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Durkheim: The moral nature of society

According to Durkheim, societies were systems made up of interrelated social elements. These social systems were moral entities an irreducible characteristic of a society. Durkheim argued that all human associations give rise to expectations of patterns of conduct. As persons associate; develop relationships with others, they tend to develop common ways of perceiving, evaluating feeling and acting. These new patterns of values, receptions and action then give rise to expectations and constraints on how persons should or ought to behave. Thus as persons associate with each other so there emerges a collective consciousness which in turn constrains them and obliges them to behave in particular ways. In Durkheim’s view, this moral reality included the collective values, the order of priorities on which the members of the society are agreed. He made the assumption that for any group of people to live together cooperatively they must have some basic common agreements on what their priorities are as a group and on how they ought to behave to each other and arrange their relationships. Durkheim argued this case when criticizing the ideas of earlier social and political philosophers and in particular the theories of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes had suggested that societies were formed by men coming together and agreeing or making a contract to live side-by-side                               in peace rather than continuing to fight one another. He argued that men agreed to stop their war of all against all and to organize themselves into a state with ruling government in order to ensure their collective self-preservation. Durkheim’s argument was that for men to come together at all to make a contract ,they must have already have some common agreement on the value of such a contract and some common agreement to be bound by the unwritten rules of a contractual situation. This prior agreement represented for Durkheim a framework of order that is the essence of society. If men could make a contract with each other they were already members of a society because they held certain values in common. Thus a fundamental consensus or agreement on basic values becomes synonymous with an understanding of the concept society. Durkheim’s emphasis on the moral nature of social relationships appears in all his work.