Social philosophy

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Social Philosophy (rare social philosophy ) deals with questions about the meaning and essence of a society . In particular, it examines the relationship between the individual people and the community as well as the structures of living together . Sometimes it is seen as a variant of philosophy when it comes into contact with sociology . In addition to the humanities perspective, the term is also related to journalistic or essayistic works.


Social philosophy as an independent philosophical discipline has a longer tradition in the Anglo-Saxon-speaking area, but is mostly practiced there under the name of "Political Philosophy". In the German-speaking world, the term social philosophy "rather plays the role of an embarrassing title, under which works are subsumed that cannot be grasped with the usual structure of practical philosophy in anthropology, ethics, legal, political and historical philosophy." distinguish between the following uses of the term "social philosophy":

  1. encompassing bracket for the practical sub-disciplines of philosophy
  2. normative addition to descriptive sociology
  3. Discipline of time diagnosis
  4. political philosophy (in the Anglo-Saxon tradition)
  5. Procedure in which the social pathologies are discussed
  6. the (dialectical) relationship between philosophical theory and social science practice
  7. Discipline that addresses the relationship between the individual and society and the problems that arise from it

History of concepts and problems

The expression “social philosophy” was only used explicitly in the German-speaking world towards the end of the 19th century, when the humanities and social sciences established themselves as independent individual sciences in contrast to philosophy and in contrast to the natural sciences. The first evidence of the use of the term “social philosophy” in Germany comes from Moses Hess , who used it in 1843 in the 21 sheets from Switzerland to characterize the philosophy of the French socialists. However, the term did not catch on at first and was not even adopted by Marx and Engels. In 1894 the expression "social philosophy" then appeared in a systematic meaning, at the same time in Georg Simmel and Rudolf Stammler . Since then, the term has been used more widely in the German-speaking world. Simmel and Stammler understand social philosophy at the same time as a descriptive and a normative discipline: it should be linked to social facts in such a way that they are changed according to the normative goals.

For Ferdinand Tönnies , social philosophy is another name for theoretical sociology. It is committed to the ideal of objectivity and value freedom of scientific research. Social philosophy should abstain from practical engagement. Their task is not to examine the value or the meaning, but the being of society.

This non-judgmental approach to the topics of social philosophy has increasingly been replaced by the question of the meaning of the social since the 1920s. The great systematic social philosophy of Gerhard Lehmann, textbook of sociology and social philosophy (1931), in which it takes on a mediating role between theoretical and practical philosophy, value-free social science and philosophical ethics, forms an important station in this regard.

In the same year, Max Horkheimer dealt with the unity of philosophy and sociology in his famous inaugural address as director of the newly founded Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Here Horkheimer develops the program of a social philosophy as a "critical social theory" in which social philosophy is no longer just a partial philosophical discipline, but becomes a general philosophy.

Wilhelm Sauer published his legal and state philosophy in 1936 , in which he developed a Thomistic social philosophy. After the Second World War, criticism of social philosophy increased, especially from sociologists with a positive influence. René König separates the social philosophy, which he considers “particularly primitive” and characterized by “unusual poverty”, from science. Ernst Topitsch considers the principles of social philosophy to be empty formulas. Against the positivist criticism of social philosophy, Theodor W. Adorno explains that the term social philosophy "largely coincides with critical social theory".

The critical rationalism , especially in the version of Hans Albert , calls for a social philosophy that is guided by the idea of criticism. In principle, it should have a hypothetical character, formulate suggestions for solving social problems and further develop freedom, progress and political pluralism in society.

Jürgen Habermas contrasts the concept of social philosophy with that of the theory of society. Only then integrate the concerns of sociology, social philosophy and philosophy of history. Hans Lenk advocates cooperation between social sciences and social philosophy. The task of social philosophy is to convey the normative and empirical spheres. According to Bernhard Waldenfels , social philosophy - similar to the philosophy of language before it - has risen to become a methodological key discipline in contemporary philosophy .


Ethics often play a role in the subjects of social philosophy . In social ethics , an independent area ethics has emerged in which moral questions about society are systematically discussed.

The social philosophy is about the fundamental clarification of questions such as:

  • What is the essence of a society? ( Organism , process ...)
  • What are their functions? ( Common good , subsidiarity ...)
  • Do people need a social contract ?
  • Why do people need other people anyway?
  • How can the coexistence of people be regulated?

Even if these questions have been dealt with in their own way in most of the philosophies since Plato , the term social philosophy has only been used since the 19th century with the realization of the bourgeois revolution and the reflection on alternative concepts of the state .

Some positions, some of which are contradicting each other, are:

By considering the “overall context” of the social - including its historical, political-economic, cultural, socio-moral and future-oriented conditions - social philosophy usually also has an idealistic element. It is constitutively supported by a “guiding principle” which, as Adorno once put it, has its secret power center in the “driving longing that things will finally be different” .

Overlaps of social philosophy exist u. a. with the anthropology , sociology , political science , economic philosophy , political philosophy , legal and political philosophy .


Primary literature

Secondary literature

Web links


  1. Maximilian Forschner : Man and Society. Basic Concepts of Social Philosophy , Darmstadt, 1989, IX.
  2. Detlef Horster : Social Philosophy . Reclam, Leipzig 2005, p. 6f.
  3. ^ Georg Simmel: Parerga zur Socialphilosophie , Yearbook for Legislation, Administration and Economics around the German Empire 18, 1894, reprinted in: Simmel, Gesamtausgabe, Volume IV, Frankfurt am Main 1991.
  4. ^ Rudolf Stammler: Theory of Anarchism , Berlin 1894.
  5. See Detlef Horster: Sozialphilosophie , Leipzig 2005, p. 50.
  6. ^ Karl Dunkmann , Gerhard Lehmann, Heinz Sauermann (eds.): Textbook of Sociology and Social Philosophy . Junker & Dünnhaupt, Berlin 1931.
  7. Max Horkheimer: The current situation of social philosophy and the tasks of an institute for social research . In: Collected Writings , Volume 3, Frankfurt / M. 1988, pp. 20-35.
  8. René König: History and Social Philosophy , in: Fischer-Lexikon Soziologie . New edition (1967), pp. 97-104.
  9. Ernst Topitsch: Social Philosophy Between Ideology and Science , 3rd edition 1971 (1961), p. 340.
  10. ^ Theodor W. Adorno: Social Theory and Empirical Research , in: Willy Hochkeppel (Ed.): Sociology between Theory and Empiricism (1970), pp. 75–82.
  11. See Hans Albert: Treatise on Critical Reason (1968), pp. 173f.
  12. See Kurt Röttgers: Social Philosophy , in: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Vol. 9, p. 1225.
  13. Hans Lenk: Between Social Psychology and Social Philosophy (1987), p. 13.
  14. Bernhard Waldenfels: Social philosophy in the area of ​​tension between phenomenology and Marxism , in: Contemporary philosophy 3 (Den Haag 1982) pp. 219–242.