Saturday, 6 May 2000

From "On Suicide"

By Emile Durkheim.

No living being can be happy or even exist unless his needs are sufficiently proportioned to his means [...] In the animal, at least in a normal condition, this equilibrium is established with automatic spontaneity because the animal depends on purely material conditions [... This is not the case with man, because most of his needs are not dependent on his body or not to the same degree [...] how determine the quantity of well-being, comfort or luxury legitimately to be craved by a human being? [...] They are [...] unlimited so far as they depend on the individual alone [...] Being unlimited, they constantly and indefinitely surpass the means at their command; they cannot be quenched. Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture [...] the passions [...] must be limited. Only then can they be harmonised with the faculties and satisfied. But since the individual has no way of limiting them, this must be done by some force exterior to him. A regulative force must play the same role for moral needs which the organism plays for physical needs. This means that the force can only be moral. The awakening of conscience interrupted the state of equilibrium in the animal's dormant existence; only conscience, therefore, can furnish the means to re-establish it [...] the appetites [...] can be halted only by a limit that they recognise as just. Men would never consent to restrict their desires if they felt justified in passing the assigned limit. But [...] they cannot assign themselves this law of justice. So they must receive it from an authority which they respect, to which they yield spontaneously. Either directly an as a whole, or through the agency of one of its organs, society alone can play this moderating role, for it is the only moral power superior to the individual, the authority of which he accepts.

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