Leonardo Tondo: Brief History of Suicide in Western Cultures


Robert D. Goldney and Johan Schioldann’s comments on Leonardo Tondo’s and Hector Warnes’ comments


        We concur with Dr. Tondo’s comment re: Durkheim in relation to Dr Warnes’ views. However, we would go further and emphasise that Durkheim was not the first to present a sociological view of suicide or, indeed, to utilize some of the categories which are now uncritically accredited to him.

        Sociological factors had been well described in the “Pre-Durkheim Suicidology” literature in the 19th century (Goldney, Schioldann and Dunn 2008). Berrios and Mohanna (1990) noted that in the early 1800s Esquirol had incorporated both illness and social factors in postulating causation in suicide and by the mid 1800s social factors had been addressed by Karl Marx in Germany, Eilert Sundt in Norway and Anders Saelan in Finland, as well as several French and English contributors (Goldney, Schioldann and Dunn 2008). Furthermore, Morselli, in his comprehensive work first published in Italian in 1879, and then within three years republished in German and English (1882), not only devoted a section of his work to “Social influences,” but also referred to “egoism.”

        Perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that in 1892 in Tuke’s influential two volume Dictionary of Psychological Medicine, Savage described a typology of suicide which included those with egoistical and altruistic feelings.

        These clearly antedate Durkheim’s work and raise serious questions about the precedence of authorship of such terms. Indeed, it is not unexpected that Berrios and Mohanna (1990) stated that “Durkheim is surprisingly silent about his contemporaries.”



Berrios GE, Mohanna M. Durkheim and French psychiatric views on suicide during the 19th century. A conceptual history. Br J Psychiatry. 1990; 156:1-9.

Goldney RD, Schioldann JA, Dunn KI. Suicide Research before Durkheim. Health History. 2008; 10(2):73-93.

Morselli EA. Suicide: An Essay on Comparative Moral Statistics. D Appleton and Company, New York, 1882. pp 80-113 and 301.

Savage GH. Suicide and Insanity. In: Tuke DH, editor. Dictionary of Psychological Medicine. Philadelphia P. Blakiston, 1892; Vol. 2, pp. 1230-32.


March 12, 2020