School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Georg Simmel -
Simmel's Writing Career

 


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  

In contrast to all the other sociologists discussed so far, Simmel's interest in current affairs and in social and political issues was minimal. Occasionally he would comment in newspaper articles on questions of the day--social medicine, the position of women, or criminal insanity--but such topical concerns were clearly peripheral to him. There is one major exception, however. With the outbreak of the war Simmel threw himself into war propaganda with passionate intensity. "I love Germany," he wrote then, "and therefore want it to live--to hell with all 'objective' justification of this will in terms of culture, ethics, history, or God knows what else." Some of Simmel's wartime writings are rather painful to read, exuding a kind of superpatriotism so alien to his previous detached stance. They represent a desperate effort by a man who had always regarded himself as a "stranger" in the land to become immersed in the patriotic community. His young friend Ernst Bloch told him: "You avoided decision throughout your life--Tertium datur--now you find the absolute in the trenches." Throughout his career Simmel had managed to preserve a distance that enabled him to view events with cool rationality; in the last years of his life he succumbed to the desire for nearness and communion. Perhaps it was a failure of nerve.

Simmel was a most prolific writer. More than two hundred of his articles appeared in a great variety of journals, newspapers, and magazines during his lifetime, and several more were published posthumously. He wrote fifteen major works in the fields of philosophy, ethics, sociology, and cultural criticism, and another five or six less significant works. After his dissertation, his first publication, entitled On Social Differentiation (1890), was devoted to sociological problems, but for a number of years thereafter he published mainly in the field of ethics and the philosophy of history, returning to sociology only at a later date. His two major early works, The Problems of the Philosophy of History and the two volumes of the Introduction to the Science of Ethics, were published in 1892-93; these were followed in 1900 by his seminal work, The Philosophy of Money, a book on the borderline between philosophy and sociology. After several smaller volumes on religion, on Kant and Goethe, and on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, Simmel produced his major sociological work, Sociology: Investigations on the Forms of Sociation, in 1908. Much of its content had already been published previously in journal articles. He then turned away from sociological questions for almost a decade, but he returned to them in the small volume published in 1917, Fundamental Questions of Sociology. His other books in the last period of his life dealt with cultural criticism (Philosophische Kultur, 1911), with literary and art criticism (Goethe, 1913, and Rembrandt, 1916), and with the history of philosophy (Hauptprobleme der Philosophie, 1910). His last publication, Lebensanschauung (1918), set forth the vitalistic philosophy he had elaborated toward the end of his life.

Because he was unable to develop a consistent sociological or philosophical system, it is not altogether surprising that Simmel did not succeed in creating a "school" or that he left few direct disciples. With his accustomed lucidity and self-consciousness, he noted in his diary shortly before his death: "I know that I shall die without intellectual heirs, and that is as it should be. My legacy will be, as it were, in cash, distributed to many heirs, each transforming his part into use conformed to his nature: a use which will reveal no longer its indebtedness to this heritage." This is indeed what happened. Simmel's influence on the further development of both philosophy and sociology, whether acknowledged or not, has been diffuse yet pervasive, even during those periods when his fame seemed to have been eclipsed. Robert K. Merton once called him "that man of innumerable seminal ideas" and Ortega y Gasset compared him to a kind of philosophical squirrel, jumping from one nut to the other, scarcely bothering to nibble much at any of them, mainly concerned with performing his splendid exercises as he leaped from branch to branch, and rejoicing in the sheer gracefulness of his acrobatic leaps. Simmel attracted generation after generation of enthralled listeners, but hardly anyone who would call himself a disciple.

Among Americans who sat at his feet was Robert Park. No one who reads Park's work can overlook Simmel's profound impact. Continentals who derived major inspiration from his lectures include such dissimilar figures as the Marxist philosophers Georg Lukacs and Ernst Bloch, the existentialist philosopher-theologian Martin Buber, the philosopher-sociologist Max Scheler, and the social historian Bernhard Groethuysen. German sociologists Karl Mannheim, Alfred Vierkandt, Hans Freyer and Leopold von Wiese also were influenced by Simmel's work. Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and the other representatives of the Frankfort school of neo-Marxist sociology owe his a great deal, especially in their criticism of mass culture and mass society. Modern German philosophers from Nicolai Hartmann to Martin Heidegger were also indebted to him. It is not an exaggeration to state that hardly a German intellectual from the 1890's to World War I and after managed to escape the powerful thrusts of Simmel's rhetorical and dialectical skills.

From Coser, 1977:197-199.



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