Respond to Simmel's idea in The  Philosophy of  Money that 'Freedom exists in conjunction with duties' (Simmel 2005:283).      

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One level of response that can be made to Simmel's assertion about freedom and duty is that it helps to illuminate what he considered to be "the tragedy of culture."  This reality can be seen in his idea about freedom existing in conjunction with duties in a couple of ways.  The first is that Simmel suggests that freedom is not absolute or universal.  Rather, he describes it contingent manner.  The same temporality that exists with money is also linked to human freedom.  This helps to bring out a relativistic quality to both:  "For what we regard as freedom is often in fact only a change of obligations; as a new obligation replaces one that we have borne hitherto, we sense above all that the old burden has been removed."  Simmel's discussion of freedom and duty as always changing temporal concepts helps to underscore a significant aspect to being in the world.  Simmel suggests that human freedom and endeavor are constantly shifting, serving to challenge any claims of totality to which the human being might cling in the midst of such mutability.  This becomes one of the basic responses generated from Simmel's claim that freedom exists in conjunction with duties.

Another response generated from analyzing Simmel's notion of freedom as being linked to duties is the presence of other forces in human action. Feeding his "tragedy of culture" idea, Simmel suggests that human freedom is driven by other forces.  Simmel's dialectical process has repudiated something larger than self in terms of guiding the individual.  Rather, he asserts that there are essential contingencies that guide individual actions:

The other person’s demands can consist of the personal actions and deeds of the person under obligation.  Or then can be realized at least in the immediate outcome of personal labour.  Or, finally, it need only be a certain object, the use of which someone can rightly lay claim to, although he has no influence whatsoever concerning the manner in which the person under obligation procures this object for him.

The "outcome of personal labour" is important in the definition of freedom.  The "scales of gradation" that Simmel offer here suggests that "freedom exists within the performance of a duty."  The relativist nature of human endeavor and belief systems are striking within such a notion.  In defining freedom and human action in such a manner, Simmel suggests that there is no sense of transcendence within human constitution.  The alienation that he feels is intrinsic to the modern setting is on display in his articulation of the relationship between freedom and duties. The binding of individual and their labour to an "immediate outcome" is how he sees slavery as evident. Albeit "the most extreme case," Simmel is able to assert that the shifting construct of money, freedom, and duty construct a reality of modern alienation and relativism.  These become immediate responses to the idea that Simmel puts forth and how he substantiates it.

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