Georg Simmel: biography of this German philosopher and sociologist

Throughout history, different cultures and societies have arisen, developing and dying, generating many ways of thinking and seeing the world. Philosophy and sociology are fundamental elements to understand not only its evolution, but also the very functioning of society and the discussion of the many aspects of life.

There have been many authors who have developed both disciplines, but few who have continued to perform microsociological analyzes such as interpersonal relationships or the structuring of reasoning. One of them, who would serve as a precursor to symbolic interactionism and the scientific development of sociology, was Georg Simmel. This author participated in the early stages of sociology and developed his own philosophical thought.

Throughout this article let’s see a brief biography of Georg Simmel.

    Brief biography of Georg Simmel

    Georg Simmel was born in Berlin on March 1, 1858, the seventh and youngest son of Edward and Flora Simmel. Her family, of Jewish descent, was prosperous and cultured, although her relationship with her mother was never close to being too overbearing. Despite this, and regardless of whether his parents converted to Christianity, throughout his life he had to deal with widespread anti-Semitism in society.

    His father died in 1874, which ultimately led his family to a precarious economic situation. At that time, a family friend, Julius Friedländer, took over and became the guardian of little Georg. Thanks to him be able to study in a gymnasium in Berlin, Coming to finish high school before entering university.

    University training and start of teaching activity

    After completing his primary and secondary education, Simmel enrolled at the University of Berlin to study philosophy and history, subjects of great interest to him, as well as to take courses in social sciences and psychology.

    During his training, which he did entirely in Berlin, he made contact with important philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists and would study works such as that of Kant.. Despite this, he had difficulties during his studies: in 1880, the university rejected a work which he intended to use as a doctoral thesis, referring to the origin of music. Fortunately and then varying the subject to metaphysics, he succeeded in obtaining a doctorate with the thesis The nature of matter according to Kant’s physical monadology (thesis which even received a Kaiser prize).

    At the end of his studies, he obtained with some effort the qualification to be appointed privatdozent, private professor, in 1885: a place little valued but which allowed him to stay in contact with the university. Despite this, his great training and interest in many subjects made him a deeply popular teacher and loved by his students, because in addition to working on unusual areas of philosophy, he tried to bring them closer to subjects close to those who cared for them.

      Publications and personal relationships

      Also, during this period, he also began to write publications which would gradually gain more and more prestige, even internationally. In 1890, he married Gertrude Kinel, painter and intellectual with whom he had a son, And from whose hand he met and established a good relationship with thinkers like Max Weber.

      In this context, he began to develop some of his most important philosophical works, introducing and being one of the forerunners of sociology as a science with publications such as On Social Differentiation or Introduction to Moral Science, in which work on subjects such as sociology or the impossibility of working on scientific ethics beyond simple description.

      In addition to this author, Simmel began to organize various gatherings with great authors such as Stefan George, Edmund Husserl and Walter Benjamin. He also made several trips to Italy. In 1900 the University recognized his multiple contributions by appointing extraordinary professor, but despite this not accepting him as a university professor (which provoked the indignation of many intellectuals).

      In 1908, he published Sociology, helping to found this discipline on a scientific level. Also at this time, he focused on the concept of life, leaving aside the field of sociology as such to enter a more metaphysical and existentialist realm.

      Despite the marginality to which its origin condemns, he succeeded in founding the German Sociological Society alongside Weber. Around 1914, coinciding with the First World War, the University would finally give him a chair.

      Heritage in sociology and philosophy

      Sadly, throughout 1918 the author contracted liver cancer, which ultimately led to his death soon after. Georg Simmel died on September 28, 1918 in the city of Strasbourg. In his last year he would develop publications like The Conflict of Modern Culture or Intuition of Life: Four Metaphysical Chapters, in the last of which we see his metaphysical position in his last days.

      Simmel’s contributions are innumerable: although relatively unknown and marginalized by the academic field of his time, he greatly contributed to making sociology a science, working on aspects such as authority and individuality or personal relationships. He was also a controversial and interesting philosopher who touched on topics such as immortality, moral relativism, life, love, and ethics, and the works inspired many later authors.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Rammstedt, O. and Cantó, N. (2000). Georg Simmel (1858-1918). Papers, 62: 11-24.

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