Georg SImmel

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Georg SImmel
Signature Georg Simmel.PNG

Georg Simmel (born March 1, 1858 in Berlin , † September 26, 1918 in Strasbourg , German Empire ) was a German philosopher and sociologist .

He made important contributions to cultural philosophy and was the founder of “ formal sociology ”, an urban sociology and the sociology of conflict . Simmel stood in the tradition of the philosophy of life , but also that of Neo-Kantianism .

Live and act

Georg Simmel was born on March 1, 1858 in Berlin as the youngest of seven children in a Berlin merchant family. His father, Eduard Maria Simmel (1810–1874), who converted from Judaism to Catholicism, was with his company “Chocolaterie Simmel” in Potsdam purveyor to the court of the Prussian King and co-founder of the confectionery company “ Felix & Sarotti ”, which opened in Berlin in 1852 . His mother Flora Bodstein (1818-1897) came from a family in Breslau that had converted from Judaism to Protestantism . Georg Simmel was baptized Protestant, his mother's upbringing was primarily Christian. When his father died in 1874, the co-founder of the "Musik-Editions-Verlag Peters" Julius Friedländer (1827–1882), a friend of the family, was appointed his guardian. He later adopted Georg and left him a fortune that made him economically independent. After graduating from high school in Berlin in 1876 , he studied history, ethnological psychology, philosophy, art history and old Italian as minor subjects at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin . In 1881 he received his doctorate with the award-winning work on Kant's concept of matter "The nature of matter according to Kant's physical monadology" from 1880, after a thesis on ethnomusicology originally intended as a dissertation, "Psychological-ethnic studies on the beginnings of music" had been rejected . In 1885 he completed his habilitation with a thesis on "Kant's theory of space and time". From 1885 he was a private lecturer in philosophy at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin. His main subjects were logic, philosophy of history, ethics, social psychology and sociology. He was a very popular lecturer with a broad, thematically very interested audience.

Gertrud Simmel on a photograph by Jacob Hilsdorf .

In 1890 he married the drawing teacher, painter and writer Gertrud Kinel , who from 1900 also wrote philosophical books under the pseudonym "Maria Louise Enckendorf". Their common house in Charlottenburg-Westend became a place of intellectual exchange. B. Rainer Maria Rilke , Edmund Husserl , Reinhold Lepsius and Sabine Lepsius , Heinrich Rickert , Marianne and Max Weber met. Some of these influential friends worked to get Simmel a chair, which both the German academic establishment and prevailing anti-Semitism tried to prevent. It was not until 1900, which is to be regarded as an unavoidable formal act, that Simmel was appointed to the Berlin University, but only for an unpaid extraordinary professorship in philosophy. He was also denied permission to examine. In 1908 , despite the advocacy of Max Weber, he was unable to accept a call to Heidelberg University due to an anti-Semitic report by the historian Dietrich Schäfer .

Berlin memorial plaque on the former home of the Simmel family in Berlin-Westend

His lectures on problems of logic , ethics , aesthetics , sociology of religion , social psychology and sociology were very popular. They were even advertised in newspapers and sometimes turned into social events. Simmel's influence through his activities and networks went far beyond the subjects he represented academically; Kurt Tucholsky , Siegfried Kracauer or Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno , to name just a few, valued him highly.

Simmel is one of the philosophers who start from predetermined ideal categories of knowledge . Advances in the sense of increasing differentiation and complexity are made by the selection effect of evolution , as a result of which the individual also develops in historically and socially determined processes . However, a person can not grasp the totality of life by mere thinking . In 1892 his work “Introduction to the Science of Ethics” appears, and in 1894 in a programmatic essay “The Problem of Sociology” he defined sociology as the science of the processes and forms of interaction between societies. In 1900, in one of his main works, the Philosophy of Money , Simmel vividly developed the thesis that money had more and more influence on society , politics and the individual. The spread of the money economy had brought the people numerous advantages, such as the overcoming of feudalism and the development of modern democracies . However, in the modern age, money has increasingly become an end in itself. Even people's self-esteem and attitudes towards life are determined by money. It ends with the realization that “money becomes God” by becoming an absolute end as an absolute means. Simmel illustrates this with a concise example: The banks are now larger and more powerful than the churches. You have become the center of the cities. Everything that can be sensed has to do with money. However, man has the freedom to strive for dimensions that are more than money . This could be done through the formation of solidarity communities that deal with the spiritual life. By acting the power of money could, for example, in the culture, be restricted. So an artist does not work for the money alone, but to realize himself spiritually in his work .

Parallel to Leopold von Wiese , Simmel was a co-founder of formal sociology . Formal sociology aims to relate phenomena of society as a whole to as few forms of human interaction as possible. Less importance is attached to the content. It deals in particular with social connections and their relationships, for example hierarchies in different social structures such as family, state, etc. With the essay Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben , published in 1903 , Simmel became the founder of urban sociology . His essay was initially not received particularly intensively in Germany, but had a direct influence on sociology in the USA .

During this time Georg Simmel entered into a love affair with the Posen student Gertrud Kantorowicz (1876–1945). In 1907, Angelika (Angi), Georg Simmel and Gertrud Kantorowicz's child, was born in Bologna. Both agree to withhold actual paternity, and Simmel refuses to "ever" see the child. Angelika grew up with foster parents, and the secret was only revealed after Georg Simmel's death in 1918.

As a social scientist, Simmel was looking for a new path. He was far removed from the theory of a sociological organism by Auguste Comte or Herbert Spencer as well as the idiographic historiography in the wake of Leopold von Rankes .

A consistent philosophical or sociological system it is not left behind, even a school. The latter for the reason that he did not receive the call to full professor in Strasbourg until 1914 and up to that point had no permission to supervise doctorates or post-doctoral degrees himself. Only Betty Heimann (1888–1926) and Gottfried Salomon (-Delatour) (1892–1964) were able to do their doctorate with him in 1916, and he could no longer make use of the right to habilitation. For this, Simmel provided many suggestions and inspirations for later generations of researchers. He has published more than 15 major works and 200 articles in journals and newspapers. In addition to urban sociology, Simmel anticipated many elements of later role sociology without explicitly using the term “ social role ”. The chapter Der Streit from his sociology (1908) was of considerable importance for the later sociology of conflict ( Lewis Coser et al.). Individual books by Simmel were translated into Italian, Russian, Polish and French during his lifetime. In Germany he had a significant influence on the next generation of academics, including Georg Lukács , Martin Buber , Max Scheler , Karl Mannheim and Leopold von Wiese, as well as some later members of the Frankfurt School . Simmel was friends with the young Ernst Bloch. It was also Bloch who criticized the late Simmel's change of position to patriotism during the First World War . As a philosopher, Simmel is often included in the philosophy of life . Other prominent representatives of this direction were, for example, the French Henri Bergson , whose works were translated into German at Simmel's suggestion, or the Spaniard José Ortega y Gasset . Simmel did not publish continuously as a sociologist. So between 1908 and 1917 no major sociological works were published, but treatises on the main problems of philosophy (1910), on Goethe (1913) and Rembrandt (1916).

Together with Ferdinand Tönnies , Max Weber and Werner Sombart , he founded the German Society for Sociology (DGS) in 1909 . Simmel was also co-editor of the LOGOS magazine, founded in 1910 . International magazine for philosophy of culture .

In 1911 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in political science from the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg on account of his services to the expansion of knowledge of economics and in recognition of his work as one of the founders of sociology. It was not until 1914 that he was given a full professorship in philosophy at the Kaiser Wilhelm University of Strasbourg . After almost 10 years of abstinence from sociological topics, the work “Basic Questions of Sociology” appears in 1917. His last publication again addresses fundamental questions of philosophical thought, the social influences on people's thoughts and actions, also derived from their own life experiences in the work “The Conflict of Modern Culture”, which appears in 1918. At the age of 60, Simmel died in Strasbourg on September 26, 1918 of liver cancer.

Simmel's theory of knowledge

Simmel's epistemology is based on the Immanuel Kant and develops it further. He admits that humans are not able to fully grasp and reproduce the truth because it is too complex. But the human conception of truth is still not arbitrary: if two theories are present, the one that allows better access to the real will ultimately survive. His position can therefore be assigned to evolutionary epistemology . At the same time, Simmel positions himself between relativism and positivism and rejects realism as an epistemology, but without turning to skepticism . Example: According to Simmel, ideas of a “knowing subject” always consist of a conscious and an unconscious part, which ultimately also has an effect on the value that is assigned to an object. This value is therefore not necessarily “true”, but often has to be checked against reality if, for example, there is an exchange of goods. The value is "objectified" by negotiating prices on the market.

Even with regard to the picture that individuals make of each other, Simmel abandons the foundations of Kant's epistemology. The picture that A has of C is always different from that that B has of C. The images were based on the individual interactions, and these in turn were based on the respective images. So the knowledge of each other develops on the basis of the respective interactions and vice versa. The other person is also a piece of nature, but for Simmel the individual was not an object of knowledge, but only of experience. For every human being, the possibilities of knowing about another depend on their possibilities of behavior modification, which also includes lying. But even each of his sincere statements about his inner life is only a fragmentary reshaping of his inner reality, a selection from a flood of disjointed images and ideas.

Simmel's sociology

According to Simmel, sociology is - unlike its first sociological predecessor, Tönnies - an eclectic science. It has no specific subject of its own, but merely uses the material provided by other sciences to derive new syntheses and a new point of view. She works with the results of historical research, anthropology, statistics, psychology and many other subjects. In doing so, she does not use the original material of these sciences, but synthesizes from what has already been created from synthesis, as a science of the second power, so to speak. “Sociology, as the history of society and all of its contents, i. H. in the sense of an explanation of everything happening by means of social forces and configurations ", is therefore not a" special science ", but" a method of knowledge, a heuristic principle that can be fruitful in an infinity of different areas of knowledge without identifying one for itself. "

Simmel regards sociology as the "science of the forms of relationships between people". Your job is to find rules by which people behave. Such “formal equivalences” of behavior such as superiority or subordination, bondage or conflict can be found in the most varied of “social associations”, but sociology abstracts from their purpose. Sociology relates to the contents of social life like geometry, as the study of spatial forms, to the material of the bodies it describes. Since neither the concept of “ society ” nor that of the “ individual ” could provide a final clue that could be made the basic concept and thus the object of sociology, there was nothing else left than the fluidity of the “interactions” that society and the individual lose themselves in schemes , to be explained as a specific-unspecific object. With this, Simmel anticipates the modern concept of interaction .

Simmel's endeavor to explain the constitution of the social from the largely fleeting, coincidental, even antagonistic interactions between individuals - regardless of their positive or negative intentions and emotions - as it is, for example, in his work The Dispute or in the essay on the big cities became clear, led to the fact that his social philosophy as well as his essayistic representation before the First World War was described by Richard Hamann and Simmel's student Georg Lukács as "impressionistic", namely as part of a contemporary aesthetic protest movement against fixed forms.

In his first work: " On social differentiation ", Simmel outlines the central thesis that the greater the development and differentiation of a society, the greater the individuality of the individual. At the same time, this makes it possible to get closer to other people outside the existing group. The development of individuality is related to the dwindling cohesiveness through the social group, which is particularly evident in the modern city. The degree of development of a society can be read from the network of social interactions and entanglements, which increase and become more complicated as differentiation grows. If the circle within which we are active and to which our interests apply, expands, the scope for the development of our individuality grows.

In the end, Simmel then describes social differentiation or specialization as an evolutionary law of energy saving. Differentiation is an evolutionary advantage; every being is more perfect to the extent that it achieves the same purpose with a smaller amount of force (technological progress, division of labor, administrative apparatus). Simmel sees the price of progress, however, in the increase and compression of a broad network of social dependencies with an increase in constant interventions by the system in the individual's world.

On the basis of this thesis, Simmel wrote his second major work: " The Philosophy of Money ". An important reason for Simmel's increased interest in the problem of the money economy is its location in the big cities. In connection with the "rule of the mind" (terminological with Max Weber the " purpose rationality ") the money economy is formative for the modern age . The world as a gigantic calculation example of calculating rationality would be measured in money like time with a clock.

It was these two standards that made modernity possible. At Simmel, the value of a product is initially based on subjective appreciation. With increasing complexity of society, the exchange attains the status of a social fact. In order to simplify the exchange, the money is necessary. The value of things is reflected in money. In it the world of values ​​and that of concrete things collide: “ Money is the spider that weaves the social web. “It is just as much a symbol as it is the cause of a comparability or relativization of all things and an externalization. Since everything can be exchanged for everything because it receives an identical measure of value, an adjustment (leveling) takes place at the same time, which no longer generates qualitative differences. The victory of money is one of quantity over quality , of means over end. Only that which has a monetary value is valuable. This is a reversal, because in the end money dictates our needs, controls us instead of relieving us and simplifying our lives. As money, with its colorlessness and indifference, becomes the general denominator of all values , it undermines the core of things, their incomparability. In the end, the modern individual is faced with the dilemma that the objectification of life has freed them from old ties, but that they do not know how to enjoy the newly gained freedom .

Analogous to previous religions, which have given security, meaning in life and promises for the future, the money economy in modern times can be described as a new religion that affects all social and individual relationships and also dominates human emotions. Simmel saw those of the ancient needless Cynic Diogenes and the medieval - once wealthy, then voluntarily poor - Francis of Assisi as alternative lifestyles beyond the dogmatically powerful traditional religion and monetary relationships .

Simmel's aesthetics

In addition to his essays on Rembrandt van Rijn , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Auguste Rodin , which are characterized by art historical and literary interest , Simmel also implicitly formulated an aesthetic theory with his writings on cultural theory. Following a hint given by Hannes Böhringer , the cultural scientist Oliver Schwerdt has shown that Simmel's philosophy of money can be systematically applied to an analysis of artistic works of Dadaism . The indifference of things generated by the modern, monetary-economic world can thus be experienced in documents of relativistic art in an aesthetically concise sense.

Appreciations and aftermath

There is no complete legacy of the writings, lectures and letters of Georg Simmel. However, there is a fake, enriched legacy in the Bielefeld University Archives, which was compiled by Otthein Rammstedt . In addition to originals of manuscripts and texts by Simmel, this consists primarily of copies of various origins . There are also documents in Bielefeld on the Georg Simmel Society and the Georg Simmel Complete Edition.

On August 19, 1988, the mayor of Berlin unveiled a memorial plaque in KPM porcelain on the former home of the Simmel family in 14050 Berlin, Nussbaumalle 14. After renovation work on the house, the board could not be found in 2013. In the meantime, it has been restored to its old location.

In 2005, the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Research (GSZ) was founded at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

On the 100th day of Georg Simmel's death, Suhrkamp published an almost 1000-page volume with new contributions from more than 80 scientists to his writings, including six essays.

See also


2nd edition 1907 - digitized at: urn : nbn: de: s2w-8029 full text at DigBib.Org (PDF)
4th edition 1922 - Facsimiles from the seminar for economic and social history, University of Cologne

A complete edition was published by Suhrkamp Verlag from 1989 to 2016 under the direction of Otthein Rammstedt . On the occasion of its completion, Alexander Cammann named it a great example of large-scale edition projects, "that supreme humanities discipline that brings dusty thoughts and forgotten connections to light".


As a private lecturer for philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin:

  • Sociology (1897/98)
  • Logic and Epistemology (with a presentation of the Kantian theories) (1898)
  • Logic and Epistemology (with a presentation of Kant's main teachings) (1899)
  • Sociology (with special consideration of the forms of government) (1899/1900)

As associate professor for philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin:

  • Form problems in art (1902)
  • 19th century philosophy (from Fichte to Nietzsche) (1902/1903)
  • 19th Century Philosophy (From Fichte to Nietzsche) (1903/1904)
  • General History of Philosophy (1904)
  • Ethics and principles of the philosophical worldview (1905/1906)
  • Introduction to philosophy, taking into account the philosophy of society and history (1906)
  • Philosophy of Culture (1906/1907)


Philosophy bibliography : Georg Simmel - Additional literature references on the topic
in alphabetical order by authors / editors

Web links

Commons : Georg Simmel  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Georg Simmel  - Sources and full texts
Wikibooks: Georg Simmel  - learning and teaching materials


  1. a b Georg Simmel. Tabular curriculum vitae in the LeMO ( DHM and HdG )
  2. ^ Matthias Junge: Georg Simmel compact . Transcript, Bielefeld 2009, p. 10
  3. See Wollmann, Hellmut: Sociology between the Empire, Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime. In: Tenorth, Heinz-Elmar (Ed.): History of the University of Unter den Linden 1810–2010. Volume 5: Transformation of the knowledge order. Akademie, Berlin 2010. pp. 257–274, here: p. 260 FN 10.
  4. In Schäfer's report on Simmel it says: “I don't know whether Prof. Simmel was baptized or not, and I didn't want to inquire about it either […]. But he is an Israelite through and through, in his external appearance, in his demeanor and in his type of mind [...] ”. Quoted from Michael Landmann: Building blocks for biography. In Kurt Gassen & ders., Ed .: book of thanks to Georg Simmel. Letters, memories, bibliography. For his 100th birthday. Berlin 1958, pp. 11–33, here: p. 26
  5. Otthein Rammstedt (Ed.): Individualism of the modern time and other sociological treatises , Suhrkamp Taschenbuchwissenschaft, p. 388, 2008.
  6. Georg Simmel: The secret and the secret society. In: Sociology. Investigations into the forms of socialization (= complete edition, volume 11). Frankfurt 1992, p. 383 ff.
  7. Georg Simmel: The problem of sociology (1894). In: G. Simmel: The individual law , ed. by Michael Landmann, new edition Frankfurt 1987, p. 42.
  8. ^ Simmel: The problem of sociology , p. 46.
  9. ^ Simmel: The Problem of Sociology , p. 44.
  10. ^ Simmel: The problem of sociology , p. 45.
  11. Birgit Nübel: Robert Musil: Essayism as self-reflection of modernity. Berlin 2006, p. 100 f.
  12. Oliver Schwerdt: Money and Nonsense , Georg Simmel and Dadaism. A systematic study of relativistic philosophy and art. Euphorium, Leipzig 2011
  13. ^ Mathias Iven, Georg Simmel - a classic reread . In: Das Blättchen , Volume 21, Number 21, October 8, 2018, accessed December 18, 2018.
  14. Alexander Cammann: Georg Simmel: Herrlicher Wahnsinn . In: Die Zeit , No. 23/2016, p. 46.