Critique of Georg Simmers Analysis Essay Sample
Well known for his contributions in philosophy and sociology, Georg Simmel is perhaps one of the best thinkers of all times. He was a well learned person, receiving his Ph. D from the Berlin University in Germany. Besides this academic degree, he also received an honorary degree doctorate from one of the best universities in the world. In most of his dissertations, he used the Kantian theory of monads. This was in relation to its application to the nature of matter that formed most of his subjects. Moreover, he was always at logger heads with some of the best thinkers of his time. Much of the debate about not accepting his work was due to the fact that most of his work had spelling errors and some of the passages he wrote were not well spelt. All the same he was a great force to reckon with. He cited much of his work in alien languages that the board of examiners could not read.
Between the 1885 and 1914, he was an unpaid lecturer and later he was employed as an honorary professor owing to his immense knowledge in a number of disciplines. His life was later to change when the University of Strasbourg offered him a full time job as professor of philosophy. Simmel gained notoriety and fame in equal measure. His lecturing skills were superb. He was a good orator who knew how to get his points across. He wrote so many articles that touched on many topics. Some of the topics he covered were art, sociology, ethics, esthetics, psychology, history and literature. Unluckily for him, his vast knowledge in most topics exposed him to criticisms. He was blamed for being a dabbler and as lacking in overall expertise in a number of issues he covered. The criticisms and his anti-Semitic undercurrents in the academia field, especially in Germany hindered his further professional development. He was a good instructor who was well understood by his students. Despite this, he felt he had no “spiritual heirs” who would take over after him when he was gone. Some of the great thinkers at the time whom he was able to work with were Max Weber and Gvorgy Lukacs. It was through the latter that his presence was greatly felt at the Frankfurt School.
Most notable of his presentation styles were his rationality and objectivity. These are the two areas he was able to adequately use to get people to like his thoughts and points. He was able to carry out his self-assessment; thus, this was later proved to be a true depiction of him. Through his self assessment, some people claimed a direct intellectual heritage from him. One of the places where his presence was felt was the Chicago Ecological School of sociology. Here, he combined theory and ethnography in an urban setting. Some of his thoughts still apply to date. His idea had been to found a school, though this was never happened. His greatest area of interest was writing. He especially wrote the anglophile world in the 1950s. This was after many translations of his work became well known and readily available. From the year 1889 to 1909, he helped foster the German Sociological Association. It took his efforts to see it come to existence, and became one of the strongest bodies.
A Critique of Georg Simmel’s Work
Simmel viewed sociology as a subsidiary field to philosophy. He had had an important intellectual interest in 1905. He went through philosophical problems on philosophies of history. In 1907, he was able to tackle the earlier works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche in a treatise. He was the first instructor to teach principles of sociology at a German University. This was in 1887. He later did attempt to plot a sociology course. This would be distinct from the earlier work of Herbert Spencer or Auguste Comte. He worked toward a sociology that was more formal. Simmel handled form and content distinctly. His critics see his insistence on dichotomy as well as his writing style to obscure any assertions he might have tried to make. Another aspect of his writing that proved problematic for him was the reputation for spotty translation. This was especially bad given his most important work Sociologie: Untersuchugen uber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. In English, this is translated as The Problems of the Philosophy of History. It was published in 1892. In the text, he uses a Kantian frame to investigate the modern world. About a decade later, the philosophy Of Money (Philosophie des Gesdes), was released. In this context, Simmel uses psychological, historical, social and political lenses to scrutinize the different aspects of historical materialism of the subject. These are the undercurrents that he uses to continue metaphysical machinery.
Another significant aspect of his writing is modernism and his portrayal of the modern world. He uses this to continually revise and renew the very concept. These works counteract what would develop into Post-Modern cynicism and Modern Skepticism. Furthermore, he identifies currency as a social functioning substance. He advances this concept through stating that money is instable that it contributes to most problems experienced in the modern life. It comes with such a dissatisfaction and impulse that characterize its instability. In the contemporary world, most of the problems are due to people getting dissatisfied or even greedy and always wanting more.
Paradoxically, Simmel singles out money as being dependent on freedom, and at the same time being a source of estrangement and animosities that come with it. However, this thought has been met with several reviews in the recent past. One of the reviews was carried out by Emile Durkheim proposed that work cannot be substantiated. Max Weber could not agree more. He especially praised the important and significance of the observations. Hegel is thought to have influenced Georg Simmel’s Philosophie des Geldes. In much of his work, Simmel uses synecdoche as a dialect in single direction. Through this, he captures the ambiguity of the modern time and the modernity that comes with it. He identifies the cause of this ambiguity as an uncertainty that arises from modernization process. For all his metaphysical urges, his ultimate project is far from finding essential nature behind most of his subjects. Rather, it is to align many disciplines in his study.
The project does not include the desire for an innate meaning of experiences in his study. It is often thought that the tensions in his methodologies are as a result of his looking for meaning in a fragmentary world that defines most of his work. Some people see Simmel to be establishing a phenomenology, which better investigates an individual’s lack of awareness in the basic aspects of their lives. This is a deprivation of essential meaning of life. In one of characteristic passages of Elizabeth Goodstein, he quotes one of the forms of Simmel Philosophie des
Geldes where Simmel’s thoughts become largely apparent.
I believe that the secret agitation, the restless compulsion just below consciousness that drives the human being of today from socialism to Nietzsche, from Böcklin to Impressionism, from Hegel to Schopenhauer and back again is not simply a consequence of the external haste and excitement of modern life, but that on the contrary it is often the expression, the manifestation, the discharge of that most inner circumstance. (Simmel 2007)
Simmel talks about a number of contemporary issues that affect different aspects of lives of an individual. Some of the topics he discusses are money, fashion, socialism and other issues as well. These are the real life experiences that people go though each day. Most of his thoughts on different issues apply to this day. Some of the critiques are in:
On sociology, Simmel views it as a social science discipline. In the world, there are different interactions. Some of the interactions explain why people are able to identify with different situations. In his article The Problem of Sociology he sought that readers understand sociology as a social science discipline that should be viewed to be independent. The basic principle in this conclusion was that the basic foundations of sociology can be ostensible and far-reaching with myriad consequences. People interact with other people daily. It therefore means that people must get along. It was this mentality that Simmel had in mind when he wrote this famous piece. His propositions are true in the real world too. There are several examples that can be used to illustrate the same. People come together during different situation to offer help to people who are close to them. For this reason, the society realizes the need to come together and offer assistance to people who most need it in their different challenges. This is a fundamental interrelatedness. It applies in almost every facet of life. He introduces conceptualization in a number of ways that surpasses the thinking of the modern man. What we term as the society today comes into being through the interaction of different members or people who make up the society.
A society can be broadly understood as a collection of different people with the same interest even if they were to come from different clans. In his world, and going by what is the norm in this day and age, society comes about as an interrelationship that encompasses many people. It is therefore important to note as well that they will be conflicts of interests and ideas along the way (Gross et al. 2003). This explains why understanding of the other person becomes the best thing and in fact the order of the day. Sociology, according to Simmel, is the only science that seeks to “understand the sensu strictissimo.” It can be defined to be the study of what a society actually is. Being members of a society will require that people within the society come together and work towards a common cause. Thus, this explains why people should come together in times of adversity and work together, assisting each other in their daily endeavors and finding solutions to different problems that affect the society.
Society is also defined as forms of sociation by Georg Simmel. Perhaps, he can be called the father of modern sociology, rightly because of immense contribution in the definition and the understanding of the current state of the society. In trying to understand the society, it would be important that first and foremost, people understand the society as the very building block, the very thread that holds the society and communities they come from at large to be what they are. How do we engage the different members of the society to do what they are supposed to do? How do make them understand the fundamental principle of culture of inclusiveness? These are some of the questions that must have been going on in the mind of the great thinker Georg Simmel and this must have inspired most of his works. The society is about the co-operation, the co-existence and the coming together of different people towards a common goal in the society. It is for this reason he makes a string case on matters that deal with investigation of the society. Any forms of sociation within the society should be deeply and well interpreted so that most of the problems in the society can be adequately and well understood in the first instance of problems being noticed within the society. Interactions occur everywhere within the life of an individual. They occur at the meal table, at the church and virtually in every social gathering.
What make society to what it is are these interactions that must be well understood. In agreeing with Georg Simmel it would be important to note the fact that societies occur due to positive interactions of families and individuals within the family. This is what makes the society to be called so. It is about associations and positive interactions. All forms of associations should be studied comparatively and historically so that people may understand the general properties and features that all interact to make the society and understand what actually contributes to peaceful co-existence as well as all other forms of interactions that may be seen in the society. Conflicts can arise from many aspects of the lives of an individual, what is most important is the fact that the different people who make up the society come together and that they are united towards a common purpose which is to make the best out of the interactions.
The society can be understood to be preceded by sociology. “How is society possible?” This is the question that Simmel was able to ask in one of his works. Without citizens who come and interact with one another in the community, there would be no society. Simmel is able to bring this out this too well in his pieces of work. He explored this in the transcendental, quasi- Kantian question. He asserts three important aprioris of individuality, role and structure. It is possible to find the four conceptions of society in Simmel Georg piece of work (Symons 2009). The first misconception of his ideas was the fact that society should be seen in totality. This should in fact have been the first sociological object. This is seen as an absolute entity. This could have contributed to disagreements between earlier think tanks Hubert Spencer and Durkheim.
The society is viewed as the general term that embraces totality of all individuals within a society. They must be having specific interactions. There are myriad interactions that may take place within the society. However, before all these are exhausted, it is important that all these concepts are looked into any meaningful actions can take place. Before anybody can look into all the factors that influence what a society stands for, it would be important and in order that all the interactions and association within the society are looked into. This is what constitutes the wellness and the inclusiveness of the society, and without which the society cannot be said to be operational. Therefore, the society can be viewed as constellations of people, all who have come together to interact towards a common goal and course. The unities arising from these interactions can be a minimum of three, but this is only according to the Simmel. There are the “we”, the ‘I’ and the “you.” These are very important aspects of what makes up a society. There crucial differences even in the society of the modern day. Going by what Simmel had foreseen some time back, it can be concluded that the triadic and dyadic relationships actually exist, even in the modern world and society that it is today. Simmel was able to indicate this candidly in most of his work. The society has many formations, though. There are for instance the class, the state and religion. These are important aspects of the society as well. These had been foreseen and well indicated by Georg Simmers.
The individuals within the society must be able to interact and come together towards a common goal. These are the important connections or rather the threads that keep the society together and help in the unity of individuals who are part of the society. It is true going by what Simmers had foreseen that we should not just concentrate on the important formations within the society. Most of the times, it is important that many other factors are looked at the same time to for a better understanding of the society. As regard knowledge of a society really is, reference is made to Simmel’s essay, when he wrote about “how is the society possible?” and the ‘epistemology of society.” It is not just about the many cases and the meanings of the society that we ascribe to. Rather it is about formations and the consciousness with which the society should be understood. According to Simmers, and other thinkers of all times, a society is only possible when people work together and solve the issue facing them in their daily lives. This cannot be overemphasized even in the contemporary society. These are the issues that affect people in the daily aspects of their lives. When it comes to sociological knowledge, again the society plays a major part in this front. The discipline of sociology cannot be overstated. It cannot be simplified, either.
In fact, most of the works of Simmel Georg apply even today. These are aspects of lives that Simmel, together with other thinkers of his time had foreseen and predicated, and which have come to pass and can be witnessed in the contemporary world. The society can be taken to be an enterprise with so many participants and in which each and every one of these has a part to play and a contribution to make as well. There should be an agent of connection that connects different members of the society. These are the very bonds that keep society together.
Forms of Association and Beyond
This is another important aspect of Simmel and one that he is able to bring out clearly in the pieces he did write. This is a diversity of sociology and an important are that different schools of thought have examined more so after they were first discussed by Georg Simmel. These are some of the facts he is able to foresee and some that still take part in the modern world even today. How do cultural and social theories interact in the modern world? These were some of the questions that occupy most people’s minds in the contemporary society and most of which Simmel was able to look into. Through he faced objections and criticisms form most of his distracters then, he is often thought to be the father of modernity. He an insight of what the society looks like in terms of the many and selective values that some individuals within the society identify with. However, it must be notable that in his works, it was never his intention to create confusion about the subject. Rather, it was his way of enlightening the current intellectuals about how a society should be organized.
His different forms of sociation may have been misunderstood, but they set a good precedent to modern forms of associations that are understood even today. Moreover, he placed different and contemporary subjects into their current contexts. One example of these was his definition of fashion. Fashion appears in the same context as the philosophy of money. This is true even in the modern society where people are preoccupied with money or lack of it. This means that money is a major motivation of most people in the world today. With it comes greed since people in society try to get more and more of it. The philosophy of money according to Simmel was that (and still is) a differentiation of different commodities in the market can assume. This is quite true even in the contemporary society, “where money is used to show the value of a commodity.” The higher the value of the commodity, the more the value of money associated with it. Fashion is an equally a major preoccupation of most people today. As such, there are so many trends of fashion in the current world.
Simmel was able to foresee these quite vividly. In his narrative style, he illustrates well how fashion affects different aspects of the lives of individuals within the community. The youth especially spend most of their time in front of mirrors and at the beauty shops all in a bid to look good and appeal to the members of the opposite sex. The society seems to have understood this and started dealing in most of these products that the youth are known to associate with. It is in the same light that money is also viewed.
The modern metropolis understands the significance of fashion and how different individuals use it in order to differentiate themselves from the others. This has contributed to the trend that can be witnessed today in most parts of the world where the youth try to wear some of the best attires that they can lay their hangs on. This is what motivates them. These are trends they want to identify with so that they can maintain their looks and appeal to other members of the society. Furthermore, it gives them a sense of identity and some of the different aspects of life that contributes to their satisfaction, or sense of it. Wearing smart clothes of being fashionable gives an individual a chance to represent class and, gender and culture in interactions in cities and different places of stay (Simmel 2007). Fashion can also be understood as people wanting to be like others. In this front, they are likely to wear clothes and attires that will make them to be like other people. These are people they have always admired and want to emulate. Simmel was able to bring this out candidly in most of the essays he wrote on fashion.
It is purely a dialectic of choosing lives that belong to others of resemble other people’s lives. It could also mean that individuals are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the society and at the same time establishing social boundaries. These are the aspects of fashion and identity as pointed out by Simmel. These are the fuller treatment of fashion that can be witnessed in the modern society as well. He was able to bring us closer to modernity though he died centuries back. Such was the eloquence of this great thinker and philosophers of all times. He depicts modern life as being characterized by patience and haste. These can be seen in the modern life even to date. Today, it would not be unusual to see people moving hurriedly in streets and other business areas. These are some characteristics of modern life that are well depicted in the stories that he wrote some decade back, and those that will continue having relevance even to generations to come. In his own words he did say “the fact that fashion takes unprecedented upper hand in the modern culture perhaps is an indication that the contemporary culture is coalescing of modern psychological trait. This then means that internal rhythm requires shorter pauses to change impressions.”
Through his stories, it can be seen that the accent of attraction is transferred to an increasing extent from its substantive center to its initial and final finishing points. However, this does not imply that Georg was preoccupied with contemporary issues. It was his way of indicating that these were some of the changes that would be witnessed in the contemporary society. Fashion is a concentration of consciousness within an individual “upon the seeds in which its death lie.” What this basically means is that fashion will always keep changing since individuals try to look into other issues or fashion trends that come into being. There will always be improvements in fashion given that designers and creative and will always come up with new fashion designs. In his view, fashion is a gradual form of destruction- aesthetic form of destruction. Can it ever be broken from the past? In the contemporary society, this is true because people adopt new forms of fashion each and every day of their lives. It is a fleeting and changeable element that keeps changing. Can they lose their force in modernity? His analysis of fashion can be well understood in the modern context. Could it be an exploration of time consciousness? Among his earlier categories of experience, he was able to realize that there would be relation of his facts then to those of the society today. Enlargement of social groups contributes to diversity of fashion as well as different people want to identify with new fashions in the market. The contemporary culture takes fashion seriously. This can be witnessed in a number of people especially the youth conforming to the cultures. Some of these were well explained and articulated in Georg Simmel pieces.
He had foreseen a culture where “fashion takes unprecedented upper hand in the modern culture.” The significance of fashion was not lost in the works of Walter Benjamin as well. The relevance of fashion in the contemporary society cannot be overstated since fashion has become a major preoccupation of most fashion icons of the modern designers. In fact, some well renowned fashion magazines in the world indicate that most fashion and design are among the best earning enterprises all over the world. Besides fashion, Simmel was able to work on religion as well. Concerning religion, he mentioned that religion can be used by the family to foster unity of purpose and unite towards achievement of peace and belonging. These can still be witnessed nowadays where different people are inclined towards different religious associations. Religious affiliations provide people with a common sense of purpose. He helped stretch the sociology of emotions. People have different emotions of the “inner life.” Some of the emotions that he explored were shame, pessimism, gratitude and love. These are common emotions that people display in their daily lives. They have different motivations. Emotions change. One time an individual is happy; the other time they are angry. These are common feelings that people have. It pertains to “our mental life.” Emotions, unlike physical developments are not constant. This means they keep changing depending on different situation they find themselves. The articles he wrote were not just limited to his personal feelings. He did talk about trade unions. These are bodies that bring people, especially workers, together so that they can air their grievances and make suggestions about what best works for the in their places of work. Such unions are important in the modern world.
In fact, studies show that workers who work under such unions always lobby for the best pay and work conditions. These are the kind of association that Simmel had foreseen and that still remain relevant to this day. The Berlin trade exhibitions that he wrote about in one of his pieces could be used to demonstrate his philosophy for money. Money remains the major motivation for most of these trade shows. Organizers of such events are people whose intention is to get money. It is still true even in the modern society. Nothing much has changed since the first time Simmel wrote about this. These could or can be used to explain the aesthetic value of money as well. Money is used to accord one the luxury and the comfort they want in modern life. Money is used to develop social hierarchies in the society. Thus, this explains why there social castes of classes within the society. If it were not for money there would be no such classes in the society. Simmers talks of “widening gap between subjective and objective culture, the creation of culture of things known as human culture” these would explain why even in the modern society, people would seek power over other. People have authority over then become their subjects. Such was the “gap” Simmel was talking about in his articles.
In sociology of culture, Simmel is perhaps one of the major contributors of all times. Apart from philosophical culture, he was able to bring out major cultural differences in most parts of the world. He talks of “conflict, tragedy and crisis” in culture. This means that people from different cultural identities may at some points of interactions with others conflict. These conflicts are brought about differences in values, cultures and interests. For instance, the Muslim and Christian cultures may conflict on these fronts. Christians believe in a holy and supernatural being they call God (Laermans 2006). On the other hand, the Muslims believe on a powerful being they call Allah. What then could be their differences? These are some of the questions psychologists, of who Simmel was part, seek to find answers to. Sociologists have tried to explain these tendencies.
Differences in religious doctrines contribute to some of the religious warfare experienced in the world. One then wonders what could be the causes of these. In the contemporary society, it is a struggle between form and life, a conflict between objective and subjective culture. The two sites of modernity mentioned by Simmel in his works create a distinction between a modern metropolis and a money economy. These can be witnessed in the contemporary culture today. He talks of a “gendered culture.” This is true in that men control most aspects of life; they control most of the economic, social and political facets of life. Despite the fact that human activists and concerned individuals within the society lobby for gender equity, this has not been successful. Nowadays, society still experiences male chauvinist, inequality in gender as well as oppression of some members of the society. His assertion “with the exceptions of very few areas, our objective culture is thoroughly male” brings the fact of gender equity to light. He talks of historical power relations, where most of the power in the past historical context, has been in the hands of males-not females. On this, different schools of thoughts may not agree with him, though.
Historically, and even from biblical contexts, men have been known to be the custodians of power. Women were meant to be submissive to their husbands. Instead, the place of the woman in society was to take care of the household, and children. The man was to be the bread winner and provide protection for the family (Goodstein 2002). Though times have changed and the age of enlightenment is incumbent upon us, the woman will still not be at par, in terms of power, with the man. He will still continue domineering over her. Is it really possible to create a female culture that would be independent of the male-dominated culture? The answer to this frequently asked question would be “NO.” However,it is true that women could adapt to this culture though engaging in differentiated culture. They could take up roles that supplement or compliment those of their male counter-parts. It is true that this is a patriarchal system that is grounded is multifaceted interweaving of historical and psychological motives. The role of the female in modern times could be a source of problem, but one that would still be dealt with when people of the universe develop a developmental logic. The social form within the society is one where there is autonomy, a kind of independence that cuts across different facets of life.
This is the objective cultural sphere that will continue to be experienced in different spheres and locations of the contemporary society. In the money economy, it can be argued that the kind of economy can be viewed as a pure relationship between different things expressed their economic motions. It is a notion of an individual that money can be used to ascertain most of the material support they may need. What then differentiates modernity and post modernity? Is it about the cultural forms that rear their faces in the contemporary society? A postmodern society is one that is alive to the fact that a society must be inclusive to different needs of members of the society, a society that tries to ensure equality among its people and one that lays more emphasis on dialogue than use of force. These are the elements of a post modern society that Simmel was able to articulate in most of his articles. Relevant debates about this argument can still be made given that the society keeps changing if form and cultural contexts as post (modernity) sets in.
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Modernity in Context
The contributions of Georg Simmers to modernity cannot be overstated. He developed some of the most relevant theories about modernity, some of which have been studied in sociology and psychology classes across the world. All social sciences that have been developed theories seeking to know how the term modernity was fist coined. None of these compares to Georg Simmel’s. He provides the best definition for modernity. According to Simmers, modernity comes about as a result of people trying to rationalize their civilization and the rise of capitalism. Capitalism deals with creation of wealth. As people created wealth, built industries, there arose modernism. Thus, there came to being cities. This was civilization. Obviously people wanted a higher quality of life. Technology advanced.
Mental reasoning improved. Competition came about since different members of the society tried to outdo other civilizations. Then set the class or caste systems. This was the whole idea of modernity- good life, improved fashion, improved communication, better roads, better communication and a host of other convenience that came with modernity. It is associated with aesthetic values, people looking for better forms of life and convenience. “The concept of modernity is both a socio-cultural process through which a society becomes modern and aesthetic representations of the modern experiences. Modernism can also be viewed as both a short-term and a long-term process. In the modern money economy that forms the basis of modernity according to Simmel, people’s attention to modernism is influenced by the need to be rich, and rationally so. There are those who contribute towards the economy and those who are just mere spectators of the very economy. It points towards capitalism in the contemporary society. It is also the basis of metropolis that characterizes different and modern societies. Most of the economy is also controlled by people who are in power, people who ensure that most of the economies in the world move.
Simmel is a contemporary theorist, at least going by his analysis of modernity. He explains this as “mental life and money economy.” Modernity can be characterized by exchange of commodities, circulation and consumption as well. It is a post industrial as well as a post production society (Guillet et al. 2002). Industrial society dates some time back when the economy was moved or powered by industries. The same applies to production in the immediate context. However, times have changed, and today most of economies in the world are powered by capitalism, many business ventures that have contributed to the “good life” that people experience today. However, the capitalism places money only a few hands of people within society. The consumer is seen as the creation of money through trade. At the end of the day, there is money circulation, and commodities on sale in the contemporary life as had been envisioned by the iconic philosopher and great thinker, Georg Simmel. Value exists only when commodities exchange hands in the contemporary society. There is a symbolic significance of money. Urban conditions that are characteristic of modernity make it necessary for creation of “protective organ.”
In The Metropolis and Mental Life, the metropolis that lives in the urban area is for instance, different from another who stays in rural area. It is for a reason that life in the urban setting is always changing and an individual has to buffer him in the constantly changing environment. Life in the city is quite different. It is fast paced. People who stay in urban areas have a higher sense of intellect and logic than people who stay in rural areas. Simmel quotes: “
Instead of reacting emotionally, the metropolitan type reacts primarily in a rational manner . . . Thus the reaction of the metropolitan person to those events is moved to the sphere of mental activity that is least sensitive and furthest removed from the depths of personality. (12)
The Critique relates most of Simmel’s to real life
A great philosopher, he was a great think who talked of secrecy, fashion, sociology, metropolitan individual and modernity and money. Many writers and thinkers of his time critiqued him as would be expected, but the bottom line is that his works and articles explain most issues, some that are relevant even in the contemporary society. The paper is a critique of some of the issues he articulated in his articles and quotes him in some instances.