Georg Simmel Criticism - Essay

Leopold von Wiese (essay date 1910)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Simmel's Formal Method," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 53-7.

[In the following essay, which originally appeared in Archiv fir Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in 1910, von Wiese offers a consideration of Simmel's method for analyzing social relationships.]

Georg Simmel's Sociology is today understandably viewed with the greatest interest by all those who believe in the future of sociology as a science. Although these Investigations into the Forms of Association are broad in scope, the work is fragmentary and incomplete, as its author intended it to be. He would not—could not—present a complete, closed system; the only aim of the book is to clarify his fundamental conception of the problem of sociology by means of a series of applications. The author states:

As a consequence [of the basic conception], it is out of the question to attempt anything more than to begin and to point out the direction of an infinitely long path; and any systematically final completeness would be, at the least, self-deception. An individual can attain completeness here only in the subjective sense, by reporting everything he has succeeded in observing.

This is a very important advance over the older sociologists, who foundered on their mania for systems (I need mention only Ratzenhofer). To this rejection of completeness, Simmel adds the narrow delimitation of sociology as a science. It is to his credit that he has clarified the difference between the general modern tendency to view the objects of various sciences sociologically (but without detracting from their independence and autonomy), and the creation of sociology as a new science. Because of the intellectual demands of the present age, it is more and more frequently recognized today that the objects of the traditional humanities (cultural and moral sciences [Geisteswissenschaftenl) find realization only within the framework of society. This sociological method in the moral sciences is the legacy of the nineteenth century. The establishment of sociology is an altogether different thing. Although the latter cannot bring new facts, new material, to light, it draws "a new line through otherwise well-known facts." It establishes new points of view, new abstractions. The various older social sciences have as their objects the contents of social processes, corresponding to the particular real areas of social life (such as economics, jurisprudence, and so on); sociology, however, examines the forms of association. That is to say, it examines the phenomena of human cooperation, altruistic and antagonistic interaction, the modes of reciprocal influence and mutual interpenetration in all their numberless purposes and diverse contents. The manifold forms in which association is realized are to be conceptually released from these diverse contents and analyzed as psychic phenomena of a special kind. But despite this [socio]psychological basis, sociology is in no sense a branch of psychology. Although sociology deals predominantly with psychic facts, it does not do so in order to discover the laws of psychic processes; the aim of sociology is, rather, to grasp the "objectivity of association" (which, however, as was said, is "carried by psychic processes"). In the same way that, on the one hand, psychology and sociology are not identical, so, on the other hand (and as in all special sciences), social science proper is distinct from its epistemology and its metaphysics. According to Simmel, the question of the position of society in the cosmos belongs to the metaphysics of sociology, while sociological epistemology includes the questions "Is society possible?" and "Does society exist outside of us or only in our consciousness?" and the like;...

(The entire section is 1590 words.)

Celestin Bougle (essay date 1912)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Sociology of Georg Simmel," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 58-63.

[In the following excerpt originally published in a 1912 book-length study of German philosophy in the nineteenth century, Bougle views Simmel as essentially a psychological thinker.]

In the large volume which he entitles Sociology: Investigations into the Forms of Association, Simmel claims that he is not offering a system but rather a great number of examples designed to show the kinds of generalizations one can make in sociology; and he does this if only that he might be able to use what Descartes described as the appropriate "bias."...

(The entire section is 2237 words.)

Alfred Mamelet (essay date 1914)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sociological Relativism," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 64-73.

[In the following excerpt from his 1914 study Le relativisme philosophique chez Georg Simmel, Mamelet finds that Simmel's work is distinguished from that of his contemporaries by its philosophical qualities.]

Simmel's conception of sociology is, from the outset, clearly opposed to contemporary French sociology. The latter is predicated upon regarding social facts as something possessing two characteristics: exteriority and constraint. French sociology has its origin in traditionalism and positivism. It is anti-individualist; and political and...

(The entire section is 3821 words.)

Emile Durkheim (essay date 1918)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sociology and Its Scientific Field," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 43-9.

[In the following essay, which first appeared in French in 1918, Durkheim characterizes Simmel's works as "intriguing" but concludes that they fall short of the objectives and scientific standards of sociology.]

A science which has barely begun to exist has, and initially is bound to have, only an uncertain and vague sense of the area of reality that it is about to approach, and the extent and the limits of that area. It can gain a clearer picture only to the degree that it proceeds with its studies. And the heightened awareness of its subject...

(The entire section is 2317 words.)

Ferdinand Tonnies (essay date 1918)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Simmel as Sociologist," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 50-2.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in Frankfurter Zeitung in 1918, Tönnies argues that Simmel is better described as a social psychologist than as a sociologist.]

After Schäffie's precedent, and apart from books of momentary importance, Simmel was the first to give the title Soziologie (Sociology) to a major work in the German language. The objection has been raised that the title does not correspond to the content, which offers nothing of a systematic nature. But Simmel appears to defend himself against this criticism in...

(The entire section is 1067 words.)

Donald N. Levine (essay date 1957)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Some Key Problems in Simmel's Work," in Georg Simmel, edited by Lewis A. Coser, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, pp. 97-115.

[In the following excerpt from his 1957 doctoral dissertation, Levine delineates major themes in Simmel's work.]

The Simmelian corps may be conveniently divided according to the three viewpoints Simmel mentioned for analyzing things human: the individual, the social, and the objective. Under objective culture are to be found his various contributions to ethics, epistemology, aesthetics, and metaphysics, comment on which lies beyond the scope of this study. Under the viewpoint of individual personality are to be found his studies of a few...

(The entire section is 27419 words.)

Charles David Axelrod (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Simmel," in Studies in Intellectual Breakthrough, University of Massachusetts Press, 1979, pp. 35-49.

[In the following excerpt, Axelrod examines how Simmel perceived the tension between the individual and society and analyses Simmel's writing style as reflecting his intellectual strengths and limitations.]

[Thomas] Kuhn characterizes scientific paradigms as achievements which provide new orientations to one or many areas of scientific work, and which isolate limited sets of problems to be investigated and limited ways of formulating those problems. When a sector of the scientific community accepts the authority of a paradigm, says Kuhn, members' attention is...

(The entire section is 5615 words.)

David Frisby (essay date 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Foundation of Sociology," in Georg Simmel, Ellis Horwood Limited and Tavistock Publications, 1984, pp. 45-64.

[In the following excerpt, Frisby highlights Simmel's consideration of a broad range of human interactions as the reason for the wide scope of his sociological thought.]


In his review of Simmel's Sociology, Alfred Vierkandt makes the following ambitious claim:

If sociology succeeds in developing itself into an autonomous individual science, then its future historian will have to celebrate Simmel as its founder, and even if this process is...

(The entire section is 7387 words.)

Arthur A. Molitierno (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Georg Simmel's Cultural Narcissism: A Non-Ideological Approach," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXX, No. 3, Spring, 1989, pp. 308-23.

[In the following essay, Molitierno compares the central ideas of Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism with Simmel's concept of the "tragedy of culture. '"]

In a comprehensive statement about the concept of instrumentality in Georg Simmel's sociological analysis of modern culture, Guy Oakes aptly refers to the concept of narcissism. Although Simmel does not refer to narcissism per se, his views on the problems of modernity surely encompass this concept:

According to...

(The entire section is 4140 words.)