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Sociology’s Emancipation from Philosophy: The Influence of Francis Bacon on Émile Durkheim

The Challenge of Progress

ISBN: 978-1-78714-572-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-571-9

Publication date: 26 November 2019


This chapter examines Francis Bacon’s influence on Émile Durkheim and demonstrates that Bacon’s theory of mental “idols” has a significant presence in Durkheim’s work. Both Bacon and Durkheim sought to demarcate new methods of inquiry against contemporary contenders. Both were wary of unfettered philosophical abstraction, as well as the pseudo-scientist’s preoccupation with immediately practical results. Thus, it is fitting that Durkheim would explicitly characterize perceived dangers to sociological knowledge in terms of Bacon’s idols – as objective obstacles which habit substitutes for fact in the absence of a sufficiently powerful epistemological mechanism. In preparation against these idols, Durkheim and Bacon offer rhetorically and logically similar remedies of self-imposed discipline and restraint. A close reading of key texts reveals that Durkheim’s references to Bacon capture surprisingly deep similarities, suggesting that Bacon influenced Durkheim to a greater degree than is commonly recognized.



Van Valkenburgh, S. (2019), "Sociology’s Emancipation from Philosophy: The Influence of Francis Bacon on Émile Durkheim", The Challenge of Progress (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 199-215.



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