durkheim, is not the founder of the world. Reason can only provide insights into the order of things through scientific inquiry. According to Durkheim, the rule which applies to natural sciences also applies to sociology, a science which investigates societies. Reason is not the founder of morality which derives from society, but it can provide insights as to its function. Therefore, the autonomy or self-determination in Durkheim's concept is ..

"...freely desiring this [the moral, AN] order, assenting through an understanding of the cause. Wishing freely is not desiring the absurd. On the contrary, it implies wishing what is rational - that is to say, it implies the desire to act in agreement with the nature of things." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.115)

And furthermore the element of autonomy - or self determination does not dissolve the proceeding elements of morality.

"Because we know the nature and the law of life, it does not at all follow that life looses a single one of its specific characteristics. Similarly, because the science of morality teaches us the reason for the imparative quality inherent in moral rules, these latter do not on that account lose their imperative charater. Because we know that there is something useful in that which is commanded, it follows not that we fail to obay, but that we obey voluntarily." Durkheim, E. 1925, p. 118)

Durkheim thinks that the elements of morality which he has investigated, are necessarily contradictory in an abstract fashion, because morality is a complex entity, which must be theorized through dialectic. The tensions between the "good and the obligatory", between the "individual and the group", between the "limitation imposed by the role and the self-willed enfolding of human nature" cannot be solved abstractly, without relation to anything concrete. And ..."it's unity derives "[only, AN] "from that of the concrete being that serves as its foundation, the nature of which is expressed in morality - that is to say, society." Durkheim, E. 1925, p.111)

3. Conclusion

I wanted, in this essay, not only to show the theorist's different approaches to the same theme, but also connect their approaches to their broader theoretical positions in order to understand their concepts in more depth. I think that I have illuminated assorted "characters" of each orientation: Durkheim distinguishes essential elements of morality, because he believes in social facts and a collective consciousness formed by a society, which goes beyond individual consciousness. Because of the general process of development societies undergo from pre-industrialised to industrialised, and because he thinks that morality is connected to truth, Durkheim indicates that the elements of morality should not be abandoned, but transformed.. Dewey wants to change morality radically because he thinks that our philosophical thoughts (and thoughts about morality) have followed an incorrect path, and are not based upon or reformulated through reality. He theorises morality on the basis of human activity because he thinks that present activity is all what we can possibly investigate in order to base our theories in reality. Because he only focusses on life activity he thinks that thought and action are no distinct entities, because they are always united in life activity. He does not provide any essential features or a character of morality except for the notion that a scientific inquiry of facts and an organised democratic communication process is crucial, because he does not think that morality has any substance beyond the organisation of life activity, and because he thinks that morality is disassociated from truth...........

Those are only some of the connections I have explored. Maybe the reader finds other ones as well. My essay represents in this respect more an opening to further exploration than an end.


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Dewey, J. 1916/DE Democracy and Education. Free Press reprinted (Feb. 1997)

Dewey,J. 1920/RP Reconstruction in Philosophy. Dover Publications (2004)

Dewey, J. 1922/HN: Human Nature and Conduct. Prometheus Books (Dec. 2002)

Dewey, J. 1927/Pub.: The Public and its Problems. Ohio University Press (Sept. 1989)

Dewey, J. 1935/LS Liberalism and Social Action. Prometheus Books (1999)

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Elwell, Frank (2003) Emile Durkheim's Sociology. A site for undergraduates. Rogers State University:http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Durkheim/#Words (accessed 07.12. 2005)

Howes, Eric L. 2003 The Works of John Dewey https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ehowes/www/gslis/dewey-intro.htm (accessed 23.11.2005)

Oelkers, Jürgen (Hrsg.) (1993) John Dewey: Demokratie und Erziehung. Eine Einleitung in die philosophische Pädagogik. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz.

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Schlipp, P. 1951/Phi. (Editor) The Philosophy of John Dewey. Illinois (USA):The Open Court Publishing Co.

Essay copyright Andrea Nagy 2006

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