Georg Simmel

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Simmel, Georg


Born Mar. 1, 1858, in Berlin; died Sept. 26, 1918, in Strasbourg. German idealist philosopher and sociologist. Privat-docent (1885) and professor (1901) at the University of Berlin; professor at the University of Strasbourg (1914).

Simmel’s early thought, marked by the influence of H. Spencer and C. Darwin, was characterized by a biological and utilitarian basis in ethics and the theory of knowledge: morality and truth were viewed as a kind of instinctive purposiveness. In the 1900’s these views changed under the influence of I. Kant, especially his theory of a priority. Simmel subsequently became one of the most important representatives of the “philosophy of life” school, working mainly on the philosophy of culture.

Simmel understood “life” as a process of creative becoming, not exhausted by rational means and comprehended only through inner experience (feelings), intuitively. This experiencing of life is objectified in the varied forms of culture. Simmel’s characteristic attention to the individual forms of the realization of life, to the unique historical forms of culture, was reflected in his monographs on J. W. von Goethe, Rembrandt, I. Kant, A. Schopenhauer, and F. Nietzsche. This aspect of his thought conditioned the unsystematic nature of his numerous essays on philosophy and the history of culture. The vital ardor of life as irrational fate, a common view of the “philosophy of life” school, also permeated the philosophy of Simmel, particularly in the last years of his life in his teachings on the “tragedy of creativity.” This tragedy was caused, in SimmeFs view, by the eternal contradiction between the creative pulsations of life and the congealed, objectified forms of culture.

Simmel was the founder of so-called formal sociology in his works on sociology of the 1890’s and 1900’s. Simmel considered the subject of sociology to be the forms of the social interaction of people that are preserved despite all changes of concrete historical content. In his theory, the social was understood in a one-sided manner, as the totality of relations among individuals. Within the limits of such an approach, Simmel analyzed social differentiation; social forms such as agreement, conflict, competition, authority, obedience, and rank; and relationships arising in small groups. In The Philosophy of Money (1900; 6th ed., 1958), Simmel gave a sociopsychological analysis of the role of money in the development of impersonal relations between people, which he considered a precondition of the development of the personality and of individual freedom. Simmel’s works had a great influence on the subsequent development of bourgeois sociology in Germany (L. von Wiese, W. Sombart, R. Stammler) and in the USA (H. Becker and L. Coser). In Russia, Simmel’s influence was evident in the views of P. B. Struve (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr, soch., 5th ed., vol. l,p.431).


Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft, 4th ed., vols. 1–2. Aalen, 1964.
Soziologie, 4th ed. Berlin, 1958.
Philosophische Kultur, 3rd ed. Potsdam, 1923.
Lebensanschanung. Munich-Leipzig, 1918.
Zur Philosophie und Kunst. Potsdam, 1922.
Fragmente und Aufsätze. Munich, 1923.
Brüicke und Tür. Stuttgart, 1957.
In Russian translation:
Problemy filosofii istorii. Moscow, 1898.
Religiia. Moscow, 1909.
Sotsial’naia differentsiatsiia. Moscow, 1909.
Konflikt sovremennoi kul’tury. Petrograd, 1923.
Gete. Moscow, 1928.


Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959. Pages 362–64.
Kon, I. S. Pozitivizm v sotsiologii Leningrad, 1964. Pages 106–10.
Gassen, K., and M. Landmann. Buch des Dankes an Georg Simmel. Berlin, 1958.
Georg Simmel, 1858–1918. Columbus (Ohio), 1959.
Weingartner, R. H. Experience and Culture: The Philosophy of Georg Simmel. Middletown (Connecticut), 1962.
Georg Simmel. Edited by L. A. Coser. Englewood Cliffs (New Jersey), 1965.