Durkheim’s theory of suicide
According to Durkheim society is primary and the individual secondary; therefore society plays a primordial role and the individuals merely reflect or mirror those roles. Durkheim emphasizes the pivotal role that society plays in the life of the individuals. According to him, it is the social circumstances and the influence of the collective consciousness which are, in the main, responsible for the phenomenon of suicide. He says “suicide is an act which society disapproves although the collective conscience does approve of certain suicides of expiation.
Some scholars have propounded the geographical theory of suicide. According to them the incidence of suicides rises in summer months of May-June when compared with the winter months of December-January; but according to Durkheim though the stated facts are in order, that is, it is true that the number of suicides is higher in May- June in comparison with December-January, the weather conditions are not the true causes, they appear to be so to a superficial observer. But the real reason lies in the fact that inner social workings in individuals increase considerably in summer months.
Therefore, it is not the heart but the social influences which cause suicide. Similarly a depressed man commits suicide not because of depression but due to heightened sensitivity to social conditions in a depressed man.
Durkheim has classified different types of suicide on the basis of different types of personalities of men. He has recognized following three to be the fundamental.
The suicides committed by persons who are self centered and to whom self-regard is the highest regard are called egoistic suicides. According to Durkheim those persons who have none or few emotional attachments are more suicide-prone than those who have strong emotional attachment. Obviously a man of strong attachments will always have a reason to live and can never experience the kind of apathy and vacuity felt by unattached individual. It is clear that the chief causes of egoistic suicide are social. It is also plain, upon Durkheim’s analysis, that society is mainly responsible for suicide.
An altruistic suicide is a form of sacrifice in which a person puts an end to his life by some heroic means in order to promote or further the interest of the cause or idea dear to him. According to Durkheim the persons committing altruistic suicide are those who attach great value and importance to the need and imperative of control. Compared to the value of society and its cause they consider their own personal life of no worth. For them the worth or wholeness of their life lies in the maintenance and promotion of social forms of which they are shadows. Once such an outlook develops and takes firm hold of the man, such a person easily and willingly sacrifices his life for social causes, ends and purposes.
According to Durkheim, the third type of suicide is Anomique. The types of suicides are concerned with social disorganization and imbalance. At the time when society is in a crisis, the social relations are disturbed and even disrupted; and at such periods and under the fluid and critical social conditions the personal and social ethics both become causalities. The values crumble and life becomes devoid of its guiding light. At such times the outlook of some persons suddenly undergoes critical change and results in dangerous developments. In critical periods there are sudden changes and in the economic fortunes of people; multi-millionaires may become pauper overnight. Due loss of financial fortunes many persons commit suicide.