Comparison (philosophy)

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The comparison (also: comparison ) describes a fundamental, perception-based method that should lead to the recognition of similarities / equality or differences between objects of reality . A concise definition of the comparison method comes from Alfred Brunswig : "To compare two objects means: to look at them carefully ... with special regard to their mutual relationship." The few definitions of the term comparison are largely the same. They hardly change historically.


Performing a comparison requires the following four elements:

at least a set of two objects must be given, otherwise it is not possible to recognize a relationship ("relationship" means a two-digit relationship ).
Subject and object
There is a comparative subject because subject and object are relative concepts. When you call something an “object”, you assume that there is also a subject.
a relationship, either in equality or inequality, is present. Husserl: "A comparison can either provide the result that the content considered is the same or that it is different, that is, not the same."
Objects are compared "attentively ... in a special way " because equality and inequality are always recognized in a certain way.

The prerequisite for gaining a correct insight through a comparison is strict compliance with a number of necessary conditions. According to Morris Zelditch , one condition is that two comparison objects have at least one characteristic ("variable") in common:

"(Comparability). Two or more instances of a phenomenon may be compared if and only if there exists some variable, say V, common to each instance. "

- Zelditch, Morris


Comparing requires something in common . However, this does not mean that the two objects have to be the same with regard to the characteristic expression . For example, the two tones C and D are comparable because, among other things, they have the characteristic / variable "pitch" in common. With regard to the characteristics, however, the tones are unequal: C is unequal to D. For Morris Zelditch this rule, together with three others, is the logical basis of comparative research.



The comparison is not only used in the process of generalization , but also in other methods, for example in conclusions by analogy , in induction , tradition or deduction . It is recognized that finding common features of a class of objects to be examined is the first step in the knowledge of the evolutionary laws of this class. In addition, for example, the comparison enables the measurement of numerically expressible properties. A classification system requires comparisons. Recognizing an object requires distinguishing it from other objects and establishing a similarity to related objects and appearances. In the process of knowledge, distinction and similarity form an inseparable unit. When comparing terms, only terms of the same type that represent objects of the same kind in reality may be included in the investigations.

Social sciences

Several authors have already pointed out the importance of comparison for the social sciences, especially for sociology: For Auguste Comte , the comparison method is "the most important scientific tool in sociology" and , according to Émile Durkheim , the comparative method "is the only one that corresponds to sociology . ”Despite the great importance attached to the comparison method, the methodological basis of the comparison method has hardly been researched. Joachim Matthes states that "a broad and thorough examination of the epistemological and methodological aspects of" comparison "has so far been lacking in the social sciences."


With the comparative literature , comparison has its own genre within literary studies .

Importance of comparison in society

Through the "social comparison", social inequalities in society can be recognized in everyday life. This type of comparison among fellow human beings is examined primarily in (social) psychology and microsociology. A theory of social comparison comes from Leon Festinger .

Comparisons can also be made in a broader context. For example, global society compares goods and services, sporting achievements or between countries and cultures. This type of comparison is researched in macro-sociology and is also known as cross- cultural social research .

Classification of comparisons

Objects from the outside world (people, prices, countries, etc.) or from the inside world (for example terms or thoughts) can be compared. With regard to the type of comparison objects, Brunswig (1910, pp. 148–182) distinguishes eleven types of comparison; u. a. Color, time and value comparisons. Meinong (1971, pp. 237–239) differentiates between direct and indirect comparisons based on the way objects are given.


  • Alfred Brunswig: Comparing and relational knowledge. BG Teubner, Leipzig / Berlin 1910.
  • Andreas Dorschel : The anthropological argument in practical philosophy and the logic of comparison. In: Logos , NF II (1995), No. 1, pp. 19-40.
  • Edmund Husserl : Philosophy of Arithmetic. With additional texts (1890–1901). Lothar Eley (ed.). Martinius Nijhoff, The Hague 1970.
  • Joachim Matthes: The Operation Called “Compare”. In: ders. (Ed.): Between cultures? The social sciences face the problem of cultural comparison. (= Social World . Special Volume 8). Göttingen 1992, pp. 75-99.
  • Alexius Meinong: About the meaning of Weber's law. In: Rudolf Haller, Rudolf Kindinger, Roderick M. Chisholm (eds.): Alexius Meinong Complete Edition. Vol. II: Treatises on epistemology and object theory, edited by Rudolf Haller. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1971, pp. 215–376.
  • Haun Saussy: Are We Comparing Yet? On Standards, Justice, and Incomparability , transcript, Bielefeld 2019, ISBN 978-3-8376-4977-2 . Download PDF
  • Günter Schenk, Andrej Krause: Comparison. In: Joachim Ritter, Karlfried founder (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of philosophy. Vol. 11. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2001, Sp. 676-680
  • Philip Thelen: Comparison in the world society. On the function of national borders for the globalization of science and politics. Transcript. Bielefeld 2011.
  • Morris Zelditch, Jr .: "Intelligible comparisons". In Ivan Vallier (Ed.): Comparative Methods in Sociology. Essays on Trends and Applications. University of California Press, Berkeley 1971, pp. 267-308.
  • Andreas Mauz, Hartmut von Sass (eds.), Hermeneutics of Comparison. Structures, applications and limits of comparative methods , Königshausen & Neumann. Würzburg 2011 (Interpretation Interdisciplinary, Vol. 8).

Web links

Wiktionary: comparison  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Brunswig, Alfred: The comparison and the knowledge of relations, Leipzig / Berlin: BG Teubner, 1910, p. 62.
  2. See Schenk, G./Krause, A., 2001, column 677.
  3. Husserl, Edmund: Philosophy of Arithmetic. With additional texts (1890–1901), published. by Lothar Eley, The Hague: Martinius Nijhoff, 1970, p. 55.
  4. Brunswig, 1911, p. 62
  5. ^ Zelditch, Morris Jr .: "Intelligible comparisons," in Ivan Vallier (Ed.): Comparative Methods in Sociology. Essays on Trends and Applications, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971, p. 267.
  6. Comte, Auguste: Die Sociologie, 1974, p. 109
  7. Durkheim, Emile: The rules of the sociological method, 1991, p. 205.
  8. Matthes, Joachim: The Operation Called "Compare", in: ders. (Ed.): Between cultures? The social sciences before the problem of cultural comparison, (Soziale Welt, special volume 8), Göttingen: 1992, p. 75.
  9. See Philip Thelen: Comparison in der Weltgesellschaft, Bielefeld, Transcript, 2011.