From Georg Simmel On Individuality and Social Forms ed. Donald Levine


Society: exists where a number of individuals enter into interaction (interaction is the key to everything with Simmel), which arises on the basis of certain drives or for the sake of certain purposes. Unity (or sociation) in the empirical sense constitutes the interaction of elements (ie. individuals in the case of society).

Individuals are the loci of all historical reality, but the materials of life are not social unless they promote interaction. This follows since only this sociation can transform the a mere aggregation of isolated individuals into specific forms of being with and for one another.

In terms of Simmel's famous form/content dichotomy: any social phenomenon is composed of two elements which in reality are inseparable (distinction is only analytical).
1) Content: the interest, purpose, or motive of the phenomenon or interaction
2) Form: the mode of interaction among individuals through/in the shape of which the specific content achieves social reality.
Furthermore, the existence of society requires a reciprocal interaction among its individual elements, mere spatial or temporal aggregation of parts is not sufficient.

According to Simmel, THE TASK OF SOCIOLOGY is to analytically separate these forms of interaction or sociation from their contents and to bring these together under a consistent scientific viewpoint. Form/content analysis rests upon two principles: 1) the same form of sociation is observed in dissimilar contents and in relation to differing purposes; and 2) content is expressed through a variety of different forms of sociation as its medium.

According to Simmel you can have a little society or a lot of society. Basically there is no such thing as society ''as such'' - the 'quantity' of society boils down to the degree or kind of interaction or sociation that occurs.

Simmel conceives sociology as the science of social forms (in a sense affording form analytic primary over content - although in reality they are inseparable). He makes use of a helpful analogy of geometry as the study of forms (ie. shapes) which may exist in an unlimited variety of physical materials. Simmel believes that sociology should leave the examination of the content of societal interaction to other sciences (such as psychology or economy) in the way that geometry leaves content analysis to the physical sciences.

Q: Is the task of a science to discover timelessly valid laws or to present and conceptualize real, unique historical processes?
A: Not surprisingly Simmel doesn't answer this question straight-forwardly. On the one hand a conceptual object (form) may be abstracted from social phenomena which holds unique properties and operates according to laws relating to the objective nature of these phenomena across distinct spatiotemporal instances. On the other hand, sociation may be examined in terms of the actual unfolding of social interaction in specific times and places (a historical type of analysis).
?: So what is he saying? IMHO, social interactions in reality are complex phenomena (integrated form/content) and it is appropriate for some scientific disciplines to explore the ways in which actual cases of sociation unfold. Sociology, however, should concern itself with abstracting generalizable social forms from a cross section of actual phenomena and identifying specific characteristics, features, and dynamics of these forms that remain valid across a wide array of forms. Basically, he thinks that the dilemma can be resolved by reconceptualizing sciences as specifically concerned with either formal or content-related aspects of actual phenomena or objects.

All this said, how are we supposed to study society? Simmel acknowledges that serious problems of methodology face sociology - a product of the complex nature of the subject matter and the task of formal analysis that he proposes. In the end, though, he believes that the sociologist must employ intuitive procedures to express sociological relevance by means of examples. This involves a comparative analysis of specific occurrences (content) and the deductive analysis - or reconstruction - of the relations, connections, and dynamics that can be observed among facially disparate examples.



Simmel views exchange as the purest and most concentrated form of significant human interaction. In fact, much action that may initially appear to be unilateral actually involves reciprocal effects (ie. is a form of exchange) and generally all interactions may more-or-less be conceived of as exchange. One characteristic of exchange is that the sum of values (of the interacting parties) is greater afterward than it was before - ie. each party gives the other more than he had himself possessed.

The Nature of Economic Exchange

Economic Exchange - regardless of whether it involves material objects, labor, or embodied labor - entails the sacrifice of some good that has other potential uses. To some extent value attached to a particular object (ie material or in the form of labor) comes about through the process of exchange itself. The Isolated Individual behaves as if in relations of exchange, but in this case with the natural order rather than with a second free agent. Sacrifice is a major component of exchange and may in some case take the form of an ''opportunity cost'' in the traditional economic sense. In addition, the give-and-take between sacrifice and attainment within the individual underlies every two-sided exchange. (By formulating exchange in this way, Simmel furthers his argument for the generalization of exchange, even in the case of the isolated individual.)

Exchange as Creative Process
Simmel believes that exchange is just as productive or creative of values as is ''production'' in the common sense. Along these lines exchange constitutes a displacement of materials between individuals, while production involves an exchange of material with nature. Value and exchange (as an actually inseparable factor) constitute the foundation of our practical life in the sense that we relate to the objects around us by conferring them with value in

The Significance of Sacrifice
Sacrifice is not always just an external barrier to our goals; it is rather the inner condition of the goal and of the way to is. Only through elimination the resistance that stands between us and our goals do our powers, abilities, and capacities have an opportunity to demonstrated and prove themselves. This follows along Simmel's general principle that (absolute) unity evolves through a dialectical process of synthesis and contradiction.
Exchange (here expressed as labor) can occur in two forms distinguished on the basis of the sacrifice involved: 1) absolute - the sacrifice is the desire for comfort and leisure where work is annoying and troublesome; and 2) relative - indirect sacrifice (of non-labor) occurs in cases where the work is performed indifferently or actually carries a positive value - an opportunity cost dynamic is working here.

The Relativity of Value
Value is not contained within an individual object; but rather is a product of a process of comparison, the content of which does not lie within these things themselves. We project the concept of determinacy of value back into the thing, which we presumed the objects to have had before the comparison. ie: value is relative and exists only within a dynamic of comparison.

The Source of Value
We can conceive of economic activity (a form of exchange) as a sacrifice in return for a gain where the value of the gain from an object derives from the measure of the sacrifice demanded in acquiring that object. Value is always situationally determined in such a way that in the moment of the exchange - of the making of the sacrifice - the value of the exchanged object forms the limit which is the highest point to which the value of the object being given away can rise. Therefore an exchange is always ''worth it'' to the parties involved, at least at the actual instant the exchange takes place. Simmel suggests that sacrifice itself can produce value. We need only thing of the case of ''easy money'' and how easily it is spent: the easy-come-easy-go principle. Economic value therefore does not reside in some the self-existence of an object, but comes to an object only through the expenditure of another object which is given for it.

The Process of Value Formation: Creating Objects through Exchange
Simmel quotes the fairy godfather of the U of C (ie Kant): ''The conditions of experience are at the same time the conditions of the objects of experience.'' hmmmm.... Turning to the matter at hand, Simmel goes on to say that the possibility of economy is at the same time the possibility of the objects of economy. The transaction between two possessors of objects which bring them into the 'economic' relation (ie reciprocal sacrifice) at the same time elevates each of these objects to the category of value. Simmel also states that exchange is neither giving or receiving per se, but rather is a new third process that emerges when those processes are simultaneously the cause and effect of each other. I chalk this up as a classic ''simmelism'' - exchange is the dynamic (dialectical?) interaction between giving and receiving.

Primitive Exchange,br> Subjectively, the action of exchange stands outside evaluation of the equality or inequality of the items exchanged. In this respect, factors of utility and scarcity do not themselves generate value, beyond the instances where useful or scarce objects are desired in exchange. A wholly one-sided desire for an object must first be satisfied through actual possession of the object in order for other objects to be compared to it. Before this stage the object of obsessive desire is in a sense ''priceless'' before it can obtain value by comparison with other objects (and the potential of exchange). This discussion highlights the dynamics underlying the relative value of things.

Value and Price
As stated above in slightly different terms: in each individual case of exchange no party pays a price which under the circumstances is too high for the thing obtained.
The concept of a generalized equivalence of price and value can be approached from two considerations:
1) relative stability of relations which determine the majority of exchange transactions, and
2) analogies which set uncertain value-relations according to the norms of existing ones
A standard of value arises - at least in part - from the fact that labor power acts on various materials and fashions products so that it creates the possibility of exchange - labor power is perceived as a sacrifice which one makes for the sake of the fruits of labor. (This line of thought marks point at which Simmel's work may be compared to theorists who engage in a more detailed and explicit analysis of labor power and its dynamics.) Simmel notes the universal correlation between scarcity-value and exchange value, but stresses the reverse relation whereby we can modify the level or degree of scarcity. Simmel also states that the aversion to economic exchange in primitive cultures results from a lack of a generally accepted standard of value and the intimate link between the individual and the product of their labor. (ie a lack of a normative context for the process of exchange)

The Cultural Foundations of Exchange
In early cultures sacral and legal forms, as well as public and traditional arrangements helped to develop the transsubjective element the very nature of exchange demands. Exchange is originally a matter of (customary, fixed) social arrangements, until individuals become sufficiently acquainted with objects and their respective values to be able to set the terms of exchange from case to case. Simmel declares exchange a sociological structure sui generis: a primary form and function of interindividual life. Further, exchange is the economic realization of the relativity of things - which can evolve only through a reaching out beyond the individual possible only in a plurality (hence the social nature of exchange).


Conflict resolves divergent dualisms, in such a way as achieves some kind of unity, even though one of the conflicting parties may be injured or destroyed. Therefore, conflict has the positive characteristic of resolving the tension between contrasts. Indifference (as in the rejection or termination of sociation) is a purely negative phenomenon. Simmel also contends that conflict is necessary for (societal) change to occur since a purely harmonious group (a pure ''unification'') is not only empirically unreal, but could not support real life process.

Society, then, is actually the result of both the positive and negative categories of interaction, which manifest themselves as wholly positive. This brings up the issue of the apparent dualisms Georg is always bandying around. When he actually addresses the subject he makes the point that he does not promote the traditional notion of polar differentiations. Rather he thinks that we must think of these polar differentiations as of one life. We might construct these conceptual categories to help us understand reality, but the actual reality we seek to comprehend (ie life) exists as an integrated, unitary phenomenon. So Simmel supports the notion of unity rather than dualism. A similar line of thought can be seen in Ch 24 of this same text - which we will be getting to later.

Some of the confusion around the concept of unity, Simmel believes lies in its two-fold meaning:
1) unity as consensus and concord of interacting individuals (as opposed to dissensus and discord)
2) unity as total group-synthesis of persons, energies, and forms

In certain cases of interaction, opposition is actually an element in the relationship itself. Conflict may not be only a means of preserving the relation, but also one of the concrete functions which actually constitute the relation itself. This is a case of conflict in its latent form (he cites marriage, the Hindu caste system, and the necessary distance and aversions of urban life as examples). Simmel notes that conflict must cooperate with unity in generating social structure. His analysis returns to the notion that elements of a relationship (or a social structure) may not actually be experiences as conflictual/unifying but that this tendency to interpret separateness may constitute an artifact of hindsight and post facto perspective. Reality is dynamic and unity, but our interpretations and attempts to comprehend it tend to impose a dualistic/categorical matrix for interpretation.

Antagonism does not itself produce sociation, but it is a sociological element almost never present in it. Fighting is in some cases a means determined by a superior purpose, while in other cases there are inner engergies which can be satisfied only through conflict (fighting as an end in itself). Antagonistic game: game carried on without any prize for victory, but which exists only for the fight itself. Antagonists unite under the same set of rules/norms in order to fight.

Legal Conflict: has an object and can successfully be terminated through voluntary concession of that object, therefore legal conflict is not conflict for the sake of fighting (cf antagonistic game). Legal conflict with respect of form is an absolute instance, where claims on both sides are exercised with pure objectivity and with all means permitted; it is further pure conflict in the sense that nothing enters its whole action which does not belong to the conflict as such and serves its purpose. This eliminating of all that is not conflict (for example personal elements) can tend to result in a formalism which becomes independent of all contents. Legal conflict rests on a broad basis of unities and agreements between the enemies, since both are equally subordinated to the law.

Conflicts over causes: cases where the parties involved in a conflict have the same objective interests - the conflict interests (and therefore the conflict itself) are differentiated from the personalities involved. There are two possible arrangements here: 1) the conflict can focus on purely objective decisions, leaving all personal elements outside itself and in a state of peace, or 2) conflicts may involve the persons in their subjective aspects without leading to any alteration or disharmony of the so-existing objective interests common to both parties. In the case of (1) above, there are two possible outcomes: a) useless embitterments and other forms of personalization of conflict may be eliminated, or b) parties may develop a consciousness of being mere representatives of supra-individual claims - ie. fighting for a cause. Simmel notes that the latter may result in the radicalism and mercilessness of conflict observed in many idealistically-inclined persons. Simmel cites Marxism as a struggle for super-personal goals. Here, the objectifications of conditions of labor are no longer a personal struggle or repression since antagonists are not personal, but have been elevated/generalized to the level of classes - ie. the bourgeoisie and working class as opposed to specific owners or workers. In this instance as in other similar cases where an individual is in the position of fighting for a larger superpersonal aim, this common basis of the conflict increases - rather than decreases - the irreconcilability, intensity and stubborn consistency of the fight.

Common qualities vs. memberships as bases of conflict
Two kinds of commonality may form the bases of particularly intense antagonism:
1) common qualities and 2) common membership is a larger social structure Dissonance appears (relatively) more intense and extreme against a generally homogenous and harmonious background of relations between parties. The more we have in common with another party as whole persons, the easier it is for our totality to be involved in every single relation to that party. Therefore conflict among similar parties tends to occur more often in the context of intimate relationships in which betrayal/conflict seems relatively more intense especially in contrast with the harmonious state of past relations - et tu Brute?
A final instance of conflict on the basis of common membership is the case of the renegade. Here conflict results from separation of previously homogenous elements. Recall of the earlier state of agreement and the fact that there is ''no going back'' makes conflict more sharp and bitter than if no relationship had existed in the past.


Yet another one of those one-word titles - kind of like Cher, Sting, Bono, Edge, Weiland, etc. anyhow.... Domination may facially appear as a desire to completely determine the actions of another party. This is not really the case since what ego truly seeks is that her/his influence should be reflected and act back upon her/him. Domination is, therefore a case of interaction, rather than a unidirectional dynamic. The notion of society is, in fact, dependent on the independent significance of (both) interaction parties - ie. a societas leonina is no society at all.

Authority relations actually possess more freedom on the part of the party subjected to the authority than is generally supposed.
An authority structure can come about in two different ways:
1) Individual: a person of superior significance or strength acquires an overwhelming weight of his opinions, a faith, or a confidence which attain a character of objectivity (ie: to ''take someone's word as gospel'')
2) Institutional: a supra-individual power clothes a person with a reputation, dignity, power of ultimate decision which would never flow from that person's individuality Simmel suggests that the voluntary faith of the party subjected to authority supports the notion that such relations are not totally determined by the superordinate. As evidence he cites the very ''feeling of oppressiveness'' of authority which he supposes would be absent in if the autonomy of the subordinate were eliminated.
Prestige (as distinguished from authority) lacks the element of super-subjective significance and lacks the identity of the personality with an objective power or norm. As such, prestige is determined solely by the strength of the individual and often leaves less room for criticism than is possible with the distance inherent between the parties in more objective authority relations.

Superordination may be exerted by 1) an individual, 2) a group, or 3) an objective force (social or ideal).
Subordination of a group under an individual can lead to decisive unification of the group in one of two ways:
1) A pre-existing organic group consists of an internal unit with its head. Here the ruler leads the group forces and will of the group finds unitary expression or body.
2) A group unites in opposition to its head and forms a party against the head. Here superordination by the ruler is the actual cause of sociation among group members.
Simmel also brings up the point that not just equal, but also unequal, relations of group members to the dominating head can give solidity to the social form characteristic of subordination under the individual. Here the varying distance or closeness to the leader creates a differentiation. In such a case, the formal characteristics of subordination under the individual may obtain even where the superordinate is a ''collective individual'' so-to-speak (Simmel uses the example of ''the Brahman'' in the Hindu caste system). Common enmity is a particularly potent catalyst to groups solidarity in cases where the common adversary is also the common ruler. Simmel suggests that there is at least a latent character of enmity in most relations to the ruler which exist as a combination of obedience and opposition. Contrary to the foregoing, in some cases common subordination of a group to a ruling power can lead to dissociation.

Simmel cites a ''threshold phenomenon'': when enmity between social elements exceeds a certain limit common oppression has a dissociative effect. There are two reasons: 1) once there is a domination resentment in a certain direction additional strain only served to intensify the general irritation, and 2) common suffering by pressing suffering elements closer together reveals more strikingly their inner distance and irreconcilability.

The Higher Tribunal another unifying element of subordination; a party (abstract or consisting of a person or group of individuals) which exists on a higher plane to which all members of a group occupy an equally subordinate position and to which one appeals for decisions or whose interference one accepts because it is felt to be legitimate. Removing discord between parties is often easier is they both stand under such a higher power. Such a higher tribunal may be pre-existing, or a transformation of elements could bring about a new situation where parties are places upon a new and common basis.

Subordination under a Plurality
The significance (or effect) of superordination by a plurality for the subordinates varies greatly from case to case.
One of the most important factors distinguishing this form of subordination (from that under an individual) lies in that character of objectivity obtaining to the relationship. This characteristic excludes certain feelings, impulses, and leanings that are effective in individual (but not in collective) actions. The source of variation in the subjective condition of these relationship lies in the particular expression of this ''objective'' characteristic in actual instances. For example in certain cases subordination under a plurality may give the relationship an air of distance or impartiality that can benefit the subordinate. On the other hand this objectivity often displays a negative character in case of collective behavior - namely, the suspension of certain norms to which the single individual ordinarily adheres. The brutality and mercilessness observed in crowd action or riots, Simmel believes, results because a collective has no subjective state of mind and is unable to mentally recreate suffering - an essential source of compassion - in the same way as an individual can.
Simmel distinguishes between two kinds of collectivities:
1) an abstract plurality such as a church, state, or similar entity that could be described as a 'legal person.' Such a group is the result of a plurality as a self-consistent and particular structure - the embodiment of an abstraction.
2) a physically co-present mass which is simple a group of people gathered in physical and temporal proximity/contact. It is to this latter kind of plurality that Simmel primarily attributes the negative attributes of the suspension of personal differences, which occurs in both types of collectivities. A classic example of this second type is the 'crowd' so-called - in fact Simmel seems to jump on the 'crowd mentality' bandwagon that was making the rounds at the turn of the century (maybe he shared a seat with Gustave LeBon:)

Subordination under a Principle
Subordination to an impersonal objective principle precludes a real, immediate interaction to the effect that the individual is deprived of some degree of freedom - ie we are subordinated in a relationship to an idea or ideal construction that we did not initiate and which we have little/no ability to alter. However, for modern objective individuals - according to Georg - subordination to a law which functions as the representative of impersonal, uninfluencable powers is a more dignified condition than to be engaged in a more personal relation of subordination.

Changing gears a little, Simmel finds that Plato recognizes that the best means of counteracting selfishness among rulers is government by impersonal law. On the other hand Plato also believed that in the ideal state, the welfare of the whole required that the ruler stay above the law. Rigidity was felt to be a serious weakness of law, since rigid laws were poorly able to adapt to changing conditions. Plato felt that there should be laws that must never be broken only in the case where there were no true statesmen. Subordination under objects was one form of sub. under a principle that Simmel found particularly harsh and unconditional, since as much as a person is subordinated by virtue of belonging to a thing, s/he psychologically sinks to the category of mere thing. Some examples would be Russian serfdom, patriarchal relations (belonging to a person), and to some extent in the case of the modern factory worker. Conscience: the superordinate principle can be interpreted as a psychological crystallization of an actual social power - the case of the moral imperative. The content of morality comes from social norms which are internalized into the individual through the process of socialization. So the moral command has the dual character of being at the same time personal and impersonal. At a higher state of morality, however, the contrast between individual and totality disappears and the norm acts as an end in itself which must be satisfied for its own sake - an abstract ideal. In practice, however, motivation for adhering to norms is mixed: a combination of individual, social, and abstract objectives.


Society must be considered a reality in a double sense. On the one hand are the individuals in their directly perceptible existence, the bearers of the processes of association, who are united by these processes into the higher unity which is the society. On the other hand, there the interests which, living in the individuals, motivate such a union.

It is for the sake of special needs and interests that individuals unite (in economic associations, blood fraternities and the like). Above their special content, though, all associations are accompanied by a feeling for, by a satisfaction in, the very fact that one is associated with others and that the solitariness of the individual is resolved into togetherness, a union with others. There is in all effective motive to associate a feeling of worth in, a valuing of the form of association as such, a drive which presses toward this form of existence. The impulse to sociability distills our of the realities of social life (content) the pure essence of association (form), of the associative process as a value and a satisfaction.

Play draws its great essential themes from the realities of life: chase and cunning; proving of physical and mental powers, the contest and reliance on chance. By freeing these themes (forms) from the substance of real life, play gets its cheerfulness but also the symbolic significance that distinguishes it from pure pastime. Similarly, sociability makes up its substance from numerous fundamental forms of serious relationships among individuals, a substance spared the frictional relations of real life. But out of its formal relations to real life, sociability takes on a symbolically playing fullness of life and a significance which superficial rationalism always seeks only in the content. Only the sociable gathering is ''society'' without qualifying adjectives, because it alone presents the pure, abstract play form, all the specific contents of the one-sided and qualified societies being dissolved away.

Sociability is, then, the play-form of association. Since sociability in its pure form has no ulterior end, no content, and just involves the satisfaction of the impulse to sociability - the process remains strictly limited to its personal bearers. Therefore, the character of purely sociable association is determined by the variety of personality traits possessed by the participants. It is important that the persons should not display their individualities with too much abandon. Particularly relevant here is the sense of tact, which guides the self-regulation of the individual in her/his personal relations to others where no outer or directly egoistic interests provide regulations. In sociability, whatever the personality has of objective importance, of features which have their orientation toward something outside the circle, must not interfere with purely sociable interaction. The most purely and deeply personal qualities must be excluded from sociability - it would be tactless to do otherwise. There is an upper and a lower sociability threshold for the individual - s/he should remove the objective qualities of personality, but should stop short of displaying the purely subjective and inward parts of her/his personality.

According to Kant: everyone should have that measure of freedom which could exist along with the freedom of every other person. Simmel says something similar of sociability: everyone should have as much satisfaction of the sociability impulse as is consonant with the satisfaction of the impulse for all others. Put in a slightly different way: everyone should guarantee to the other that maximum of sociable values which is consonant with the maximum of values received by that person. Sociability creates an ideal sociological world, one in which the pleasure of the individual is always supposed to be contingent upon the joy of others. The world of sociability is an artificial, ideally democratic one, made up of beings who have renounced both the objective and the purely personal features of the intensity and extensiveness of life in order to bring about themselves as pure interaction.

Inasmuch as sociability is the abstraction of association, it demands the purest, most transparent, most engaging kind of interaction - that among equals. This kind of dynamic which is right and proper in the sociable context becomes a lie when this is mere pretense and the interaction is guided by purposes other than pure sociability.

Conversation is the epitome of sociability as the abstraction of the forms of sociological interaction. In sociable conversation, the content is not important per se, but the form the conversation takes as an end in itself is crucial to its function/purpose. In order that this play may retain its self-sufficiency at the level of pure form, the content must receive no weight of its own account. It is not the content of sociable conversation is a matter of indifference; it must be interesting, gripping, even significant - only it is not the purpose of the conversation that these qualities should square with objective results, which stand by definition outside the conversation. The content of conversation, however, is to be kept above all individual intimacy, beyond everything purely personal that would not fit into the categories of sociability.



Simmel believes that nature and culture are only two different ways of looking at the same phenomenon, since the state of culture can be caused by its ''natural'' originating conditions.

The concept of nature carried two different meanings: 1) it signifies the all-inclusive complex of phenomena connected in causal chains - nature purely as a course of events, and 2) it signifies a particular phase in the development of a subject - nature takes on a narrower/local meaning at the point beyond which cultural development replaces it.

Cultivation: the transformation of a subject that involved the development of a latent (natural) structural potential that cannot be realized by the subject itself, but require an external agency such as culture for expression.

The Culture of a subject is the emergence of an altered state of existence through a process of interaction between natural forces and an intentional teleological intervention with follows the natural proclivities of the subject. As such, only humans are appropriate objects for culture, since only they contain developmental potential whose goals are determined purely in the teleology of its own nature - ie. the human being is intentionally goal directed and can alter his/her development through the deliberate application of technique at a certain point.

Culture exists only to the extent that the individual draw into his/her development external forms. Along these lines, even the highest accomplishments in specific fields (such as objects of art or works of religious faith) only have cultural significance to the extent that they become a general means for the cultivation of many individual souls. The more these products are separated from the subjectivity of their creator, the more integrated in to the objective order - the more these objects contain a cultural significance.

There are two sides to the concept of Culture:
Objective Culture: ideals or objects in such a state of development, elaboration, or perfection that they can lead the individual psyche to fulfillment or indicate a path to a heightened state of existence for individuals or collectivities.
Subjective Culture: the extent to which the individual (or collectivity) makes use of these objective cultural products for the purpose of development - it designates the level of development thus attained.

The relationship between objective and subjective culture:
Subjective culture is the overarching goal such that objective culture (a state of cultivation or manipulation) exists as a means toward the end of the subjective cultural development of a person/collectivity. There can be no subjective culture without objective culture, but objective culture can possess a degree of independence to the extent that cultural/cultivating objects may exist yet fail to be utilized for the purpose of cultural development.

In periods of high social complexity and extensive division of labor, accomplishments of culture can come to occupy an independent realm. The cultural object comes to be more perfected and intellectual and also more objectified along the lines of the internal logic of its own instrumentality. The supreme cultivation of subjects does not, however, increase proportionally. In effect objective culture outpaces subjective culture. This disparity between the level of objective cultural production and the cultural level of the individual represents one of the main sources of dissonance in modern life - as manifested in a dissatisfaction with technical progress.

CHAPTER 18: Group Expansion and the Development of Individuality (1908)

Group Expansion and the Transformation of Social Bonds
Individuality in being and action generally increases to the degree that the social circle encompassing the individual expands. Quantitative expansion of the group will produce an increase in social differentiation. Competition tends to develop the specialty of the individual in direct ratio to the number of participants. Strangely, this process will inevitably produce a gradual increasing likeness between two isolated groups (of increasing size). How is this so? Simmel says that there are only a limited number of fundamental human formation that can accompany groups expansion and differentiation. The more of these formations that are present in a group - i.e. the greater the dissimilarity of constituent elements - the greater the likelihood that an ever increasing number of structures will develop in one group that have equivalents in another. In short, likening will come about if for no other reason than because even within very diverse groups, the forms of social differentiation are identical or approximately the same.

Accompanying a process differentiation of social groups there arise a need and an inclination to reach out beyond the original spatial, economic, and mental boundaries of the group and, in connection with the increase in individualization and concomitant mutual repulsion of group elements, to supplement the original centripetal forces of the lone group with the centrifugal tendency that forms bridges with other groups. Simmel also notes that the modern association gravitates toward an all-embracing union of organizations by virtue of interpenetrating division of labor, leveling that results from equal justice and the case economy, and solidarity of interests in the national economy.

The Relation between Personal and Collective Individuality
This basic idea can be generalized to the proposition that in each person (other things being equal) there exists an unalterable ratio between individual and social factors that changes only in form. If the social circle in which we are active enlarges, there is more room in it for the development of our individuality; but as parts of this whole, we have less uniqueness: the larger whole is less individual as a social group. Expressed a different way, the elements of a distinctive social circle are undifferentiated, while the elements of a circle that is not distinctive are differentiated
As an example of this condition, Simmel cited the example of the Quakers. Although espousing religious principles of the mode extreme individualism and subjectiveness, Quakerism binds its members to a highly uniform and democratic way of life that seeks to exclude individual differences. Quakers are therefore individual only in collective matters, and in individual matters they are socially regulated.

The basic relation as a dualistic drive: we live as an individual within a social circle, with tangible separation from its other members, but also as a member of this circle, with separation from everything that does not belong to this group. Simmel believes that this principle can apply to characteristics other than group size, for example fashion. Along these lines, in one group the totality may have a very individual character at the same time as its parts are very much alike; conversely with another group the totality may be less colorful and less molded on an extreme while its parts are strikingly different from one another. We are able to exert some control over such matters, though. For example in a narrow circle, one can preserve one's individuality in one of two ways: (1) lead the circle, or (2) exist in it only externally, being independent of it in all essential matters. Simmel observes that the latter requires either great stability of character or eccentricity - both traits which are rather conspicuous in small group situations.

According to Simmel, we are surrounded by concentric circles of special interest - enclosing us narrowly or broadly. Although commitment to a narrow circle is generally less conducive to the strength of individuality (than is the case with general circles), it is psychologically significant that in a very large cultural community belonging to a family promotes individuality. The family as a collective individual offers its members a preliminary differentiation that at least prepares them for differentiation in the sense of absolute individuality. On the other hand, the family offers members shelter behind which that absolute individuality can develop until it has the strength to stand up against the greatest universality. In fact, the family has a peculiar sociological double role: (1) it is the extension of one's own personality; and (2) it constitutes a complex within which the individual distinguishes him/herself from all others, and in which s/he develops a selfhood and an antithesis. This nature of the family highlights an epistemological difficulty in sociology that is particularly the case of intermediate level structures: on the one hand, such circles function as entities with an individual character, but on the other hand they also function as higher-order complexes that may include complexes of a lower order.

Simmel identifies three levels of collecitvity: the single individual, smaller circles composed of them, and large groups embracing everyone (or at least multiple individuals or intermediate complexes). In general, he feels that the first and third parts are oriented toward one another and create a common antithesis against the middle level, manifested in objective as well as subjective relational patterns between people with these levels. A personal, passionate commitment by the individual human being usually involves the narrowest and the widest circles, but not the intermediate ones. Part of this can be accounted for by the fact that larger circles tend to encourage individual freedom, while more limited groups tend to restrict it.

The meaning of individuality, according to Simmel, can be separated into two more specific meanings: (1) individuality in the sense of freedom and responsibility for oneself that comes from a broad and fluid social environment; and (2) in the qualitative sense that an individual being distinguishes her/himself from all others, that being different has a positive meaning and value for that person's life. The first corresponds to a 18th cent. Enlightenment view of individuality (valuing what human beings have in common), while the latter corresponds to a 19th cent Romantic formulation (which values what separates us).

Simmel refers to an ''objective mind'' - the traditions and experiences of one's group, set down in thousands of forms; the art and learning that are present in tangible structures; all the cultural materials that the historical group possesses as something subjective and yet accessible to everyone. This generally accessible Mind provides both the material and the impetus for the development of distinct personal mental types. It is the essence of ''being cultured'' that our purely personal dispositions are sometimes realized as the form of what is given as a content of objective culture (Geist), sometimes as the content of what is given as a form of objective culture. Only in this synthesis does our mental life attain its full idiom and personality. As the circle increases, so do its cultural offerings and therefore the possibilities of our fully developing our inner lives, personalities.

The preeminent historical instance of the correlation between social expansion and the individuation of life contents and forms is provided by the emergence of the cash economy. The cash economy changes conditions along two lines: (1) the effects of money extend in to unboundable distances, and ultimately engender from the whole civilized world a single economic circle; and (2) money causes an enormous individualization of the participant in the economy.

Considerations of individuality in the political sphere tend to turn on questions of either the creation of an embracing public realm and the enhancement of the significance of its central organs, or on the autonomy of individual elements. In the religious realm, polytheism with a set of separate gods with control over discrete portions of existence tends to correspond toward the dynamics earlier identified as characteristic of ''narrow circles.'' Believers in different circles were often separated from each other be sharp internal and local boundaries, and often mutual indifference or hostility. The advent of an integrated monotheistic deity (e.g. Christianity) more closely resembles the broader circles identified above. Here, there seemed to be a dual trend within Christianity - on the one hand a thorough leveling of all believers (more character of Protestantisms), and on the other a tendency toward papal absolutism (Catholicism).

Ethics and Interests The expansion of the circle that fills the view and interest of individuals may frequently five rise to a particular form of egoism that engenders a real and ideal restriction of social spheres - promoting a greatheartedness that extends beyond the narrow interest circle of solidary comrades. Expansion, however, may also allow for the development of a more narrow, instrumental self-interest as is seen in the economic realm.

Through the elaboration of functional social organs, the large circle gains a special intrapersonal freedom and autonomy of being for its members, which permits the originally direct interaction of individuals to crystallize and be transferred to particular persons and complex structures. In effect the person must no longer devote his/her entire personality to such functional interactions (i.e. less personal investment involved in going to the 7 - 11 to buy a quart of milk than in going down the road to get it from a neighboring farmer with a cow). This leaves more room for personal individualization.


The charm of imitation can be found partly in the fact that it makes possible an expedient test of power which, however, requires no great personal and creative application but is displayed easily and smoothly - because its contents are a given quantity. Imitation further gives to the individual the satisfaction of not standing alone in his/her actions. Where imitation is a productive factor, we can see it as representing one of the fundamental tendencies of our (human) character - the part of us that contents itself with similarity, uniformity, adaptation of the special to the general, and which accentuates the constant element of change. Imitation, however, tends to be a negative and obstructive principle where prominence is given to change, individual difference, independence and relief from generality.

Fashion: (1) is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation; (2) leads the individual upon the road which furnishes a general condition, which resolves the conduct of every individual into a mere example; (3) satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency towards dissimilarity, the desire for change and contrast by means of a constant change of contents (of fashion); and (4) differs between the different classes such that fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical with those of the lower.

Fashion is a product of class distinction and operates like a number of other forms (e.g. honor), the double function of which consists of revolving within a given circle and at the same time emphasizing it as separate from others. Union and separation are, therefore, the two fundamental functions inseparably amalgamated in the form of fashion. Even though the individual object with it creates/recreates generally represents a more or less individual need, fashion is a product of social demands (as evinced by its collective, classed nature).

Although fashion occasionally will affect objectively determined subjects such as religious faith, scientific interests, even socialism or individualism, it does not become operative as fashion until these subjects can be considered independent of the deeper human motives from which they have arisen. The rule of fashion applies to externals (clothing, social conduct, amusements) for here no dependence if placed on real vital motives of human action. It is acceptable to imitate with respect to these superficial fields, where it would be a sin to follow in important matters.

The motive of foreignness, which fashion employs in its socializing endeavors, is restricted to higher civilization, because novelty (which foreign origin guarantees in extreme form) is often regarded by ''primitive'' races as an evil. Simmel contends that in (modern) civilization the exceptional, bizarre, conspicuous, or whatever departs from the customary norm exercises a peculiar (unique) charm entirely independent of material justification.

Two social tendencies are essential to the establishment of fashion: the need of union and the need of isolation. The very character of fashion demands that it should be exercised at one time only by a portion of the given group, the greater majority being on the road to adopting it (i.e. real fashion is not something everybody can express at the same time). The distinctiveness of a fashion is destroyed by mass adoption. By reason of this peculiar play between the tendency towards universal acceptance and the destruction of its very purpose to which this general adoption leads, fashion includes a peculiar attraction of limitation, the attraction of a simultaneous beginning and end, the charm of novelty coupled to that of transitoriness.

The fashionable person is regarded with mingled feelings of approval and envy; we envy her/him as an individual but approve of that person as a member of a set or group. Fashion furnishes an ideal field for individuals with dependent natures, whose self-consciousness, however, requires a certain amount of prominence, attention, and singularity. Fashion can raise even the unimportant individual by making him/her the representative of a class, the embodiment of a joint spirit. In a sense, a person can achieve a sense, expression of differentiation at an individual level by, ironically, conforming to a set of standards held by a wider group. You can have too much of a good thing, though. In the case of a type Simmel identified as ''the dude,'' exaggerated adherence to the demands of fashion subsumes the individualistic and peculiar character of fashion - making this type into a follower of the highest order. It is also interesting to note that the same combination which extreme obedience to fashion acquires can also be attained by opposition to it. Whoever consciously avoids following the fashion does not attain the consequent sensation of individualization through any real individual qualification, but through the mere negation of the social example. This amounts to inverse imitation, but is similar in many respects.

Women and fashion Simmel believes that the fact that fashion expresses and at the same time emphasizes the tendency towards equalization and individualization, and the desire for imitation and conspicuousness, perhaps explains why it is that women, broadly speaking, are its staunchest adherents. He believes that as a consequence of women's historical socially disadvantaged status, they (like all groups in a weak position) tend to adhere strictly to custom (which is ''appropriate''), and steer clear of individualization. Fashion is an ideal form of expression/individualization for such groups because it on the one hand involves imitation, with the individual relieved of responsibility for her/his tastes and actions. Yet there is still a certain conspicuousnes, an emphasis on an individual accentuation of personality. It should probably be added that fashion generally applies in aspects of society considered superficial or of secondary importance in promoting a social position of dominance. Therefore more powerful groups are likely to let fashion slide. For a woman, then, fashion in a certain sense gives a compensation for her lack of position in a class based on a calling or profession - giving a sense of solidarity with a larger group.

By reason of its peculiar inner structure, fashion furnishes a departure of the individual, which is always looked upon as proper. No matter how extravagant the form of appearance or manner of expression, as long as it is fashionable, it is protected against those painful reflections which the individual otherwise experiences when s/he becomes the object of attention. All concerned actions are characterized by the loss of this feeling of shame. Further, fashion is also a social form of great expediency because (like law) it affects only the externals of life, only those sides of life turned to society. It provides us with a formula by means of which we can unequivocally attest our dependence upon what is generally adopted, our obedience to the standards established by our time, our class, and our narrower circle. But at the same time, it enables us to withdraw the freedom given us in life from externals and concentrate it more and more in our innermost natures.

Simmel contends that the real variability of historical life is vested in the middle classes, and for this reason the history of social and cultural movements has fallen into a different pace since this class has become a dominant force. For this reason, fashion, which represents the variable and contrasting forms of life, has since then become much broader and more animated. Social advance above all is favorable to the rapid change of fashion. The modern world has brought some specific changes that have expanded fashion: technological advances in material production and expansion of the market economy. Both of which increase the scope of fashion and contribute to a general increase of the rate of cyclical changes in fashion. In effect, since individual fashions are easier to produce and spread, they tend to be less durable.


***NOTE The summary for this chapter consists of a diagram that can not presently be provided over the web nor can it be condensed to text. The diagram-summary is available on the disk version of these summaries.



Culture refers to a state where life produces certain forms in which it expresses and realizes itself - forms which are frameworks for the creative life which soon transcends them. Form acquires a fixed identity, a logic and lawfulness of its own; a rigidity which inevitably places it at a distance from the spiritual dynamic which created it and which makes that form independent. (In a round-about way, Simmel is - or will be - making the argument that the pure existential content of life constantly seeks expression, but this is only possible through form, which imposes a structure and fixity alien to life in its purest sense. What is building here is an ultimately fundamental conflict between content and form on the most basic level of life.)

History as an empirical science is devoted to examining the succession of cultural forms and through analysis of their changes, aims to discover the real carriers and causes of change in each particular case. This constant change in the content of culture bears testimony to the infinite fruitfulness of life.

Life in its true state is formless yet it constantly generates forms for itself (against which life is always in latent opposition). Therefore, life perceived the ''form as such'' as something forced upon it. Simmel notes the concern in his day regarding the increasing lack of form in modern life. He notes, however, that aside from a mere negative dying out of traditional forms there is also a simultaneous positive drive towards life which is actively repressing these forms.

Georg goes off on something of a tangent regarding the ''central idea of the epoch'' (which - on the surface at least - resembles Mannheim's 'spirit of the age'). The significance of this section to the rest of the chapter (imho) is basically illustrative to the more central themes. To summarize, every age is characterized by a dominant cultural form which represents the expression of the highest level of human advancement. For instance - Classical Greece: idea of being; Christian Middle Ages: concept of God; Renaissance: concept of nature; 17thC: concept of natural law, and later spiritual personality (ego); 19thC: society?; late 19th/early 20thC: concept of life.

Simmel notes that in his contemporary society the spirit of the age - so to speak - was not so much cultural and unitary as in earlier epochs, but was much more fragmentary and to the extent that it did exist was based more on specialized occupational experience than on culture per se. In effect there is no dominant form through which life is expressed in modern life.

In the case of art, for example, Simmel draws a contrast between Impressionism and Expressionism. The former, he notes, has as its intention a representation or imitation of a being or an event (ie. some form of life/existence). Expressionism, on the other hand, has as its aim the manifestation of inner emotion in the work exactly as experience by the artist such that the emotions are extended and continued in the art. In its ultimate sense, Expressionism seeks to escape from form in the expression of the artistic impulse to that the art may not just represent but be the impulse itself. Unlike other art traditions, the Expressionist art form does not have meaning by itself - ie. there is no necessary correspondence between the artistic impulse and the means through it is expressed as art.
Simmel also uses the examples of youth culture (and the search for originality), recent philosophical movements (something about Pragmatism), and contemporary religion (popularity of mysticism) to further illustrate the dialectic relationship between form and content and the seeming lack of form in modern culture - but (imho) not nearly to the effect as his more extended discussion on art.

The meat-and-potatoes (or potatos if you are a certain ex VP) of Simmel's argument is the following: There is a basic conflict inherent in the nature of cultural life. Life must either produce forms or proceed through them. Forms, however, belong to an entirely different order of being than life as such - demanding some content above and beyond life. Forms in their rigidity, in effect, contradict the fluid, dynamic essence of life. Form and life are thesis and antithesis. Life wishes to obtain something that it cannot achieve: to transcend all forms and exist in its ''naked immediacy'' - life per se. The concept of life, however, cannot be freed from logical imprecision since the process of conceptualization itself always involves the generation of form.

In conclusion, Simmel suggests that perhaps formlessness is merely the appropriate form of contemporary life.




Simmel feels that certain aspects of social life are strongly related to groups size. For instance, there is a tendency for greater group size to be associated with a greater level of structural differentiation (specialized organs to promote and maintain the interests of the group) as well as with a lesser degree of personal interaction (as seen in urban life).

I. Small Groups

A. Socialism: only works in small groups that are homogenous and where each individual can personally see the contributions of the other group members and the returns of socialism. A complex division of labor, however, is necessary to bind a large groups of people together via specialization and interdependence. As pertains to socialism, in a large group the division of labor would carry over into private life and result in feelings of inequality. Comparisons between individual achievement would become difficult.

B. Religious Sects: the tie of solidarity lies in the self-awareness that they are a small group singled out from the larger whole. These sects need the larger group as a contrast against which to realize their own specific nature. (Weber goes into greater detail about religious sects and the characteristics that distinguish them from larger churches - particularly selectivity - in ''Protestant sects and the spirit of capitalism'' in Gerth and Mills).

C. Aristocracies: aside from a relatively limited size, it also appears that there is an absolute size limit beyond which an aristocracy cannot be maintained. The aristocratic class must be surveyable by every member and each element must be personally acquainted with every other. Relations by blood and marriage as well as practice of primogeniture prevent expansion of the group. In fact aristocratic class consciousness is often only realized in the context of excluding outsiders. In safeguard its own survival, the small group (eg. a political aristocracy) must to preempt the personalities of its members and adopt a more confrontational stance against adversaries than would be seen in a larger group.

II. Large Groups: the Mass
Generally speaking, large groups show less radicalism and decisiveness than smaller groups. The mass, however is an exception to the rule. When activated by political, social, or religious movements large groups can be ''ruthlessly radical,'' especially when gathered in physical proximity and under the influence of nervous excitement. The key is that the mass can only be animated and guided by simple ideas - this is basically the ''lowest-common-denominator view of crowd dynamics.

III. Group Size, Radicalism, and Cohesiveness
Small parties are more radical than large ones, with the ideas that form the basis of the group itself put a limit on the radicalism. Small groups are more unitary and thus display a greater degree of solidarity, which in turn results in the potential for greater radicalism. A large party, on the other hand, must moderate its positions in order to cater to its heterogeneous constituency and maintain its support. The issue of completeness of a groups must be distinguished from that of size per se. A group's stance toward completeness often has important implications for the way in which that party deals with non-membership and competition.

IV. Paradoxes in Group Structure
Large groups create organs/structures that take the place of the personal interaction of small group situations in mediating the needs and actions of individuals. They are the abstract form of group cohesion, but can no longer exist once the groups exceeds a certain size. Beyond this point, they achieve a super-personal character with which they confront the individual - the alienation of organs in large groups such that they attain an objective/abstract character.

V. Numerical Aspects of Prominent Group Members
Structural differences among groups related to numerical differences are even more distinct in the roles played by certain prominent and effective members. Maintaining proportionality, exceptional groups are more effective in society with larger absolute numbers. So the relationship between elements depends not only upon their relative proportions, but also their absolute numbers.

VI. Custom, Law, Morality
The three general norms of custom, law, and morality develop into objective and super-social phenomena. The process can schematically be represented as follows:

content ---] normative form ---] particularistic content --(objectification/abstraction)--] ideal

Over the course of history the same contents of relations have been clothed in different motivations or forms - eg. what has in one place/time been a custom has in others been expressed as a law or a matter of private morality.

Morality: develops in the individual through a second subject that confronts him in himself - by virtue of the fundamental capacity of our mind to place itself in contrast to itself and to view and treat itself as if it were somebody else. (This general process bears some resemblance to Mead's generalized other, Cooley's looking glass self, and -believe it or not- Hegel's idea). Morality is experienced as an internal, individualistic phenomenon that could be described as individual conscience.

Law is an external type of normative form that mediates the relations between individuals. Law in general has the following features:
- develops in larger groups with an increasing unity among its parts
- coercively enforced through an object legal system, therefore,
- requires social organs to maintain
- has a code: precisely defined and externally enforces content of law
- law is universally applied (at least in principle)
- has a highly objectified content/character
Custom is another type of external norm involved in the interrelations of individuals - with the following characteristics:
- exists within small groups or within solidaristic parts of a larger society
- develops in instances where legal coercion is not permissible and individual morality is not reliable
- it is normatively enforced through the immediate interactions between individuals
- has a strong component of internalization
- custom is class/estate specific


The Isolated Individual
Although isolation may appear to be a strictly individual condition, it in no way implies the absence of society. In fact, isolation can only attain it's positive significance only as society's effect at a distance. In effect isolation is a form of interaction (characterized by distance) between an individual and an imagined/abstract society.

Isolation may also exist as an interruption or periodic occurrence in a given relationship between individuals - some relationships may be defined by this denial of isolation. A tension exists between isolation and interaction for the individuals within social groups (cf. Simmel on urban life - simultaneous proximity and distance). Isolation is a very specific relation to society that both cause and effect of change in social groups.

Freedom has a dual nature. It has a negative connotations: the absence of social content. But is also has a positive aspect for the social individual: a specific relationship of that individual to the environment. Implications for Freedom for the structure of society:
1) For the social individual, freedom is neither a state that always exists and can be taken for granted, nor a possession of a material substance that can be acquired all at once. As a result freedom emerges as a continuous process of liberation - freedom taking the form of conflict between the individual and conflicting social demands/social ties. Therefore Freedom is an act of maintaining individual autonomy in the face of conflicting and competing forms of sociation that attempt to claim precedence over the individual.
2) Freedom is something positive in the sense that a person does not just want to be free, but in addition wishes to use that freedom for some purpose - in particular, that individual seeks to exert her/his own will over others.

The Dyad

Simmel presents a justification of why the dyad constitutes a form: 1) a high degree of variation in the individualities and unifying motives does not alter the identity of these forms; and 2) these forms may exist between groups as well as individuals.

The dyad possesses unique characteristics that distinguish it form other forms of sociation. The dyad does not attain a super-individual life beyond that the individual might feel to be independent of him/herself. Each of the two fools confronted only be the other, not an overarching collectivity. This form of sociation is further dependent upon the specific identities of the two members - ie. any two people won't do. Death is an inherent part of the life of the individual and the dyad.

Triviality: a characteristic tied in with the inseparability of the dyad from the immediacy of its interaction. Triviality connotes a measure of frequency, of the consciousness that the content of life is repeated, while the value of this content depends on a certain measure of rarity.

Intimacy: like the dyad depends on the principle that the sociological process remains within personal interdependence and does not result in a structure that develops beyond its elements. The whole effective structure of intimacy is based on what each of the two participants gives or shows only to the one other person and to nobody else. Intimacy is, therefore, based on exclusivity of content of a relationship between members, regardless of the nature or identity of that content. Also absent from the dyad is a delegation of duties and responsibilities to the impersonal group structure.

Monogamous Marriage

Marriage does not seem to appear to have the essential sociological character of the dyad - absence of a super-personal unit. There is a feeling that marriage is something super-personal which is valuable and sacred in itself, and which lies beyond whatever un-sacredness each of its elements may possess. (Although Simmel does not put it this way, this follow from the fact that marriage is - or can be - an institution independent of the process of interaction that constitutes the dyad.) The rise of the group unit from the structure of marriage is facilitated by the incomparable closeness of the relationship which promotes a suspension of egoism of each not only in favor of the other, but for the sake of the general relationship per se. Another source of this character of marriage is the socially regulated and historically transmitted nature of the marriage form. Marriage, for instance, technically requires the official recognition of an external authority (law or religion). Modern marriage, however, seems to have a weaker objective character than unions of the past - a greater generalization of a social form corresponds to a greater degree of individuality, creativity, and differentiation within that relationship.

Just to liven things up....Simmel addresses the peculiar nature of sex (I guess some kinds of sex would be more peculiar than others, anyhow...). Sexual intercourse is an ultimately intimate act between individuals that nonetheless exists as the most fundamentally universal relation across humanity - and is in fact an a priori for the survival of the species. Marriage also exhibits a duality: it requires sex, but it also requires more than sex (sex is a necessary but not sufficient component of marriage).

Expansion of the Dyad

Dyad v. Triad: Among three elements, each one operates as an intermediary between the other two, exhibiting the twofold function of such an organ which is to unite and to separate - such an arrangement is not possible with only two elements. Addition of the third element also provides the opportunity of the development of an external super-individual character and the internal development of parties (the taking of sides and formation of majority in a dispute).

Types of individuality: Strong personality usually intensifies the formation of a plurality through opposition, while the Decided personality tends to avoid groups where it might be confronted by a majority (and is almost predestined for dyadic relationships).

In comparison to larger groups, the dyad: 1) favors a relatively greater individuality of their members, but 2) also presupposes that the groups form does not lower individual particularity to an average level. Friendship is a truer case of the dyad than marriage, because the former is more dependent on the individualities of its elements. Marriage, on the other hand, is based of difference that is primarily species-differentiation (ie the complementary character of the sexes - according to Simmel, that is).

Dyadic relationships are dramatically changes by the addition of one additional elements. However there is little or no significant alteration of the characteristics of the triad with the addition of more elements. In a way the marginal significance or effect of additional units of a relationship disappears or at least diminishes greatly after the third.

Although there is no question of status in a dyad, the sociological situation between the superordinate and subordinate is changes after the third element is added. Rather than solidarity, larger groups are characterized by party formation.

Formation of standpoint occurs along a continuum ranging from impartiality to the radical exclusion of all mediation. A point on this continuum is occupied by every decision made concerning groups that a party has contact with - by every decision involving intimate or superficial cooperation, benevolence, or toleration, our prestige, etc. In essence every decision we (or any party) make traces an ideal line around us that contributes to defining ourselves through our position in various relations. The more close and solidary an individual's relation is to a social circle, the more difficult it is for him/her to live with others that are not in complete harmony.


Having in the previous chapter described the significance of the addition of a third element to a relationship (dyad), Simmel now goes on to describe the dynamics that underlie several specific forms of interaction between parties of three - ie triads.

The Non-Partisan and the Mediator
Isolated elements are unified by their common relation to a phenomenon that lies outside them. For a dyad, it may be the third element that serves to close the circle between the two (Simmel uses the example of the addition of a child to a marriage). This can occur in two ways: 1) the third element may directly start or strengthen the union of the two, or 2) the relation of each element of the dyad to the third may produce a new and indirect bond between them.

Non-Partisan: third element functions by 1) producing concord of two colliding parties and withdraws after creating direct contact between the unconnected elements; or 2) acting as an arbiter who balances contradictory claims and eliminates what is incompatible in them. The third party's role is one of affective mediation - depriving conflicting claims of their affective character by neutrally formulating them and presenting them to the two parties. The mediator simply guides process of coming to terms, while on the other hand the arbitrator must end by taking sides. The non-partisanship required for mediation has one of two presuppositions. The third element is non-partisan either by: 1) standing above the contrasting interests and opinions (ie. not concerned), or 2) being equally with both sides. In the first case, the mediator must, however, be subjectively interested in the parties involved in this conflict towards which s/he has this objective stance - a fusion of personal distance and personal interest characteristic of the non-partisan position. The second instance poses special difficulties for the mediator with regards to the tension of personal interests in both sides involved, and often does not result in successful mediation.

The Arbitrator: second form of accommodation by means of an impartial third element. In this case, the conflicting parties must agree both to arbitration and to the specific third party to serve as arbitrator, to whom they relinquish the final decision of the conflict in question. These features imply a commitment on the part of both parties to a resolution of the conflict.

The Tertius Gaudens
(for those who remember their Latin - or don't - ''the third who enjoys'' - kind of mysterious sounding) In some instances the relationship between parties and non-partisan emerges as a new relationship: elements that have never before formed an interactional unit may come into conflict. A third previously unconnected non-partisan element may spontaneously seize upon the opportunity that conflict between the other two offers.

In one kind of arrangement, the advantage of the tertius accrues from the fact that the two in conflict hold each other in check and the third is able to make a gain that would be otherwise denied by the two. On the other hand, the advantage for the tertius is a product of the action one of the two conflicting parties intents to bring about for its own purposes.

The tertius, however, may make his/her own direct or indirect gain by turning toward one of the conflicting parties in a non-objective fashion. There are two main variants of this type of relation: 1) the two are hostile toward one another and compete for the favor of the third element; or 2) they compete for the favor of the third element and therefore are hostile. The advantage of impartiality for the tertius derives from its ability to make a decision depending on certain circumstances - ones that would be most beneficial to the third.

There is a great deal of variability in the character of the tertius gaudens both with respect to the degree of advantage gained and the amount of power that must be expended to achieve it. For instance, the sheer power of the tertius need not be great with respect to the two conflicting parties - it is only important that the superadded power of the tertius give one of the two superiority. An example of this would be the inordinate influence of small parliamentary parties in cases where their support is needed to shift the balance of power between two evenly matched adversaries. One of the most crucial elements of the tertius is its freedom of action and ability to choose between several alternative courses of action - something that is often not possible for large parties that are definitely committed to a prescribed course of action. The advantage of the tertius disappears if the conflicting parties should become a unit.

Divide et Impera
(more Latin! divide and rule)
In this case, the third element intentionally produces the conflict in order to gain a dominating position. In the most basic case of ''divide and rule,'' a superior prevents the unification of elements that do not yet positively strive after unification - but might eventually do so. Here it is the form of association itself with is feared, since it may be combined with a dangerous content - from the point of view of the dominant party. A more direct case would be one in which the superordinate party actually prevents two parties which seen unification from doing so.

An even more active part of the third party is required in the case in which it seeks to create jealousy between two other elements. By doing this, the third seeks to maintain an already existing prerogative by preventing a coalition of the other two from arising. This may take such a course as the unequal distribution of values which breeds jealousy and distrust between two parties.

The most extreme form of divide et impera involved the unleashing of positive battle between two parties, which may be motivated by the third's intentions regarding the two other parties or objects lying outside them. In cases where the third element is directed toward the domination of the other two parties, two sociological considerations are important: 1) certain elements are formed in such a way that they can only be fought successfully by similar elements, and 2) the third may support one of them long enough for the other to be suppressed, whereupon the first is easy prey for the third.



Knowledge of One Another
The first condition of having to deal with somebody at all is to know with whom one has to deal. Knowledge of another person is reciprocal, but generally not equal on both sides. One can, however, never know another person absolutely since this would amount to a sharing of experiences. We, nevertheless, form some personal unity out of those of his fragments through which another is accessible to us. The unity that may develop depends upon what that other person permits us to see about him/herself. Psychological knowledge of a person is not mere stereotype of that person, but depends (like knowledge of all external nature) upon the forms which the cognizing mind brings to it and in which it receives the give.

Knowledge of External Nature v. Knowledge of Persons

A particular person is conceived of differently by various other persons. Every relationship gives rise to a picture of each of the involved individuals in the other; a picture which interacts with the actual relation. On the other hand, the real interaction between these persons is also based upon the mental conceptions which they have of each other. Here we have a circuit of relations between real persons and mental conceptions. Differences in actual relations of persons A and B to C create different mental images of C on the part of A and B and account for disparity in the way A and B view C.

Truth, Error, and Social Life
Our conduct is based upon our knowledge of total reality - knowledge which is, in turn, characterized by peculiar limitations and distortions. We preserve and acquire not only so much truth, but also so much ignorance and error, as is appropriate for our practical activities. The truth as well as self-deception can play adaptive roles as we deal with the exigencies of life.

The Individual as an Object of Knowledge
With regard to the inner life of a person with whom we interact, s/he may intentionally either reveal the truth about her/himself or deceive us by lie and concealment. No other object of knowledge can reveal or hide itself in this way, since no other object is able to modify its behavior in view of the fact that it is perceived by another.

The Nature of the Psychic Process and of Communication
Mental processes involve a filtering and organization of information into a more logical form than that in which the stimuli actually exist in nature. In communication to another, the fragments we reveal about our inner life are not a representative selection of our psychological being, but are made from the standpoint of reason, value, and the relation to the listener and her/his understanding. What we say (or otherwise express to others) is not an immediate and accurate presentation of what actually occurs in us during the particular moment of communication, but is a transformation of our inner reality, which is teleologically directed, reduced, and recomposed in respect to our relations to that other person.

The Lie
The lie consists in the fact that the liar hides his/her true idea form the other. A lie must involve a lying subject. Sociological structures vary significantly depending on the amount of lying which operates in them. The lie may have more dire consequences in modern life since with increasing complexity of society follows an increasing interdependency upon others for knowledge of information that we cannot directly obtain ourselves. The quantity of potential opportunities for lying and their impact are generally increased. The generally greater distance between individuals makes it not only easier to lie, but also makes detection of a lie more difficult.

The lie may have some positive applications: in the case where a first organization of a group is at stake, organization will take place through the subordination of the weak under the physically and intellectually superior. The lie of superiority may be used in order to maintain this organization and the state of subordination. In general, intra-group interaction based on truthfulness will be more appropriate as the welfare of the many (as opposed to the few) is the norm of the group.



Faithfulness is significant as a sociological form of the second order, as the instrument of relations which already exist and endure. This phenomenon is necessary for society to exist and persist for any length of time. Faithfulness entails a specific psychic and sociological state, which insures the continuance of a relationship beyond the forces that first brought it about, which survives these forces with the same synthesizing effect they themselves had originally - in a sense, an inertia of existing sociations which is one of the a priori conditions of society.

The external sociological situation of togetherness appropriates the particular feelings that properly correspond to it even though they did not justify the beginnings of the relationship. Once the existence of a relationship has found its psychological correlate (faithfulness), this faithfulness is followed also by the feelings, affective interests, and inner bonds that properly belong to the relationship. Faithfulness or loyalty is the emotional reflection of the autonomous life of the relation. Aimed solely at the preservation of the relationship to the other, faithfulness if a consummately sociological feeling.

Like faithfulness, gratitude originates in the interactions of human beings. In a sense it is the moral memory of mankind. It establishes a bond of interaction, of the reciprocity of service and return service even where not guaranteed by external coercion - in this capacity it supplements the legal order. One of the most powerful means of social cohesion, gratitude connects human actions with what has gone before, enriches them with the element of personality, and gives them the continuity of interactional life. Gratitude, further, is a type of exchange that does not require a return in kind (ie in the same form). Generally there are not interactions involving the giving and taking of things in which both sides of the exchange are exactly equal. The giving of a gift must not be considered isolation - especially as regards equivalency - but in relation to the total personalities of the two parties. In a sense, gratitude actually consists, not in the return of a gift, but in the consciousness that it cannot be returned - that there is something which places the receiver into a certain permanent position with respect to the giver.

The first gift, given in spontaneity, has a voluntary character which no return gift can have; it has a freedom without any duty. A gift once accepted, may engender an inner relation which can never be eliminated completely, because gratitude is perhaps the only feeling which can be morally demanded and rendered under all circumstances.