School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Georg Simmel -
A Note On The Philosophy Of Money

 


The Person  
Introduction A Virtuoso On The Platform
The Academic Outsider Simmel's Writing Career
   
The Work  
Introduction The Significance Of Numbers For Social Life
Formal Sociology Simmel's Ambivalent View Of Modern Culture
Social Types A Note On The Philosophy Of Money
The Dialectical Method In Simmel's Sociology  

Simmel's The Philosophy of Money is a much neglected classic. While most of his sociological work has now been translated into English, we still lack a translation of this seminal work. One possible reason for its neglect is the title, which could have led many to infer that this is one of Simmel's metaphysical works. An early interpreter of Simmel in this country, Nicholas Spykman, took just that view. Although this large book does contain certain important philosophical ideas, it is mainly a contribution to cultural sociology and to the analysis of the wider social implications of economic affairs.

Economic exchange, Simmel argues, can best be understood as a form of social interaction. When monetary transactions replace earlier forms of barter, significant changes occur in the forms of interaction between social actors. Money is subject to precise division and manipulation and permits exact measurement of equivalents. It is impersonal in a manner in which objects of barter, like crafted gongs and collected shells, can never be. It thus helps promote rational calculation in human affairs and furthers the rationalization that is characteristic of modern society. When money becomes the prevalent link between people, it replaces personal ties anchored in diffuse feelings by impersonal relations that are limited to a specific purpose. Consequently, abstract calculation invades areas of social life, such as kinship relations or the realm of esthetic appreciation, which were previously the domain of qualitative rather than quantitative appraisals.

Just because money makes it possible to limit a transaction to the purpose at hand, it helps increase personal freedom and fosters social differentiation; money displaces "natural" groupings by voluntary associations, which are set up for specific rational purposes. Wherever the cash nexus penetrates, it dissolves bonds based on the ties of blood or kinship or loyalty. Money in the modern world is more than a standard of value and a means of exchange. Over and above its economic functions, it symbolizes and embodies the modern spirit of rationality, of calculability, of impersonality. Money levels qualitative differences between things as well as between people; it is the major mechanism that paves the way from Gemeinshcaft to Gesellschaft. Under its aegis, the modern spirit of calculation and abstraction has prevailed over an older world view that accorded primacy to feelings and imagination.

The Philosophy of Money elaborates on various themes Simmel discussed in other works, some of which have already been taken up in the preceding pages. However, because this work gives a fuller treatment of these themes than do his other writings, it is indispensable for an understanding of his cultural analyses and his cultural criticism.

From Coser, 1977: 193-194.



Work By Simmel  
Conflict And Society The Problem Of Sociology (External Link)
How Is Society Possible? (External Link) The Stranger
The Philosophy Of Value (External Link)  



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010