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Imma-Norm Report Summary

Project ID: 628687
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: France

Periodic Report Summary 1 - IMMA-NORM (Immanence and Social Normativity. Spinoza and the invention of sociology in France and Germany 1871-1918)

- Summary description of the project objectives
The main goal of this project was to show how the modern opposition between immanentism and transcendentalism has not only represented an alternative to modern philosophy, but has also shaped and provided the core metaphysical arguments for epistemological debates within French and German classical sociology. One of the original assumptions of this project was that early sociological debates have been significantly influenced by Spinoza’s immanentism.
In particular, it is the sociological ambition to develop a conception of norms which locates their production in society instead of moral norms on the one hand, or positive law on the other, that inspired a generation of sociologists in France and Germany to find a valid theoretical support which is able to justify this dislocation of normativity (one which is at the core of the sociological project) in Spinoza’s conception of an emergent nature. This process would have been concluded by the canonization of the discipline fulfilled by Émile Durkheim in France and Max Weber in Germany; for, both authors would have established sociological epistemology on Kantian theoretical assumptions.
Project objectives consist in: showing the influence of Spinoza’s thought in detail reconstructing the debates of French and German classical sociology, as well as enlightening the relevance of the Spinoza/Kant opposition for contemporary debates in social theory and critical sociology alike.

- A description of the work performed since the beginning of the project
I mainly spent the first year of my research working on the German sociological debate (Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel) while I spent the second year working on the French sociological debate (from Saint-Simonism to Gabriel Tarde). At the same time both years have been dedicated to deepen my knowledge of the enlightenment opposition between Spinoza and Kant as well as to develop an attentive study of Emile Durkheim’s work. This last aspect partially changed some assumptions of the original project.

- A description of the main results achieved so far
During the first two years, I wrote and published articles in form of contribution for peer review journals, edited books and introduction to unpublished works of some of the authors previously mentioned (Durkheim and Tönnies). I took part to different seminars, lectures and conferences in order to share the results of my research and I organized three international conferences concerning French and German classical sociology, Spinoza and Kant, the relation between Durkheim and critical theory.

- The expected final results and their potential impact and use
During the outgoing years of my research, the starting hypotheses of the project have been confirmed only partially. For, if classical sociology indubitably manifested a deep interest in the use of Spinoza, the role of Kantianism is more problematic than is generally accepted in the secondary literature. Although Max Weber’s methodological and ethical positions undoubtedly manifest his theoretical belonging to the field of German Neo-Kantianism, Durkheim’s position is more complicated. It is with respect to Durkheim’s sociological theory, in particular, that I realized that Durkheim cannot be understood as completely adhering to either Kantian transcendentalism or Spinoza immanentism. Indeed, it is in relation to the notion of thinking—as presented in the Elementary forms of religious life (1912), above all—that Durkheim’s theory cannot be considered as a sociology of knowledge which mobilizes Kant and/or Spinoza’s theoretical assumptions alone, but also, as it retains an epistemological argument of its own. As noticed by a part of the secondary literature, this argument—to repeat, that which establishes the anthropogenetical function of rites and social practices in order to explain the constitution of rationality—must not only be considered as a way to discuss classic philosophical arguments about the nature of reason via sociology, but also as a way of retaining an epistemological argument in a proper sense. The claim that Durkheim overcomes the alternative between Spinozism and Kantianism, allows the general sociological understanding of Kantian faculties to be grasped in a proper collective meaning. On the one hand, Durkheim openly criticizes Kant’s transcendentalism by advocating for the social origins of space, time and intellectual categories, more broadly. While, consequent to his hypothesis concerning the dualism of “human nature,” on the other hand, he contrasts attempts to understand reality via a monistic totality which is justifiable via human rationality.
The present research has a strong potentiality and has to be considered a first chapter of a larger research concerning the sociological transformation of Kant’s critical faculties (thinking, willing and judging). The final results of the present research will consist in the publication of a monography. An accord with the Italian editor “Orthotes” for the publication has been recently signed. A French and English translation of the book are expected too.

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