Simmel’s Law of the Individual and the Ethics of the Relational Self

Theory, Culture and Society 29 (7-8):124-145 (2012)
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Georg Simmel’s final work, The View of Life, concludes his lifelong engagement with Immanuel Kant by ‘inverting’ Kant’s Categorical Imperative to produce an ethics of authentic individuality. While Kant’s moral imperative is universal to all individuals but particular to their discrete acts, Simmel’s Law of the Individual is particular to each individual but universal to all the individual’s acts. We assess the significance of Simmel’s formulation of the Law of the Individual in three steps: First, as an articulation of an ethical moment consonant with his relational approach to formal sociology, hinted at earlier in Sociology but not developed as such. Second, as a completion of the framework for Simmel’s formal sociology: the Law of the Individual conceptualizes a decisive but under-theorized relationship in Simmel’s vision of ‘society’ that is a woven fabric of social relationships, namely one’s relationship with oneself. We follow with a third proposal about how Simmel might have continued the line of thought he opens in The View of Life, suggesting that we can take the Law of the Individual as an invitation to fold the self-relation back into analysis of social relations, and to theorize how forms of association are shaped by forms of self-relation. We thus narrow the theoretical gulf between Simmel’s vitalism and his sociology, which commentators usually hold apart. And in so doing, we sketch a distinctively Simmelian approach to an ethics of individuality in sociological inquiry.



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Georg Simmel and the Idea of Moral Law.Konstantin E. Troitskiy - 2020 - Russian Journal of Philosophical Sciences 63 (8):106-125.

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References found in this work

Sources of the Self.Allen W. Wood - 1992 - Philosophical Review 101 (3):621.
Lebenssoziologie.Scott Lash - 2005 - Theory, Culture and Society 22 (3):1-23.
Simmel as a resource for sociological metatheory.Donald N. Levine - 1989 - Sociological Theory 7 (2):161-174.

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