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Emile Durkheim and Max Weber
Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, who contributed to the innovations in the studies about society, remain the key figures even in sociology of the 21st century. Sociology, as it is presented today, could hardly be imagined without their efforts. Their assumptions in the fields of ontology, epistemology, and nature have significantly influenced their approach to the studies of social institutions and society at the whole.
Emile Durkheim had a rather interesting position about ontology. He supposed society to be a process of becoming, both changeable and, sometimes, unpredictable. He gave to the social facts ontological status. According to Fararo, social facts may be estimated as external to individuals, as their origin is within the collection of humans. The main point of social fact is that it is instituted by the community, which shares the way of thinking, acting, and feeling (2001, p.38). Durkheims ontology is grounded on a suggestion about the social network, which is the material substrate for the emergence of institutions and other social facts (Fararo, 2001, p.39). He formulated the problem for theoretical sociology, which included the issue of difference between internal and external, and the issue of relationship between individuals mental facts and society. Collective representations is an irreplaceable category of Durkheims ontology, which represents the idea of mental facts corresponding to the social facts. Thus, Durkheims threefold ontology consists of mental, social, and cultural facts. His approach to the studies of society and social institutions implies consideration of different factors, which have a considerable impact on individuals mind and behavior.
Durkheims suggestions about epistemology are reflected in his works, such as The Elementary Forms, Primitive Classification and Pragmatism and Sociology. He worked out the problem of individualist approach to epistemology. He claimed that persons experience cannot be considered valid, as it changes from moment to moment. This problem arises in case knowledge is assumed to begin with persons experience.
Durkheim insisted on the connection between the nature and the society. Naturalism means that society and its regularities should be understood analogically with the laws of nature. This suggestion is linked to the ideas of the Age of the Enlightenment. The society develops uninterruptedly, as well as nature does with the creative synthesis of simple into complicated. Essentially, these ideas influenced Durkheims approach to the society, which was considered a process that is changeable and controversial.
Durkheims approach to social institutions and society in general, was influenced by his views on epistemology, ontology, and nature. He saw the society as a set of social facts (Kenneth, 2005, p.102). However, it is worth mentioning that the sociologist was also interested in the factors that hold the society together. In his work Division of Labor in Society, he stated that beliefs, values, and norms make egoistic people live together; therefore, social integration is obvious. Emile Durkheim emphasized the concept of collective consciousness, which is produced through interaction of the members of the society. Furthermore, collective consciousness makes social integration possible.
Max Weber was an economic historian and a political economist. His suggestions about the society were under the impact of German Idealism, especially neo-Kantianism and Kantian ethics. In spite of classical sociologists, who aimed to create sets of rules, which would govern social sciences, Weber concentrated on the individuals. He distinguished social behavior from social actions. Weber followed the Kantian approach to epistemology Scientific proof exists and it is valid,' and then asked, 'Under which presuppositions of thought is truth possible and meaningful?'" (Weber, 1946, p. 154). He stated that the nature of knowledge of the social environment is limited. The reasons of events may be stated objectively, though they must be interpreted in relation with each other. However, some of the most significant events should be separated from the rest, which would lead to subjectivism. He saw objective science as hardly-achieved purpose, though it is worth striving for There is no absolutely "objective" scientific analysis of culture... All knowledge of cultural reality... is always knowledge from particular points of view. ... an "objective" analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to "laws," is meaningless... [because]... the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end (Weber, 1998, p. 245).
Max Webers opinion about ontology can hardly be called optimistic. He insisted that modern rational culture has negative impact on human life. He thought that mankind should not lost connection with intuitive and creative sides of existence. He viewed human as a complex of motivations to act. He had philosophized about humans nature, fate, and entity. For instance, he thought that limits of actions are the result of limits of perception. Weber estimated human being as a state of tension with the direction of modern culture and content. People have been looking for meaningful orientation, which is provoked by the humans necessity to act. The motivation to act is provided by ideal and material interests. According to Weber, religious beliefs occurred because of peoples experience in irrationality. Weber considered that nature is very important for humans, thought, modern civilized life contradicts naturalness. With the expanding of civilization, the value of organic and natural existence is lost.
It may be concluded that Emile Durkheim and Max Weber have significantly contributed to the development of sociology and philosophy. Their positions about ontology, epistemology, and nature have both similarities and differences. The awareness of the points of view of these sociologists is important for the expanding of knowledge in the different areas of human life.