Simmel’s Metaphysics

  • Anna Wessely
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 119)


It is not merely rhetorical to ask whether Georg Simmel was a philosopher. Posterity tends to remember him for his sociological insights. Simmel, however, preferred to speak of himself as a philosopher and many of his pupils would have agreed with him. “He was a philosopher”, as Karl Mannheim was to write in his obituary of Simmel, “because the great Socratic heritage of wonder about things was more alive in him than in any of his contemporaries”.1 Simmers lectures on philosophy at the University of Berlin attracted, to the annoyance of his colleagues, an impressive crowd of students. And yet, the striking contrast between his popularity and lack of academic success indicates that he was thought to violate some fundamental rules of the profession. He provoked not so much criticism as dislike, or hostility even, among his colleagues who found his whole approach to philosophy objectionable. For Simmel, philosophy was not a well-defined discipline with well-defined problems and accepted strategies for posing and solving them. He did not debate the institutionalized forms of discourse; he disregarded them. He saw philosophy as dependent upon the specific stance a thinker adopts with regard to any confronted object. This clearly threatened the inherited security of the philosophical enterprise: instead of time-honoured subjects, the philosophizing subject was called to lend dignity to the discourse.2


Anticipatory Socialization Sociological Insight Philosophical Enterprise Fatal Mistake Mutual Interpenetration 
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  1. 1.
    Mannheim, K. : “Georg Simmel mint filozöfus”, Huszadik Szäzad 19 (1918). A German translation can be found in, Karädi, E., E. Vezer: Georg Lukäcs, Karl Mannheim und der Sonntagskreis, Frankfurt, 1985, p. 150. Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Simmel, G. : Essays on Interpretation in Social Science (tr. and ed. by Guy Oakes), Manchester, 1980, p. 199. Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Simmel, G. : Lebensanschauung, München-Leipzig, 1918, chapter I: “Die Transzendenz des Lebens”. Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Simmel, G. : The Philosophy of Money (tr. by Tom Bottomore and David Frisby), London, 1978, pp. 63–64. Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    “Wandel der Kulturformen”, in: Simmel, G.: Brücke und Tür (ed. by Michael Landmann and Margarete Susman). Stuttgart, 1957, p. 99. Google Scholar
  6. 20.
    “Böcklins Landschaften”, in: Simmel, G.: Zur Philosophie der Kunst (ed. by Gertrud Simmel); Potsdam, 1922, p. 12. Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

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  • Anna Wessely

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