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Georg Simmel

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Best Known For:

  • A first generation German sociologist and friend of Max Weber.
  • His neo-Kantian approach to sociology, which laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism.
  • His structuralist styles of reasoning.

Birth:

George Simmel was born March 1, 1858.

Death:

He died September 28, 1918.

Early Life And Education:

Simmel was born in Berlin, Germany as the youngest of seven children. His father died when Simmel was still young, and a family friend was appointed his guardian. Simmel’s father, a successful businessman, left him with a sizable inheritance, which would set him up for life as a scholar. Simmel studied history and philosophy at the University of Berlin and received his doctorate in 1881.

Career and Later Life:

Upon receiving his doctorate, Simmel became a lecturer at the University of Berlin. His courses ranged from logic and the history of philosophy to ethics, social psychology, and sociology. He was a very popular lecturer, not only inside the university, but also among Berlin’s intellectual elite.

Simmel remained a lecturer for fifteen years, yet was always considered an academic outsider. He had a hard time gaining acceptance in the academic community, despite the support of well-known academics like Max Weber. In 1901, Simmel was finally elevated to the rank of “extraordinary professor,” however it was only considered an honorary title that still did not allow him to take part in the affairs of the academic community.

Despite his outsider treatment, Simmel continued his intellectual and academic work and cofounded the German Society for Sociology with Ferdinand Tonnies and Max Weber. In 1914, he was appointed to a professor with chair at the then University of Strassburg. At the start of World War I, however, all academic activities and lectures were halted and lecture halls were converted into military hospitals.

Simmel was a very prolific writer. He authored more than two hundred articles that appeared in a variety of journals, newspapers, and magazines during his lifetime with several more published after he died. He wrote fifteen major works in the fields of sociology, ethics, philosophy, and cultural criticism.

Simmel married his wife Gertrud in 1890 and together they lived a comfortable and fairly sheltered bourgeois life. Gertrude was a philosopher and author herself, who published under the name Marie-Luise Enckendorf. She wrote about diverse topics such as the philosophy of religion, and sexuality.

Major Publications

  • On Social Differentiation (1890)
  • The Problems of the Philosophy of History (1892)
  • Introduction to the Science of Ethics (1892-1893)
  • The Philosophy of Money (1900)
  • Sociology: Investigations on the Forms of Sociation (1908)

References

Johnson, A.G. (2000). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Coser, L.A. (1977). Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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