Leopold von Wiese (essay date 1910)
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.)