“How is society possible?” The mirror image of Simmel’s famous question is: “How is individuality possible?” To answer this question Simmel developed a philosophy and sociology of individualism. The “tragedy of individuality” consists of the hiatus between the social structure offering freedom and individuality and the culture unable to provide the necessary meaning and orientation. This is shown with respect to epistemic, structural, cultural and ethic individuality.
The paper shows that the semantic complex of freedom assumes the form of a twofold freedom as horizontally differentiated realms of meaning gain autonomy: on the one side, individual and interpersonal freedom, and, on the other side, the freedom and self-determination of social fields or subsystems, both of which presuppose, stabilize, and destabilize one another. This co-constitution is proven with three exemplary thinkers. Simmel sees money as a decisive factor in the genesis of the modern social form of freedom and individuality. His argument is brought into systematic comparison with Constant’s prior work on individual freedom in European modernity, and with Luhmann’s later notion of contingency and constitutionally guaranteed freedom of communication as prerequisite for factual differentiation. It is demonstrated that in Simmel’s work, the modern variant of the social form of freedom is described as a specific interrelation that ties the objectification of culture to a depersonalisation of social differentiation as well as to a temporalization of dependencies.
Every sociology rests on representations that are not explicitly thematised, and are in concordance with an atmosphere and cultural formations. These representations correspond to what Panofsky called a mental habit. which is transferable from one field of activity or thought to another. The essay shows how both the themes of individuality and of Bildung play back on G. Simmel's conception and place of the "social" and, consequently, on his sociological view.
Simmel’s work has often been interpreted as a succession of disparate phases of development following contradictory epistemological paradigms and intellectual stances. By analysing the ‘money or life metaphor’ Hans Blumenberg delivered the paradigmatic assessment for the consistency of Simmel’s philosophical work. The present paper critically extends this approach in order to understand the meaning of Simmel’s life and forms paradigm and shows that its preeminent theoretical contribution concerns sociological theory. From the analysis emerges that Simmel’s delivers a consistent alternative to Parson’s conception of functional differentiation in form of a theory of qualitative societal differentiation. In this frame, Simmel’s critical adoption and transformation of Marx’ theory of societal conflict allows for the foundation of an open-end theory of the development of modernity in the different domains of culture.