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Durkheim’s Social Facts Concept and Arendt on “Sheer Thoughtfulness”

Sociology, the study of social behavior and human society, is driven by the comprehension of social facts. These are technically measurable situations of life in which external factors exist beyond a specific individual. At its core, sociology theorizes that these components are fundamental aspects shaping societal action and behavior (Rafanell, 2016). In this essay, our exploration leads us to discover the significance behind social facts’ supposition, according to Emile Durkheim’s social fact theory, and understand that acknowledging these standards is crucial if an individual desires true integration into understanding society and life a human being living within it.

Durkheim suggested that social facts, which consist of regulations such as laws and conventions like customs and values, are both objective and separate from individual human action or thought (Malik & Malik, 2022). They govern how individuals behave within society by shaping their actions. Durkheim also believed that social facts greatly influence an individual’s behavior due to being internalized through societal norms and enforced via conformity through the coercion of an individual’s consciousness. According to Rafanell (2016), though compelling stringent behavior on individuals whose actions must follow them for the welfare of society at large, social facts constrain people in accordance with predefined rules determining what can be accepted.

Furthermore, social realities exist independently of an individual’s consciousness and will remain long after death. According to Durkheim, comprehending social order and stability is contingent upon comprehending external factors present in society; these external factors are what he refers to as “social facts.” His premise is that society is not just a gathering of individuals but a distinct entity with its properties and characteristics. Durkheim’s verdict maintained that societal norms were decisive in ensuring community coherence and stability. In essence, social facts are the foundation for maintaining social order (Malik & Malik, 2022).

Despite the positive contributions of the social facts concept to understanding society and human behavior, Durkheim’s theory of social facts has encountered numerous critiques over the years. Perhaps the most noteworthy criticism is that his approach disregards individual agency (Fitzi, 2017). According to Durkheim, norms, and values – social facts – are imposed on individuals from outside and must be obeyed for the greater good of society. But this view fails to acknowledge how personal agency influences societal constructs. In this perspective, people are portrayed as inert beings molded by social facts instead of active agents who influence and create new ones in society’s existence.

Additionally, Durkheim’s theory has been criticized for placing too much importance on the stability and coherence of social life (Fitzi, 2017). According to Durkheim, society is kept stable by social facts rooted in shared norms, values, and beliefs. However, Christ (2017) argues that this perspective fails to acknowledge the role of power dynamics and conflict in shaping societal reality. He concludes that power imbalances and coercion can result in social order even when shared values aren’t present.

Arendt’s Concept of “Sheer Thoughtfulness.”

Political theorist Hannah Arendt has conducted extensive research on “sheer thoughtlessness” as a causative factor for horrendous crimes committed against humanity. As per Arendt, this phenomenon is characterized by uncritical acceptance of authority and driven ignorance compounded by a lack of critical thinking abilities that culminate in gross human rights violations (Lee, 2021). This essay examines how “sheer thoughtlessness,” according to Arendt, can instigate such humanitarian atrocities. It also expounds on societal mechanisms’ role in promoting these behaviors and offers solutions that can help prevent future occurrences from happening again. By understanding this idea, we can prevent them from happening again.

Hannah Arendt developed the concept of “sheer thoughtlessness,” which describes a mental state where actions are carried out without reflection, critical thinking, or independent judgment (Lee, 2021). An unquestioning acceptance of authority and conformity to societal norms and beliefs commonly accompany this mindset. Arendt explained that individuals in this mode could commit heinous crimes against humanity, unaware of their actions’ full ramifications. Arendt also highlighted that “sheer thoughtlessness” differs from purposeful cruelty because there’s no conscious intent to cause harm. Instead, individuals behave thoughtlessly and mechanically due to their lack of significant contemplation about the ethical implications of what they do. She contends that this element is pivotal in the ascension of totalitarian regimes since it facilitates individual participation in their atrocious activities by constraining critical inquiry at every step (Sias, 2019).

According to Bonner (2016), Arendt argued that society could promote “sheer thoughtlessness” through various means, including propaganda, mass media, and the normalization of violence. Propaganda is an influential method employed to cultivate this state through its ability to manipulate people’s mindsets and attitudes. With totalitarian regimes being known for endorsing this framework, they heavily rely on propaganda to indoctrinate their subjects into obedience to authority figures, limiting critical thinking abilities while promoting adherence. As a result, individuals are deprived of logical thought processes and made more subservient to upholding the regime’s ideology (Jawad, 2022).

Another effective way to foster “sheer thoughtfulness” is through mass media. The display and spread of images and messages depicting violence can cause people to become numb to violence and the trials of others (Jawad, 2022). Consequently, it’s more likely that violent actions will be normalized, leading individuals to no longer ponder the morality behind them and instead be willing participants themselves.

Overall, society plays a significant role in promoting sheer carelessness while utilizing propaganda and mass media outlets and by normalizing acts of aggression; this also serves as a discouragement for critical thinking while encouraging blind compliance with authority figures. It is, therefore, critical for every individual to recognize these social pressures that arise so that they may engage in objective introspection, which will help stop catastrophic human crimes from occurring again.


Bonner, K. (2016). Arendt, role theory and the ethical evaluation of action. Irish Journal of Sociology24(2), 200-225.

Christ, J. (2017). Critique of politics: Adorno on Durkheim. Journal of Classical Sociology17(4), 331-341.

Fitzi, G. (2017). Dialogue. Divergence. Veiled Reception. Criticism: Georg Simmel’s relationship with Émile Durkheim. Journal of Classical Sociology17(4), 293-308.

Jawad, M. T. (2022). Totalitarian Propaganda in Harold Pinter’s One for the Road: Reading of Hannah Arendt’s Philosophy. Randwick International of Education and Linguistics Science Journal3(2), 272-278.

Lee, K. (2021). Reflections on Non-Caring Phenomena from Individual Lateral Violence to System Creating the Invisible Nurses through Hannah Arendt’s Concepts. 90, 95-124.

Malik, H. A., & Malik, F. A. (2022). Emile Durkheim Contributions to Sociology. Sociology6(2), 7-10.

Rafanell, I. (2016). Durkheim’s social facts and the performative model: reconsidering the objective nature of social phenomena. In Sociological Objects (pp. 59-76). Routledge.

Sias, J. (2019). Rethinking the Thin-Thick Distinction among Theories of Evil (and Then Rereading Arendt). Arendt Studies3, 173-194.


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