Die Umdrehung der Werte: The Ambivalent Intellectual Relationship between Georg Simmel and Max Scheler

Abstract

This paper explores the intellectual and the biographical relationship between Georg Simmel (1858-1918) and Max Scheler (1874-1928). This topic has been examined through correspondences, direct and indirect references, as well as investigations in the Munich Archive (Bayersiche Staatsbibliothek – BSB). Simmel and Scheler lived in Berlin in the early twentieth century, so they shared the German Jahrhundertwende “Zeitgeist” and many fascinations, anxieties, hopes, and feelings. Scheler was Simmel’s pupil (Berliner Humboldt Universität) in 1895, but they were destined to meet again and again. Simmel attended some of Scheler’s lectures as he searched for his theoretical path. Their roots of reciprocal influence also spanned many indirect interests and they developed personal acquaintance. There are many similarities and affinities in Simmel’s and Scheler’s work, that behind the reciprocal effect of their respective intellectual work hide an undeniable and unavoidable ambivalence. They converge on many topics (the cultural and moral analysis of values, the rediscovery of “emotional” issues in the foundation of social and cultural theory, the historical and anthropological interests, etc.), even though their respective philosophical and sociological findings were quite different. Scheler’s “essentialist” position, in opposition to some Simmelian “functionalism” (i.e. relationalism), does not detract from the mighty importance of Simmel’s unique approach, which brought a breath of novelty to both philosophical and sociological fields through its eclectic and innovative inquiry into modernity and from Scheler’s new phenomenological approach. The interaction between Simmel and Scheler was certainly significant for both of them, surely for defining and clarifying their own philosophy of culture as well as their anthropological and sociological achievements.

Keywords: Simmel, Scheler, sociology, anthropology, Lebensphilosophie


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