On Simmel's conception of philosophy

Continental Philosophy Review 41 (3):301-322 (2008)
Over the past few decades, the work of Georg Simmel (1858–1918) has again become of interest. Its reception, however, has been fairly one-sided and selective, mostly because Simmel’s philosophy has been bypassed in favor of his sociological contributions. This article examines Simmel’s explicit reflections on the nature of philosophy. Simmel defines philosophy through three aspects which, according to him, are common to all philosophical schools. First, philosophical reasoning implies the effort to think without preconditions. Second, Simmel maintains that in contrast to other sciences, only philosophy is oriented toward constructing a general view of the world. Third, Simmel claims that philosophical work worthy of the name creates a sphere of a typical way of being in relation to world, a third sphere that is between the personal and the objective. According to Simmel, what has made philosophy’s eminent figures great is that they have advanced a type of thinking and developed it into a particularly interesting form, and this type can still correspond with the way we experience the world. It is significant that these three aspects through which Simmel defines philosophical activity emphasize the forms of questioning, not the contents or objects of thought. Still, he thinks that an interaction with concrete examples is always required in order to make philosophy a meaningful activity. This stance is reflected in the wide variety of topics studied by Simmel himself. In his last works Simmel began to emphasize another aspect of philosophy, its nature as a living movement of thought related to fundamental human limitedness: just as life itself ceaselessly reaches beyond its present form, so philosophy constantly strives to overcome the preconditions of thinking.
Keywords Georg Simmel  Conception of philosophy  Type of philosopher  Philosophy of life
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DOI 10.1007/s11007-008-9083-8
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