The Essence of Morals

Aihepiirit: 1900-luku
Tekijät: Lagerborg Rolf
Julkaistu: 1953
Julkaistu sivustolla: 06.05.2011
Published in/Publicerad i/Julkaistu: "The Essence of Morals. Fifty years
(1895-1945) of rivalry between French and English Sociology".
Transactions of the Westermarck Society, Vol II (Åbo 1953)

Digital kopia, Fanny Malmberg 2011.


1. The differing moral concepts of Durkheim and Westermarck. 2. The part of instincts and penalties in the origin of moral duties. 3. Durkheim adopted the doctrines of Kant and the Utilitarians concerning morals as defined by the sanctions. Westermarck found this moral conception too narrow. 4. How Durkheim criticized Westermarck's »The History of Human Marriage». 5. How he criticized Westermarck's »The Origin and development of Moral Ideas.» 6. Attempts 1903 — 04 of the French sociologists to collaborate with the English. 7. Fresh attempts by the English anthropologists, 1928. 8. Westermarck defends his methods of investigation; Durkheim and his pupils defend their points of view. 9. Westermarck's Huxley Memorial Lecture: an apology. 10. Westermarck's memory honoured.


In his latest book »Modern Psychotherapeutics» Ernst Kretschmer also deals with morality. Regarding sexual morality he says (Swedish edition p. 53 — 54): »The collective moral traditions bear a great resemblance to the instincts. Once I said in a lecture — rather too decisively — 'Morality is instinct'. This statement must not be understood as an identification, but as an analogy.

      A physician who has thought deeply and experienced so much that he no longer anxiously depends on all kinds of conventionalities, acknowledges the moral meaning of inherited social rules.»

      At the turn of our century two dominant moralists, Durkheim and Westermarck, would probably have been of the same opinion as Kretschmer regarding sexual morals. In 1891 Edvard Westermarck (1862 —1939) had a great success with his work The History of Human Marriage. It was based on biological and introspective psychological in-


vestigations and moreover on ethnologica) data, according to the methods of Darwin and Spencer. His aim was to refer the moral rules as far as possible to their primary origin. He found the primary sources in inherent organic reactions and emotions. — Emile Durkheim (1858 — 1917) also aimed at collective gregarious reactions. He published his remarkable work »La division du travail social» in 1893; but in reviews he had already restricted moral phenomena to the collective prohibitions and moral science to sociological researches.

      These pioneers of the English and the French schools agreed in denying that there could exist a postulated »moral in itself». The word Morals derives from the Latin mores and signifies conformity with local customs, changing with time and place.


Durkheim proceeds so empirically that his theses seem paradoxical. He defined the moral qualities only from the outside. At the beginning of our century this method was adopted in psychology by Bechterew, Pierre Janet and others as the only suitable one in examining children, animals and madmen. Durkheim accepted former similar behaviouristic views; they led him to the following theses:

      »An action is not disapproved of because it is criminal, but it becomes criminal because it is disapproved.» In French (op. cit. p. 86): »II ne faut pas dire qu'un acte froisse la conscience commune parce qu'il est criminel, mais qu'il est criminel, parce qu'il froisse la conscience commune. Nous ne le réprouvons pas, parce qu'il est un crime; mais il est un crime, parceque nous le réprouvons.»

      People in France have always regarded moral laws as phenomena appearing in connection with communities of every kind. In the seventeenth century Nicole pointed out that thieves, brigands and pirates also had moral laws, embracing reciprocal duties. The moral rules are dictated by the group one belongs to; no individual member is permitted to disobey. To listen to one's own conscience is no mora criterion, nor a valid excuse, if there is not behind one's pretended »moral» conscience some kind of community which approves one's actions, even if they are misdeeds in the opinion of others.

      A moral conception of this kind did not satisfy Westermarck. As a pupil of Darwin and Spencer he investigated the presocial factors in


morals, viz. biological reactions and tender emotions which human beings inherit from the animal species. Not only benevolent tendencies such as sympathy and fellow-feelings, but also impulses of self-defence and relation. His elderly friend James Sully had the same opinion as Westermarck regarding defence and »retaliatory malevolence» as the most copious sources of morality — and of justice.

      That »the peculiar feeling of condemnation of a wrong action can be traced down to the instinctive reaction of a purely individual or egoistic resentment» was stated by Sully in his work »The Human Mind» (II p. 159). Here Sully might have cited a saying from the Second Empire: »cet animal est tres méchant — quand on l'attaque, il se défend.» Westermarck remarks1 that such reactions, marked by a hostile attitude towards the causes of pain, are means of protection for the animal which like other useful instincts had been acquired by natural selection in the struggle for existence.

      But the fact that offences lead to moral rules does not explain how duty becomes the support of morals. In considering the categorical imperative of duty as the specific sign of morals Durkheim follows Kant.2 Retaliatory impulses which rise from attacks and which turn against the offenders, even when they offend other beings (if we sympathise with these beings), still have in se nothing to do with morals. Those who believe they have, do not realise that such feelings can be totally immoral. The facts belonging to morality begin with the sanction, standing threateningly behing the collective orders. Consequently one has to start from this external coercion which, inoculated from our infancy, leads to an inner »thou shalt not».

     Westermarck, on the contrary, in his eagerness to trace moral phenomena from the collective orders back to the sources in human nature, did not take enough notice of the importance of the threatened penalties. It is true that this importance had been inculcated to satiety by the English Utilitarians; whereas Westermarck's belief, inherited from Höffding's regulating ideal, was that humanity had evolved towards wider reciprocal sympathy. The same tendency appears for instance in the title of Alexander Sutherland's work (1898) »The Origin and growth of the Moral Instinct» I—II. Ribot expressed an identical tendency in the following phrase (»Psychologie des sentiments», 1896):

1 The Essence of Revenge, Mind 1898 p. 297.

2 Cfr Dumas, Traité de psychologie p. 857, and Nouveau traité de psychologie VI p. 153.


»La tendance altruiste ou émotion tendre . . .tient à notre constitution comme d'avoir deux yeux et un seul estomac.» We are, indeed, naturally inclined to help and take care of young things; it has been suggested that the origin of the domestication of animals was compassion and tenderness towards the helpless young ones, left behind when their parents were killed by hunters.

      It seems, to sum up, that an optimistic belief in Evolution made Westermarck overlook the part of penalties in the origin of moral obligations. His zeal, like that of Höffding, was to save the honour of morality in spite of his own denial of its spiritual origin. He thought that morality could stand firm as a natural instinct without human or divine penalties.


      That the opinions of the Utilitarians diminished the reverence commonly inspired by morality, may be shown by the following statements:

      Austin said:1 »It is only because of the chance of incurring evil, that I am bound and obliged to compliance ... It is only by conditional evil, that duties are sanctioned or enforced.» Stuart Mill explained the same more fully:2 »We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply, that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfill it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as on exacts a debt. Unless we think that it might be exacted from him, we do not call it his duty.» And further (op. cit. p. 45): »There is hardly anything so absurd or so mischivious, that it may not by means of these influences (external sanctions, early impressions) be made to act in the human mind with all the authority of conscience.»

      One even warned against sympathy as a moral criterion; Austin wrote for instance (op. cit. p. 107): »Sympathy is not a moral sentiment

1 The Province of Jurisprudence Determined, p. 8—9.

2 Utilitarianism, p. 72 — 73.


but a principle or motive to action, either being liable to disturb our moral judgment . . . Maternal love, the passion between the sexes, when exalted into love, the spirit of sex and party, a narrow patriotism — all these are as likely to mislead the judgment or the moral sense as the purely self-regarding affections: which on the other hand, though often misleading, are to a great extent the causes of good, prompting men to all long and obscure effort.»

      Bain urged even more the sanction as a criterion; for instance, in his »Mental and Moral Science»1 we find: »Morality is not prudence nor benevolence, in their primitive or spontaneous manifestations; it is the systematic codification of prudential and benevolent actions, rendered obligatory by what is termed penalties or punishment; an entirely distinct motive, artificially framed by human society, but made so familiar to every member of society as to be a second nature. . . . There is no act, however trivial, that can not be raised to the position of a moral act, by the imperative of society.»

      On the other hand Bain declared:2 »It is freely admitted, that there may be merit in the performances of duty, when the circumstances are such as to render this so very arduous, that the generality of people would fall short of it ... But merit attaches itself only to something that is not our duty . . . These are the objects of esteem, honour, reward, but not of moral approbation.» No virtue that is not enforced by threat appertains to our duty, no demand that cannot be exacted by penalties appertains to morals. »Positive good deeds and self-sacrifice are the preserving salt of human life . . too much cannot be said to encourage them, or done to reward them, when under the guidance of a wise judgment»; but Bain maintained that such acts »occupy a sphere of their own.»

      Westermarck disclaimed this narrow conception3: »Prof. Bain, who takes a very legal view of the moral consciousness, maintains that 'positive good deeds and self-sacrifice . . . transcend the region of morality proper, and occupy a sphere of their own'. I believe that his restriction of the moral consciousness within so narrow limits is unique among modern writers, and is certainly not to be recommended.»

      The words of Westermarck »unique among modern writers» prove

1 p. 455-56, 459.

2 The Emotions and the Will p. 292.

3 Cf Remarks on the Predicates of Moral Judgments, Mind 1900 p. 199.


that he did not know in 1900 that Durkheim in his »La division du travail social» in 1893 had asserted the same as Bain. Only in 1906 did Westermarck pay attention to the school of Durkheim in this matter. In his »The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas» (I p. 145) he wrote as follows: »A similar opinion has been expressed by Prof. Durkheim (»La division du travail social») and, quite recently, by Dr Lagerborg in his interesting essay »La nature de la morale.»1 Prof. Durkheim argues (p. 30), that it would be »contraire à toute méthode» to include under the same heading acts which are obligatory, and acts which are objects of admiration. and at the same time abolish all regulation. »Si donc, pour rester fidèle à l'usage, on réserve aux premiers la qualification de moraux, on ne saurait la donner également aux seconds.» — But I fail to see that ordinary usage recognises regulation as the test of morality. On the contrary, terms like »goodness» and »virtue», though having no reference whatever to any rule, have always hitherto been applied to qualities avowedly moral.»

      In founding sociological societies London was also later than Paris. Since 1895 a Société de Sociologie de Paris has flourished, and as early as 1894 there existed an Institut international de Sociologie. From this superior position the French showed their goodwill in guiding the English newcomers. — After the French edition of Westermarck's »The History of Human Marriage» (1895) Durkheim did his best to reprove the young scientist. In the Revue philosophique he published (1895 II p. 606 — 23) a severely negative presentation of Westermarck's famous book. In his introduction Durkheim indeed acknowledges: »L'on ne saurait trop louer dans son oeuvre l'abondance des informations, le grand esprit de sincerité, qui inspire toute sa recherche, et 1'indépendance du jugement. En revanche, la méthode suivant laquelle les faits sont elaborés est loin de nous paraitre aussi irréprochable . . . La plupart des propositions auxquelles l'auteur aboutit nous est impossible d'accepter.» »Ce qui caractérise tout d'abord la méthode de M. Westermarck, c'est qu'elle est essentiellement ethnographique et psychologique.»

      Westermarck had not taken any notice of the way in which Durkheim in 1886 in Revue philosophique (II p. 61) had criticised Spencer's »Ecclesiastical Institutions». There it was stated that moral and reli-

1 Revue internalionale de Sociologie XI p. 466.


gious ideas are collective phenomena which follow tradition and depend on collective coercion. The same subject Durkheim had discussed in his »La division du travail social» in 1893 (p. 390): »L'ou a expliqué la religion par des mouvements de la sensibilité individuelle, alors que ces mouvements ne sont que le prolongement chez l'individu des états sociaux qui donnent naissance aux religions. Nous avons donné quelques développements sur ce point dans un article de la Revue philosophique, 'Études de science sociale', juin 1886.»

      The purpose of religion was in the first place to keep the citizens together. Individual protests against prejudices and irrational claims do not help as long as religion does not dissolve into a majority of dissenters which divide instead of unite. Then the coercion of religion yields only at the moment when it is superseded by other coercive creeds which better fulfil the purpose of uniting the people or the peoples. In this way Christianity once became the religion of the Roman Empire.

      Unfortunately Westermarck did not like reading French and he had not noticed the young Durkheim's new ideas. The same year, 1895, when Westermarck's »History of Human Marriage» appeared in French, Durkheim published the first edition of his remarkable book »Les règles de la méthode sociologique». In this book and in reviews Durkheim criticised Westermarck's shortcomings, for instance as follows: »Faire reposer la sociologie sur le Darwinisme, c'est asseoir la science sur une hypothése, ce qui est contraire a toute bonne méthode1. L'on n'obtient pas la vérité en prenant la moyenne d'un grand nombre d'erreurs.» »Rendre compte du mariage par l'instinct sexuel, des régles prohibitives du mariage entré parents par l'horreur instinctive de l'inceste, de la puissance paternelle par l'amour paternel, du progrés par l'instinct du progrés, c'est rendre compte des effets soporifiques de l'opium par sa vertu dormitive: c'est multiplier à l'infini et systematiquement des qualités irréductibles.»

      To this warning against entia praeter necessitatem Durkheim adds the accusation that Westermarck does not use well-defined concepts: »Les concepts essentiels dont il traite ne sont pas constitués du tout.» »Si, pour la clarté des faits, on reduit le nom de mariage aux unions réglementées, il faut dire qu'il n'y a pas de mariage dans le monde animal, si ce n'est par métaphore.»

1 Revue philosophique 1895 p. 608.


      More than by anything else Durkheim was disturbed by Westermarck's neglect of the collective sanction which Durkheim considered to be the dominant factor of religion and morals. Westermarck, cheered by his success in his polemic against the supporters of ancient promis-uity, disregarded Durkheim's remarks. At the end of a long article against a German professor, Westermarck reproves Durkheim, (who had warned against Darwinism) in the following observations1: »Cette objection doit resonner étrangement aux oreilles de quiconque est un peu au courant des immenses progrès que la biologie a faits sur la base du darwinisme. Et je dois avouer qu'il m'est difficile d'entrer en controverse avec un auteur qui considere comme 'contraire à toute bonne méthode' l'hypothése qui fait descendre l'homme d'une espèce animale inférieure . . . S'il n'est pas admissible de rejeter la naive théorie qui fait de l'apparition de l'homme le resultat d'une création spéciale, il nous faut admettre la possibilité d'un état paradisiaque original, et alors il vaudrait mieux — à mon avis — abandonner absolument 1'étude des institutions préhistoriques.»

      The definitive edition of Westermarck's »The History of Human Marriage» (1921) was criticised as follows by Durkheinvs pupil G. Davy (in G. Dumas. »Traité de psychologie» II p. 890—91): »Si l'on s'obstine à raisonner sur le mariage en pur psychologue on se condamne à ignorer l'essentiel des sentiments et des règles qui y président. Ce n'est pas en se réferant à l'instinct ou à l'utilité, mais à la religion qu'on pourra la comprendre. Le mariage en effet et le commerce des sexes chez l'homme ont toujours été entourés d'un cortège d'idées et de sentiments religieux ... De là vient en particulier le caractère mysterieux et dangereux, par où elles diffèrent du tout au tout des phenomènes de la sexualité animale.»

      But Westermarck was not to be moved. He answered with some counterattacks; once, for instance, in »Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft» 1908 (p. 559) about the predilection of Durkheim and others in choosing the life of natives in Australia as patterns for prehistoric human life, he wrote: »Die hervorragende neuere Literatur über die Australische Eingeborenenwelt hat viele Leute geneigt gemacht, die Urgeschichte der Menschheit durch australische Brillen zu sehen; doch sollte selbst der eifrigste Verfechter der Australischen Gruppenehe be-

1 Revue inlernationale de sociologie 1897 p. 444, 457.


denken, dass z.B. das Vorkommen von Känguruh's in Australien kein Beweis für deren einstiges Vorkommen in England ist.»


Westermarck's greatest achievement »The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas» (1906—08) was extolled to the skies by most critics. Such a success for a single man's gigantic work put a whole school — Durkheim's — in the shade. »Mind» declared that »no book in any language, on so grand a scale or in so authoritative a way, concretely deals with the evolution of morality». The »Journal des débats» considered the work a history of the evolution of civilization. — No wonder Durkheim was offended. He wrote a polite but ill-humoured and detailed critique, which culminated in the statement that Westermarck, without noticing it himself, had got caught in the traditions of normative ethics which he had desired to expel from science. After a few words of acknowledgement, Durkheim begins (L'Année sociologique 1905 — 06):

»Il y a entré la méthode de M. Westermarck et la notre des divergeances tout à fait essentielles, qui se répercutent naturellement dans le détail des théories, et dont l'examen va nous permettre de traiter d'une manière concrète d'importantes questions de méthode.»

Durkheim continues (p. 381): »Pour expliquer les variations par lesquelles a passé une règle morale, il faut de toute nécessité mettre ces variations en rapport avec les milieux sociaux, ou elle s'est élaborée et transformée. L'en séparer, c'est la séparer des sources vives d'où elle découle. C'est se mettre dans l'impossibilité de la comprendre. Une étude comme celle de notre auteur suppose donc que 1'on possède une classification, tout au moins provisoire, des principaux types desociétés et de leur particularités distinctives . . . Malheureusement M. Westermarck n'a nullement senti cette nécessité. Il est resté fidele à la méthode suivie pendant si longternps et par 1'école allemande de l'anthropologie juridique, et par l'école anglaise de 1'anthropologie religieuse . . . Toutes les fois que M. Westermarck énonce une proposition, pour la démontrer, il emprunte des exemples aux sociétés les plus disparates. On dirait que son but est de produire une impression de masses, nécessairement confuse, plutôt que de laisser des idées distinctes et définies.»

And again, (p. 390): »L'auteur n'a pas commencé par observer, decrire et classer les différentes sortes de sanctions qui sont attachées aux règles morales, pour remonter ensuite méthodiquement aux états émotionnels . . . Aussi la maniére dont il s'élève de ces émotions fondamentales jusqu'au concepts moraux essentiels est elle purement idéologique; le chapitre où est traitée cette question (p. 131 — 57) n'est qu'une suite d'analyses introspectives et de déductions abstraites, à peu près vide



de toute donnée objective . . . Ce qui constitue esentiellement le devoir, c'est quelque chose de très positif: c'est l'idée de commandement, d'impératif, et c'est cette notion d'impératif qu'il faut analyser si l'on veut découvrir les origines du concept de devoir.))

Further: »La préoccupation constante de l'auteur est de rattacher les différentes maximes de la morale à quelque disposition constitutionelle de la nature humaine en général ... Il estime évidemment qu'il y a une seule et méme morale, inscrite dans la nature congénitale de l'hornme, et dont les morales que nous font connaitre l'ethnographie et 1'histoire ne sont que des approximations progressives . . . En vérité, était-il bien nécessaire de mettre aussi largement à contribution et toute l'ethnographie et toute l'histoire pour retrouver le principe s ur lequel reposait la vieille philosophie du droit naturel?»

Durkheim finishes his severe and penetrating examination rather pompously: »S'il nous a paru nécessaire de critiquer la méthode suivie par l'auteur et la conception qu'il se fait de la science de la morale, il n'est que juste de rendre hommage a son immense savoir. Il dispose d'une littérature incomparable. Ce livré représente un travail gigantesque et, sous ce rapport, rendra certainement de grands services. Sur chacune des questions qui y sont traitées, on y trouvera une véritable abondance de réferences et d'utiles renseignements.»

      The second part of »The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas» was reviewed in l'Année sociologique 1906—09 (p. 274 — 76) by Durkheim's confrère Fauconnet. He found there »une immense accumulation de matériaux, infiniment précieuse d'ailleurs, qui doivent dans l'avenir, non plus rentrer dans les cadres fournis par la psychologie traditionelle, mais les briser et nous obliger à en construire de nouveaux.» Fauconnet finally draws attention to the fact that »la nature humaine est pour une grande part d'origine sociale et ne peut être comprise que si on l'observe comme quelque chose de social que l'introspection individuelle n'atteint pas.»


In 1903—04 Durkheim and his school tried to enter into collaboration with the English anthropologists. One of Durkheim's lectures was sent to the newly founded Sociological Society in London. It was read by professor Baranguet. With the discussion that it evoked it was published in the »Sociological Papers» of the English Society. »The Sociological Review that after a year took the place of the »Sociological Papers» contained a »letter from Professor Durkheim in reply to critic-


ism. Further a translation of Durkheim's and Fauconnet's common sociological programme was, as the final presentation of the French School, accepted by the »Sociological Papers».

The two collaborating French sociologists argued in the main as follows:1

Le mot de sociologie résumé et implique tout un ensemble d'idées nouvelles; c'est à savoir que les faits sociaux sont solidaires les uns des autres et surtout qu'ils doivent être traités comme des phénomènes naturels, soumis à des lois nécessaires . . . On pourrait bien justement craindre, d'après premières apparences, quelle ne fût difficile a réaliser avant un lointain avenir.» Que Spencer ait fait de la sociologie en philosophe, c'est ce qui est de toute évidence... Il s'est proposé de montrer comment 1'hypothèse évolutionniste se vérifie dans le régime social . . . A un moment donné cette maniére d'entendre et de faire la sociologie était nécessaire et utile. Mais pour devenir vraiment elle- même, il etait indispensable que la sociologie prît un autre caractère. C'est qu'une science ne peut vivre et se développer quand elle se réduit à un seul et unique problème . . . Pour qu'elle prospère il faut qu'elle se résolve en une quantité progressivement croissante de questions spéciales, de manière à rendre possible la coopération d'esprits différents et de générations successives. Il faut faire descendre plus profondément l'idée sociologique dans des techniques diverses qui, sans doute, s'élèvent spontanément, mais d'une marche lente, embarrassée, comme a tâtons.»


In June 1928. twenty-five years after the vain efforts to collaborate in 1903 — 04, a new attempt was made. Marcel Mauss, who in Paris had succeeded his late uncle Durkheim as leader of the French sociologists, was invited to London for a summer term. The French methods of research had gained more and more adherents in England. On this account Westermarck tried his best to smooth out the differences. While still maintaining his position, Westermarck honoured the French methods. At Mauss's first lecture he saluted him in a Presidential Address as follows:

I have the honour and pleasure to introduce to you our University's distinguished guest, Dr Marcel Mauss, professor of the University of Paris. Besides his many other achievements, which have brought him world-wide fame, prof. Mauss is, after the death of his uncle prof. Durkheim, the leader of the French school of sociologists and the reviver and editor of the wonderful yearly publication »L'Année

1 Revue philosophique 1903 p. 465—97.


sociologique», which forms their literary centre. — I shall make no attempt to give you a general characteriszation of the French school, but shall restrict myself to a few remarks on a point of method in which there is some difference between the French and the traditional English way of treating problems of social anthropology. The great English masters Tylor and Frazer have frequently applietl the so-called comparative method, dealing with groups of customs or beliefs as they are found among peoples in different parts of the world, whereas the French sociologists insist upon an intensive study of cultural phenomena which is restricted to some particular ethnic group. They argue that these phenomena express the soul-life of the group and can only be fully understood in connection with its culture and social structure; and that, if detached from their context, they may easily be represented in a wrong light. Nobody who has used the c omparative method could deny that there is a great deal of truth in this criticism; but on the other hand I believe that those who have followed the other line of research also will admit that they have profited by the knowledge which after all has been gained with the aid of the comparative method.

The methods differ because the suhjects differ. But the two kinds of investigation complement each other. While the student of a custom or a belief in its generality must be grateful to the specialist who provides him with results of his detailed studies, the comparative treatment, which in the first place bears out general resemblances, may help the latter to explain facts which he could hardly understand in full, if his knowledge were restricted to his limited area only. This, at least, is my own experience within my particular field of research in Morocco. where I always carried with me the Golden Bough as my most precious charm. I think there should be — well, I think there is — an entente cordiale between the two schools, the English an the French.

I have been led to these remarks by the title of Prof. Mauss's lectures »Theory of the Elementary Forms of Prayer», followed by the word Australia in parentheses. I am sure that the methodological aspect of the subject will be not less interesting than the facts and conclusions themselves.»


Westermarck, in the same year, 1928, in which he offered collaboration to Mauss, repudiated — in the preface to the French edition of »The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas» — objections to the comparative method which he preferred to use in social anthropology. In 1921 he had started a controversy with Rivers, who was the leading English follower of the French principles. Rivers died in 1922; Westermarck had written1:

1 History of Human Marriage 1921, preface.


» Dr. Rivers writes 'The proper task of the sociologist is the study of the correlation of social phenomena with other social phenomena, end the referens of the facts of social life to social antecedents, and only when this has been done, or at any rate when this process has made far greater advances than at present, it will be profitable to endeavour to explain the sources of social life by psychological processes'. Rivers justifies Rivers justifies this method of investigation, saying that it was admitted that social conduct is not directed by intellectual motives, but, predominantly, often it would seem exclusively, by sentiments, to say nothing of instincts»

     Westermarck could not resist ridiculing such demands: »For the present, then, we should, on this principle carefully refrain from assuming, for example, that courtship and marriage have anything to do with the sexual instinct, that the retaliation for adultery springs from jealousy and revenge, that the secrecy observed in the performance of the sexual function is connected with sexual modesty. . . Many of the psychological explanations of social phenomena must of course be more or less hypothetical; but this is no reason why they should not be sought. Hypotheses are no more foreign to the ethnological school, which is concerned with the mixture of cultures, than to the evolutionary school; I know of no work which is more profuse of conjectures than Dr. Rivers' 'History of Melanesian Society'.

Finally Westermarck repeated that the methods differ because the subjects differ. He thinks that the kinds of investigation are complementary: »The writings of Professor Durkheim and his disciples are thoroughly pervaded by the teachings of the very school whose methodes they have so severely criticised. Does not this show. that there must be exaggeration in their criticisin? They have not sufficiently considered an extremely simple but extremely important fact, namely, that all the different ethnic groups belong to the same animal species and therefore must present resemblances which have a deeper foundation then all differences which are the effects of the social environment ... I beg to refer to Darwin and others who in dealing with some particular biological phenomenon speak, in the same breath even, of different species of animals, and nevertheless have succeeded in reaching conclusions of some importance.»

      For Durkheim and his English followers it was, however, as appeared above, too much vieux jeu to explain, as Westermarck did, after Tylor and Frazer, social facts through individual psychology. One finds in G. Dumas:1 »C'est avec Durkheim, avec Lévy-Bruhl, avec Mauss, avec Bouglé, avec Fauconnet, avec Davy et, d'une façon générale avec l'école sociologique française, que la conception de Comte a été pliée

1 Nouveau traité de psychologie, I p. 369.


aux conditions d'expérience qui devaient la féconder . . . Pour cette école, c'est la société qui crée nos sentiments religieux, nos sentiments moraux, nos sentiments de famille et toutes les tendances qui ne sont pas comme la soif, l'instinct sexuel ou la faim, liées à des excitations organiques immédiates, encore qu'elle agisse sur ces tendances en les socialisant; c'est ainsi que la pudeur, la fidélité aux promesses, le sentiment du devoir et de l'honneur, le concept de la propriété nous sont présentés comme des productions sociales.»

      Durkheim had disentangled it, reasoning as follows: What human beings possess in the noble meaning of »human» could with more reason be called social. This human nobility is not inborn, allotted to us from above by the grace of God. It is said that even Napoleon maintained that society, as a graft upon nature, brought forth the noblest fruit of nature — that is, the so-called spiritual life. The spiritual life is a social acquisition.

      Our conscious life can be divided into two apparently different domains: on the one hand sensations from our organism and impressions of our senses with motional and visceral reflexes, which all are part of the external world and of our own body. And a higher sphere which does not, or not so obviously, depend on the human body. That is the superindividual, the mental life, that language develops — then language gives us human dignity, intellectually as well as morally.

      Sociology has thus taught us that the difference made between mind and body. between the world of ideas and reality, is the difference between what society has given us and our original animal nature. Only life in a community — and even cohabitation — lends a higher meaning to our existence, where we do not even propter vitam sacrifice our vivendi causas. We derive a purpose in living from the community in so far as we take part in its life and ends.

      Thus it the task of sociology to examine the social origin of all higher conscious life. Social facts, such as moral phenomena, can least of all be explained solely from biological and psychological points of view.

                                                                               8. [sic.]

Sociological views, such as those quoted, gradually obtained a footing in England. River's (1864-1922) early tendencies in that direction were made clear in a congratulary symposium, dedicated


to Westermarck on his 50th birthday in 1912. The title of Rivers's contribution, »Psychology and Ethnology», indicates its tendencies. One of Westermarck's pupils in the London School of Economics published an essay on the misuse of psychological methods in sociology in »The Students Magazine» in 1911 — this according to Gustaf Mattsson.1 But as late as in 1931, in a presidential address to the British Association, Radcliffe-Brown made a general attack on psychological methods in sociology. Its aim should be to study group behaviour: to trace biological and psychological causes did not belong to sociology. Westermarck objected to such theories in his Huxley Memorial Lecture of 1936 on »Methods in Social Anthropology».2 He said: »I think it is within the field of studying the psychological origins of customs and institutions that the Social Anthropology has performed some of its inöst important tasks . . . Even Rivers, who once wrote that the proper task of the sociologist is the study of the correlation of social phenomena with other social phenomena admitted that 'in the last resort every custom and institution of human society is the outcome of mental activity'.»

      Radcliffe-Brown had argued »that the 'new' social anthropology rejects the hypothetical reconstruction of the unknown past, and therefore avoids all discussion of hypotheses as to historical origins.» — Westermarck replied:

»I think, on the contrary, that, in many cases, it belongs to the task of the field-anthropologist to be concerned with the question of such origins, after he has studied the cultural phenomena and their relations as they exist at present. I fail to see, how my researches in Morocco could have avoided this qnestion, and how anybody but a fieldworker could have tackled it with any prospect of success. The aboriginal culture of the Berbers was exposed to influences from various quarters. The latest, and from the point of view of religion the greatest wave of this kind, came with the Arabic invasions, which brought to them Islam; but hand in hand with the rites and doctrines of their religion, the Arabs introduced other customs and beliefs, some of which were actually forbidden by it. The resemblances in these respects between the present natives of Morocco and the Arabs of the East are so manifold, even in little details, that we may assume a considerable Arab influence falling outside the pale of Islam. But it is also certain that many of these resemblances are not due to such influence; various forms of nature-worship were undoubtedly indigenous both among Berbers and Arabs. There has also been a negro influence, which is very conspicuous in rites connected with the be-

1 Nya Argus 1911: 7.

2 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 1936 p. 237-38, 247-48.


lief in jinn. In one of the two cases I think I have identified traces of the religion of Carthago, due to the Punic colonisation; and ancient Roman influence is obvious in certain cases. »

      At the end of Westermarck's Huxley Lecture he paid homage to the established methods of English social anthropology:

      »Ladies and Gentlemen! I am afraid that I ought to make an apology for the rather egoistic character of my lecture. The greater part of it consists of an account of the methods, illustrated by examples, which I have applied in my own researches, both as an armchair anthropologist and as a fieldworker. They are in essential points similar to those which have been characteristic of what may be called the classical school of English Social Anthropology; and I hope that this may serve me as an excuse for repeating much that has been said by others be-ore. I have felt an eager wish to express my indebtedness to English Anthropology for what I have learned from it. — And at the same time I have desired to raise a protest against what has recently been said by the esteemed advocate of the »new anthropology» about the »unsoundness» of its methods, culminating in the allegation that 'in England we have very little of anything that is called sociology1. I am convinced that there is no country in the world that can rival it in its achievements in social anthropology, whether pursued in the study or in the field, largely owing to its sterling qualities of lucidity and good sense.»


From these discussions a wise deduction was made by Durkheim as early as 1905:1

»Un jour, et qui n'est pas éloigné, viendra, où l'on s'étonnera qu'il ait fallu tant de controverses et de dépenser tant de dialectique pour faire admettre cette proposition tres simple: que pour ratiociner sur la morale, il faut d'abord savoir ce qu'elle est, il faut l'observer.»

      Forty years later one of Durkheim's adherents, Claude Lévy-Strauss, testified2 to the importance of Westermarck's observations and their value in the history of moral science. The beginning and the end of his essay take almost the form of an affectionate panegyric:

»Westermarck était le dernier et le plus célèbre representant de 1'École d'Anthro-pologie anglaise, et incarnait, avec une force militante exeptionelle, un courant de pensée qui a renouvelé nos connaissances sociales et morales et au sein duquel se sont précisées les premières tentatives pour élaborer une représentation globale de l'humanité. Mais cette filiation, Westermarck ne la démontrait pas seulement par sa doctrine, il l'assurait aussi, d'une façon plus intime et plus émouvante, par

1 L'Année sociologique 1905 — 06 p. 368.

2 Revue de l'histoire des religions .1945 p. 84 —100.


sa personne. L'âge patriculièrement avancé auquel il s'est éteint faisait de lui moins un continuateur qu'un survivant. Ce vieillard de 74 ans qui polémisait encore en 1936 avec ceux qu'il considérait comme d'audacieux novateurs, Lowie, Radcliff-Brown etc., avait connu Tylor, il avait été, pendant de longues années, en discussion avec Frazer, et, chez nous, avec Durkheim. II était reste, le dernier, debout, de ce groupe d'hommes au tempérament, à la puissance de travail, a l'érudition et à la fécondité véritablement exceptionelles, qui jouèrent à la fin du XIX siécle, pour les sciences sociales, le méme rôle qui fut tenu par les maîtres de la Renaissance pour la pensée moderne.»

      »Cependant, aussi éloigné que se trouve Westermarck de 1'orientation prise par les sciences sociales pendant les dernières années de sa vie, c'est dans son oeuvre que se rencontrent le plus grand nombre de pressentiments, d'indications parfois prophétiques de conceptions aujourd'hui généralement répandus. Et, par un curieux paradoxe, si sa méthode psycholoqique a constaniment restreint la portée scientifique de son oeuvre, c'est, par contre, à un sentiment vigoureux de la réalité psychologique que sa pensée doit d'avoir été, à bien des égards, en avance sur les théories de son temps: elle lui est aussi redevable d"une fraicheur et d'une vivacité qui font de Westermarck le plus actuel des grands maîtres de l'École anglaise.

      Sans doute le caractére monumental reste le trait le plus saillant de 1'oeuvre. Non seulement l'on n'a jamais assisté, dans le domaine des sciences sociales, à un plus vaste effort de synthese, mais celui-ci se trouve toujours soutenu par une érudition vraiment prodigieuse. La compilation des auteurs est faite avec le souci constant de n*invoquer que des témoignages sûrs. Nulle part -- sauf chez Frazer — on ne trouverait réuni un ensemble aussi considérable d'informations sur les opinions humaines.»

Lévy-Strauss sums up his judgment of Westermarck in saying: »It is not only a scientist who vanishes, it is a whole epoch of sociological thought that finds its conclusion . . . His death awoke memories and gave rise to ideas which deepen the boundless sorrow, that a Master, one of the greatest, has gone.»