9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN11 Sociology of Emotions

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Emotions and Theory of Society I Building II, C6.09

Comte, Durkheim and social affectivity

The paper compares the affective theories of two grand classics of the French sociology, Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim. Although Comte severely criticized his predecessor Saint-Simon for the "religious" and "sentimental" penchants, especially in the forefront in his later writings, he nonetheless developed himself a religious system for the new Humanity, which heavily leaned on the sentimental, even the instinctual component of mans´ being. Comte believed that the ideological reproduction of the society (reorganized in a new, "scientific" manner) requires, as its affective supplement, a positivist religion which assembles the universal love each individual feels for the Humanity as a common telos of affective attachment that constitutes the emotional and moral foundation of the new society. The model for this universal love was sought in a more concrete level (that of the familial love), but the more general moral problem it was destined to solve was rooted in the instinctual level: how to guarantee the dominance of the altruistic over the egoistic instincts (since for Comte, the "natural" instinct of man was towards egoism, i.e. towards self-preservation).

The very same problem, concerning the social need of regulation of man´s "lower", biological (egoistic) instincts, constitutes the dynamic foundation of the Durkheimian theory of suicide. But whereas Comte goes looking for the primordial, affective model for his universal love of the Humanity on the individual level, for Durkheim the necessary regulation of the individual (destructive) passions can only be found in an affective force which is, right from the beginning, above the individuals and therefore capable of subjugating their egoistic impulses (this force being the society itself). Later, in his theory of religion, Durkheim emphasizes the integrative function of the religious realm, putting in the forefront the ritual side of religion, the "collective effervescence" binding the individuals together by the force of an affective "contagion" (whereas in the Comtean model the binding force is situated in the representation each member of the society makes of the universal Humanity). In spite of these differences Comte and Durkheim end up with a very consensual (non-repressional and non-violent) vision of society´s affective foundation.