Georg Simmel (1858 Berlin �1918)

Major work:


Related figures:


The Philosophy of Money

Formal sociology, social forms, association, non-positivist method of social science

Durkheim, Heidegger, Jaspers, Dilthey, Rickert, Weber, Toennies,

German society for sociology

Simmel's doctoral dissertation was entitled The nature of matter according to Kant's physical monadology submitted at the Univesity of Berlin. He started teaching there in 1885, lecturing on Kant, Schopenhauer, Darwin and Nietsche. Despite the popularity of his courses to students and the wider public he was to remain an unpaid lecturer (Privatdozent) and even when he obtained a professorship its honorary status restricted him from any say in the academic community (see Coser p. 3)

Excluded from German academic establishment, Simmel was an unconventional practitioner of social sciences following a lonely, isolated, un-scholarly path of study with little institutional support and following. Its very common for commentators on Simmel to note his disregard for academic conventions and etiquette (even to the point of his omission of the use of footnotes and failure to provide commentaries on existing scholarship) and to point to his eclectic and wide ranging interests as one of the reasons for the lack of systemacity in his thought. Simmel refused to mould his work into the expository and scientifically objective schemas, maintaining that the importance of learning was to cultivate subjective understanding. Towards the end of his life he wrote:

I know I shall die without any intellectual heirs, and that is as it should be. My legacy will be like cash, distributed to many heirs, each transforming his part into use according to his nature � a use which will no longer reveal its indebtedness to this heritage.�

Simmel is important for his analysis of cultural and social forms, which involved questioning the neo-Kantian understanding of them. He is also, in the vein of Schopenhauer and Nietsche concerned with developing a philosophy of life, the meaning of personality and individuality.

Much debate centres on the role of forms in Simmel�s social thought. Described often as formal sociology a substantial tension exists between the point of view that Simmel�s concern is with generalities expressed through forms or the actual contents that those forms express. Comparison can be made with Weberian �ideal types� yet the suggestion is that Simmel does not believe in the possibility of pure form, as different forms are simultaneously existant and operative. However Simmel is concerned primarily with forms of association or sociation.  Moreover it is possible to see in Simmel � in contrast to French positivist sociology like that of Comte � a concern for the individual and his active, physic role.

Durkheim � though at times a publisher of Simmel�s work and appreciative of its subtlety and insights � finds Simmel�s work wanting in systemacity, factuity, exactitude, proof in the manner of proper scientific analysis. For the latter to study correctly general forms of association, it needs to know �the laws of more special types� which are then systematically compared (cf  pp 48, Coser 1965) �The most general aspect of social life is not, for that matter, either content or form, any more than it is any one of the special aspects which social life shows us. There are not two kinds of reality which though intimately connected, are distinct and sperable; what we have instead are facts of the same nature, examined at different levels of generality� (ibid).

Durkheim claims that for Simmel the only social thing is association, hence the form is privileged to a content of diverse phenomena.


on this site

on other sites


  Georg Simmel Online


Georg Simmel, A Chapter in the Philosophy of Value

Georg Simmel, Kant and Goethe on the history of the modern Weltanschauung

How is Society Possible?

A Chapter in the Philosophy of Value

The Metropolis and Mental Life

The Stranger

The Adventure

Habermas on Simmel


*Simmel, G On Individuality and Social Forms (ed. D. Levine) University of Chicago Press, 1971

*Philosophy of Money (twiki reading)- Routledge

*Coser, L (ed) Georg Simmel � Prentice Hall inc, New Jersey, 1965

Frisby, D & Featherstone, M (eds) (1997) Simmel on Culture (Sage)