Kantian Journal

2023 Vol. 42. №4

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The Relationship Between the Individual and the Collective in the Social Philosophy of Georges Gurvitch



The relationship between the individual and society is the leitmotif of Georges Gurvitch’s work. Beginning from the early Russian-language books on the philosophy of law and ending with the works on sociology published in France and the USA at the final stage of his career, Gurvitch studied the individual person and collective units as interacting sides of the collective social subject. He sought to overcome the struggle between individualism and collectivism which found its ideological expression in the rivalry of the French (Emile Durkheim) and German (Max Weber) schools of sociology. Gurvitch formulated the concept of society as dynamic interaction and mutual determination of the individual and collective unit. In his Russian-language works, written before his emigration, he maintained that it was in the sphere of law that one could determine how the individual and society mutually condition each other and determine the direction of social development. In the late 1920s and early 1930s in his teaching on social law, Gurvitch formulated the concept of sociability which enabled him to focus attention not on the confrontation, but on the interaction of the individual and society. In the concept of “normative fact” he defined the being of society and embodied the dialectical interaction between singularity and multitude. In the late 1930s in his teaching on microsociology, he introduced criteria of sociability, recording individual (intensity of the fusion of individual minds) and collective (the force of social pressure) aspects of the process of social development. Proceeding from these criteria Gurvitch developed a gradation of sociability, expressing it in the scheme “mass — community — communion” which enabled him to analyse the formation of collective units and determine the features of their existence. In his article “Mass, Community, and Communion” (1941) he presented the forms of sociability which enabled him to describe the mutual conditioning of individuals and collective units. Gurvitch’s article spells out the key principles of his philosophy and sociology of law which overcome individualism and collectivism in his account of society.


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