Suicide, Durkheim's third major work, is of great importance because it is his first serious effort to establish an empericism in sociology, an empiricism that would provide a sociological explanation for a phenomenon traditionally regarded as exclusively psychological and individualistic.
Points of interest concerning suicide:
Predominantly Catholic countries have lower suicide rates: Jewish rates are even lower (religion)
Unmarried individuals generally show higher rates; marriage reduces tendency to suicide (also children) (Marital Status)
Inverse relation between suicide and size of conjugal unit (Family size)
Liberal professions have higher suicide rates; higher in industry and commerce than agricultural (Occupation and Education Levels)
Lower income levels have lower rates; (Income)
Urban areas have higher rates than rural (Community)
Suicide rates decline during times of national political crisis and war (Integration)
Thus, suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of the social groups, of which the individual forms a part (213).
Egoistic suicide springs from excessive individualism, wherein the individual ego asserts itself to excess in the face of the social ego (214). Egoism is the generating cause of egoistic suicide. In addition, the bond attaching man to life relaxes because the one attaching him to society is weak. The individual yields to the slightest shock of circumstance because the state of society has made him a ready prey to suicide (216).
Just as excessive individuation can lead to suicide, so can insufficient individuation. In altruistic suicide, society binds the individual too tightly. In this case, the ego is not its own property; it is completely blended into a group spirit. Since this type of suicide is characteristically performed as a duty to a group, DH calls it 'obligatory altruistic suicide.' However, DH does acknowledge that not all altruistic suicide is obligatory (217). Other forms are 'optional altruistic suicide,' and 'acute altruistic suicide' (this second one can be likened to mystical suicide from religious fervor ). Altruistic suicide was typically found in lower, ancient societies which were based on mechanical solidarity. today, the most common type of altruistic suicide is death in war (217).
DH concludes by contending that there is really not such a big difference between altruistic and egoistic suicide. he recognizes that many people find something moral in altruistic suicide, but he asks, 'isn't the notion of individual autonomy in egoistic suicide also moral?' furthermore, when a man commits altruistic suicide, he still values the individual personality, even in others. thus, every sort of suicide is merely the 'exaggerated of deflected form of a virtue.' The way those types affect moral conscience then, does not differentiate them into separate types (218).