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Jørn Bjerre

The origin of the inner voice: Durkheim, Christianity and the Greeks

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While the influence of classical philosophy on sociology has been the subject of several studies, less attention has been given to the question of how the founders of sociology viewed classical philosophy. This article discusses Émile Durkheim’s account of the historical role of Greek philosophy as described in his lectures on The Evolution of Educational Thought. It demonstrates how Durkheim makes several erroneous claims concerning Greek morality that, taken together, produced a stereotyped image of the Greeks as intellectual giants but moral dwarfs. Downplaying the historical role of Greek morality, Durkheim attributes one of the most important social facts in connection with the development of Western moral individualism – the inward-oriented morality – to the innovative power of Christian religion. Despite this bias, the great twentieth-century interpreters of social thought, such as Talcott Parsons, Steven Lukes and Robert A. Jones, have continually referred to Durkheim’s historical analyses without questioning his assertions. Sociologists need to cease citing Durkheim as an authority on moral education in the classical world inasmuch as so many of his claims promote a false image of Greek morality and education.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Pages (from-to)359-392
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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