Georg Simmel as an Eidetic Social Scientist

GARY BACKHAUS Sociological Theory, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Nov., 1998),

The article shows the affinity of Simmel’s formal sociology with Husserl’s notion of eidetic science. This thesis is demonstrated by the corroboration of Simmel’s revision of neo-Kantian epistemology for sociology with Husserl’s phenomenology, and the parallel discussion of Simmel and Husserl concerning cognitive levels and exact and morphological eide. Simmel’s analysis of dyads is explored as an exemplar of his eidetic insights. An important consequence of this demonstration is the vindication establishing the scientific legitimacy of Simmel’s methodology regarding the sociology of the forms of association. Woven throughout is discussion concerning the doctrine of the complementarity of eidetic and empirical science. Simmel’s methodology is shown to have been ahead of its time through conjoining these two modes of scientific investigation.


Georg Simmel, philosopher/sociologist, had been unfairly marginalized as an academic and to various degrees had been appropriated, misunderstood, and rejected by his famous students and contemporaries, Durkheim, Weber, Lukacs, Park, and Parsons (Levine 1985:89). As a sociologist, Simmel’s works often receive only cursory reference in comparison with those of Durkheim and Weber, which are considered the classic theoretical corpora worthy of serious methodological consideration. Simmel is read, but not to be emulated.1 This article demonstrates that the marginalization of Simmel, due to his supposed lack of proper scientific methodology, reflects a limited understanding both of Simmel’s methodology and of an adequate social science. The method of sociological research that Simmel employed in his middle period reveals a close affinity to a phenomenological orientation.2 Specifically, my thesis establishes that Simmel’s sociology of the forms of association 3 comprises an eidetic phenomenological science.4

By eliminating long-standing epistemological biases, Edmund Husserl, the father of the phenomenological movement, prepared the way for the development of a rigorous science of the material a priori, that is, an eidetic science. Eide, or essences, are a priori principles of things that are apprehended intuitively through a methodology that is based on pure description, i.e., description that is not limited by empirical instantiations. Simmel’s sociology of the forms of association exhibits key components of eidetic science: the revision of neo-Kantian epistemology in the area of sociology, the analyses of cognitive levels in the apprehension of the forms, the characterizations of the forms in contrast to geometric forms, and the examples of eide in the quantitative analyses of groups, specifically those of dyads. Thus, by providing evidence of Simmel’s eidetic accomplishments,5 it is my claim that Simmel’s research methodology is proven to exhibit scientific legitimacy.6 In addition, a thematic discussion that emphasizes the complementary character of eidetic and empirical science is interwoven throughout the exposition. The views of Husserl and Simmel are compared in light of this doctrine. Following the complementary thesis as treated by Maurice Merleau-Ponty it is further shown that Simmel was ahead of his time by conjoining the eidetic and empirical modes of investigation. This research attempts to illuminate Simmel’s formal sociology in its fundamental sense, so that, as an exemplar of Husserl’s notion of eidetic science, eidetic intuition may receive the serious attention by sociologists that it too deserves.7

Given the scope of this article, its delimitation must also be stated. There is much in Simmel’s vast corpus that is not treated here. Even areas germane to the topic, such as the historical process of cultural objectification, subjective versus objective culture, the rela- tionship of life to forms, and the conditions for the genesis of forms, are not within our present concern. Of Husserl’s corpus, this article does not specifically concern, for example, phenomenological psychology, transcendental phenomenology, or phenomenology of the structures of the life-world. Husserl’s eidetic science remains object focused in the attempt to apprehend the essential structures of entities. The parameters of this science can be grounded without a further phenomenological analysis of the constituting acts of con- sciousness or the genesis of meaning sedimentation that constitute the formation of objects. This concern here is mainly with Husserl’s eidetic science and Simmel’s forms of association. It would be a fallacy to judge the overall merit of these thinkers on this aspect of their work alone. Nevertheless, it is my claim that the importance of this theme for social science theory transcends the delimitation in its treatment of the two great thinkers.


Simmel follows the Baden neo-Kantians in the endeavor to surpass Kant by providing the epistemology for the human sciences. Simmel’s epistemology remains loyal to the Kantian separation of form from content. However, Simmel’ s epistemological foundation for sociology transgresses both Kant and the Baden school, for whom the mind of the cognitive observer furnishes the form of experience, that is, shapes and orders the irrational sensuous contents given to experience. Simmel’s doctrine of asymmetry deems this Kantian doctrine untenable for the science of sociology.8 Simmel maintains that both form and content are presentational moments (only separable through abstraction) by which the sociological observer is put in a relationship with “the things themselves,” the interrelations of associates.

Two distinguishable a priori structures are implicated in Simmel’s epistemological doctrine. These structures, the interactional a priori and the cognitive a priori, are frequently confounded. Most likely the reason for this confusion stems from the Kantian perspective that a priori knowledge is formal in nature; there can be no material a priori according to Kant’s philosophy. The attempt to fit Simmel’s a priori structures of the forms of association into a Kantian formal a priori is not possible. Both the interactional and cognitive structures characterize the objects of sociological observation and are not structures inherent to the subjective conditions of the observer. First, there is the abstracted form, e.g., conflict, which exhibits an a priori structure (the necessary characteristics for the instantiated association to be the specific form that it is).9 In the interests of the socio-historical research of empirical sociologists, forms are abstracted from their concrete instantiations. However, Simmel’s abstraction of the form is for the purpose of grasping “the form of the form,” that is, the eidetic or essential nature of the form. The forms themselves may emerge and dissipate in the evolution of association, but the form of a form is necessarily present in any of its sociohistorical instantiations.

Second, Simmel distinguishes the a priori that is inherent to the cognitive dimensions of the social actors. These conditions for the possibility of association motivate agents to interact with others. Simmel states:

The question of how society is possible implies a methodology which is wholly different from that for the question of how nature is possible. The latter question is answered by the forms of cognition, through which the subject synthesizes the given elements into nature. By contrast the former is answered by the conditions which reside a priori in the elements themselves, through which they combine, in reality, into the synthesis, society. (1971:8; italics added)

The a priori concerning the “elements themselves,” the contents of association, consists of the psychological life of agents, which includes impulse, inclination, interest, motivation, etc.; in short, any psychic content that mediates effects on others.10 Kurt H. Wolff aptly remarks that the forms are “injected into social life” (Simmel 1950:xxxviii). Thus, both the a priori conditions for the possibility of social life and the structural patterns of the forms of association are not the theoretical constructions produced by the observer of the social world. Simmel’s epistemology for formal sociology transgresses the neo-Kantian doctrine of hiatus irrationalis (Lask and Rickert) by which the cognitive mind alone (the observing scientist) supplies the form (constructs a knowable conceptual structure) for the inchoate irrational realm of reality.”

Simmel’s sociological epistemology prepares the possibility to secure for the forms of association what Husserl circumstantiates as “a material a priori.”12 A material a priori principle is necessarily exhibited by a given object (in this case an instantiation of a form of association) in order for it to be the kind of object (the form of association) that it is. For Husserlian commentator, Emmanuel Levinas, eidetic principles “express the conditions that must be realized to make its [the object’s] existence possible. The predicates of an object may vary without compromising its possibility to exist. Only the essential predicates may not vary. Moreover, it is only the stability of essential predicates which allows the other predicates to vary: any variation presupposes something constant which makes the variation possible” (1973:112). Simmel stresses the delimitation for formal sociology that consists in the recognition and classification of the forms of association. The material a priori, which consists of the various species (forms) found in this domain (being-with- others, associative being), comprises the necessary structures/principles/patterns specifically pertaining to each of the apprehended forms.

Simmel’s epistemology for sociology is congenial to Husserl’s doctrine of intentionality. The objects of consciousness, ideal meanings, eide, and the object referents transcend the real acts of consciousness through which they are constituted. An instantiation of a form of association, an object referent, transcends the act of sociological observation.

Every conscious act, according to Husserl, is referred to an object, and another way of saying this is that every act is by nature intentional. Consciousness is not a self-enclosed island, but essentially involves reference to an object …. By such assertions, Husserl excludes the concept of a consciousness that is locked within itself and knows only its own immanent elements or states…. Consciousness always involves the presentation (Vorstellung) of an object. The objects themselves are so related to us. We are not simply aware of an effect made by them on our senses (as Kant or the British empiricists would have it)…. Consciousness is not insular, but puts us into a real intentional contact with things (Sokolowski 1970:46).13

Through intentionality, the epistemological status of a purely descriptive analysis of the forms of association is exonerated from the status of a merely subjective evaluation or a merely provisional observation for subsequent scientific analysis. Husserl shows that descriptive analysis of eidetic structures is founded upon legitimate intuition. If Simmel’s sociology entails a method that intuitively registers the eidetic principles exhibited by the forms of association, rather than the empirical method of constructing inductive generalities based upon concrete instances, then his explorations comprise an eidetic science.

Indeed, Simmel’s descriptions treat the forms as essential structures of being, rather than as explanatory concepts involving cause-and-effect analyses in the hypothesis formations of empirical science.’4 Yet, Simmel’s disengagement from neo-Kantian epistemology for so- ciology does not necessarily entail a phenomenological orientation. Simmel’ s strategy could be a rejection of critical philosophy in a return to noncritical positivism and realism. “When it comes to the sociologist’s study of the forms of social interaction, moreover, there is a sense in which Simmel may indeed be called a ‘realist’ or a ‘naturalist’—as Durkheim initially hoped” (Levine 1989:168). Even though this statement initially appears to support the caveat, it does not disrupt our phenomenological claim. Eidetic research can be accomplished from within the natural standpoint without the further inquiry into transcendental constitution (the eidetic investigation of the constituting acts of consciousness). But phenomenological inquiry without the transcendental reduction does not involve naturalism. What disappoints Durkheim is Simmel’s proto-phenomenological turn in the study of the forms. Simmel’s strategy eschews the constructionism of neo-Kantianism for the science of sociology, which is supported by the naturalists and social realists, but it does not fulfill the methods of empirical science, which leaves naturalistic scientists puzzled as to the sense of his investigations.

Naturalistic ontology reduces all of existence to perceptually individuated, empirical instantiation. Only the material thing indexed within the spatiotemporal order in a series of causes and effects counts as reality. All other phenomena receive a “reality check” as the annex of the material thing. These presuppositions assumed by empirical science have already prejudged what mode of givenness engenders legitimate epistemic status. Husserl’s epistemological advance reveals these biases and displays that eidetic principles are indeed intuitive presentations of idealities, which are exhibited, however, only through given instantiations. Husserl’s founding of eidetic science is made possible through the radically descriptive phenomenological investigation into each possible object of intentional consciousness exactly as it appears within the constituting act. The ideal mode of existence exhibited through acts of “eidetic seeing” is not admitted from within the epis- temological stance of the empiricism of naturalism (the adopted bias of modern science) and so certainly the intuition of an essential structure as evidenced in the given is epistemologically preempted. Neither can the Kantians ground the material a priori, because for them, such organization is nothing but the result of cognitive productions/constructions.

The structural features of interactive processes delineate the forms of association. The forms manifest as societal unities. Levine testifies to Simmel’s nonempirical orientation in a statement that offers a strongly phenomenological interpretation. “There was no way he [Durkheim] could muster sympathy for Simmel’s methodological penchant: the intuitive grasp of the essence of forms [the form of the forms] and their properties [eidetic principles]” (1985:93). Levine explains, “Simmel’s sense of the ‘specifically social’ was tied to a conception of social facts as analytic abstractions [Husserl’s eidetic principles of non- independent contents], not as concrete entities [Husserl’s independent contents], and to a method that relied on the intuitive apprehension of forms [Husserlian registration of eide], rather than inductive naturalistic observation” (1985:127; italics added). Contrasting Simmel with Robert Park, Levine writes, “Where Simmel was casual—in his acquisition of facts—Park was enthusiastically rigorous; where Simmel was rigorous—in his analysis of structural properties—Park was typically casual” (ibid. 115). These characterizations support the claim that Simmel intended an eidetic social science.

The thesis to this point has only demonstrated that Simmel’s approach has the character and the plausibility of an eidetic science. It has yet to demonstrate if Simmel only achieves empirically registered essences, the inductive generalities of empirical science, by which the social observer’s judgments entail universal predicates founded upon perception; or, whether it is the case that Simmel indeed does achieve eidetically registered essences, eidetic principles of phenomenological science, by which the observer’s judgments entail pure predicates founded upon imaginative or free variation. Given Simmel’s corpus, if his evidence consists of hypostases of empirical universals, rather than pure essences, then criticism alleging scientific irresponsibility in his failure to provide adequate empirical evidence for his claims is well taken. In fact, the harsher claim that he is not even doing science would stand, for he does not even follow “legitimate methods.”

Form is abstracted from the real process of association. This abstraction is not a heuristic; it, itself, is based upon an a priori principle. One does not recognize through empirical induction that the forms of association are dependent upon, but distinguished from, the psychological life of individuals. Rather, the existence of the forms cannot be thought otherwise, i.e., Simmel’s recognition of a pure a priori material condition for the possibility of the forms. Husserl labels abstractions “non-independent contents.” He states, “A non-independent object can only be what it is (i.e. what it is in virtue of its essential properties) in a more comprehensive whole” (1982:453). Non-independence is inherent to the specific essence of the object as a material synthetic a priori law, and thus it is not merely a purely logical necessity.

Because Simmel employs the form and content distinction concerning a concrete phenomenon that manifests as a unity, the term abstraction is appropriate for the constituting process of apprehending the forms. For example, color exists as a non-independent content; it can exist only through the existence of an independent content, i.e., a material thing. However, color can be abstracted and investigated without reference to the entities by which it appears. Analogously, a form of association can be abstracted and investigated without reference to the substantive, concrete ways of social life, i. e., the eidetic investigation of the form, cooperation, without a substantive thematic of particular instantiations, e.g., placing a tarpaulin over a baseball diamond. On the other hand, a material thing needs color to attain visual reality. Analogously, interacting human beings need forms of association to attain “visible” social reality. Extension (surface) is the a priori structure of the material thing that is the co-condition of color. Analogously, the a priori co-conditions of the concrete ways of life (independent contents) are the forms and the contents of association. Simmel states:

In any given social phenomenon, content and societal form constitute one reality. A social form severed from all content can no more attain existence than a spatial form can exist without a material whose it is. Any social phenomenon or process is composed of two elements which in reality are inseparable; on the one hand, an interest, a purpose, or a motive; on the other, a form or mode of interaction among individuals through which, or in shape of which, that content attains social reality (1971:24).

Simmel specifies parameters of the sociological method of abstraction based upon the cited eidetic principle of non-independence of the forms of association:

To separate, by scientific abstraction, these two factors of form and content which are in reality inseparably united; to attach by analysis the forms of interaction or sociation from their contents (through which alone these forms become societal forms); and to bring them together systematically under a consistent scientific viewpoint—this seems to me the basis for the only, as well as the entire, possibility of a special science of society as such. (1971:25)

Simmel also distinguishes the form of association and the psychological contents from the substantive manifestation of social reality, e.g., the sporting event which is the sociological result of certain psychological motivations and which exhibits forms of association. Studies that concern sociohistorical substantive social entities are exactly the thematic of much of empirical sociology.15


Husserl developed the method of ideational variation for the epistemic registration of eide, the content of an eidetic science. In order to register an eidos —i.e., the evidencing activity that intuitively grasps the invariant principle, a pure essence —the eideticist must transcend the perceptual domain. The eidetic scientist overcomes the restrictive limits of concrete, perceptual instantiations, the actually given states of affairs, by entertaining imaginative variations. This strategy provides access to the realm of possibilities. In contrast, through the empirical restriction to given sociohistorical instantiations, the empirical scientist achieves registration of empirical universals (evidencing activities based on perception). An empirical universal is contingent upon its concrete manifestation and is laden with historicity. The research starting point, the initially observed concrete state of affairs, and the subsequent series of perceptual experiences of the entity continually modify the conceptual shaping (the empirical knowledge) of the entity. One of the stereotypical criticisms of Simmel’s work is that it is ahistorical.’6 This “charge” further confirms that an important aspect of Simmel’s sociological research had been the static eidetic analysis of the forms of association.

Freed from the limitations of perception, the eidetic scientist imagines a series of variations based upon some sample. The status of the noetic activity that constitutes the sample, i.e., whether the sample is perceived, remembered, or imagined, is of no consequence. The original sample does not have any privileged status, because in the domain of pure possibility the arrangement of the variants is arbitrary. The experimental telos is to become aware of a persisting identity, that is, the invariant principle(s) which necessarily persist(s) throughout the ideational manipulations. This methodology of free fantasy does not in any way prescribe passive psychological associations. The eidetic scientist explores organizational patterns by separating removable pieces from nonremovable moments and by dis- tinguishing contingent attributes from the necessary structure. The eidetic scientist artfully removes various features of the variants in order to find what is the necessary principle, the eidos, which is the a priori material structure of the object that allows for its experiential possibility. The eidos is the principle(s) without which the object cannot be imagined. Once an eidetic registration is truly achieved, no experience is able to modify it, for it is a necessary universal. Eide are not Platonic transcendencies; they are only graspable through intuited evidence.17 Even though eide are registered through the talent for imaginative contrivances, eide are no less a manifestation of “the world” than are empirical facts.’8

Because it is quite possible to achieve eidetic intuition upon a single instantiation, intuitively imagined or perceived, there can be no set determination as to how many variations are needed before the eidetic scientist registers an eidos. This is an important factor that has motivated strong criticism of Simmel’s disregard for facts and his penchant for “aesthetic meanderings.” 19 Trained empiricists will generally misrepresent eidetics, for the naturalistic presuppositions that have influenced the epistemology of empirical science and the methodological limits of empirical research preclude the registration of eide. Simmel himself could not explain the manner in which he worked: “Here we must take upon ourselves the odium of talking about intuitive procedures (however far these are removed from speculative, metaphysical intuition) …. This viewpoint, for the time being, can be conveyed only by means of examples. Only much later may it be possible to grasp it by methods that are fully conceptualized and are sure guides to research” (1971: 31). There is a sense that Simmel follows Husserl’s methodological technique of ideational variation implicitly. (This line of investigation is best treated after the next section, which establishes a philosophy of method.)

Simmel’s sociological genius is analogous to Schiller’s thesis of the naive genius that quite naturally achieves the mark. Husserl’s corpus reflects Schiller’s sentimentalist, the endless beginner who through constant self-criticism establishes, reestablishes, perfects, and then perfects again his radically self-conscious methodology.20 In his pioneering work to establish the science of sociology, Simmel arrives at his eide, forms of association, by sheer natural genius for sociological insight. In his pioneering work to establish a general phenomenology for its later applications, Husserl self-critically and methodically attempts to ground its fundamental sense. It is appropriate for the eideticist trained in Husserlian phenomenology to evaluate Simmel’s many illustrations and descriptions of the forms of association for their eidetic veracity.


I propose that eidetic investigations (the a priori structures of presentation) and empirical investigations (the a posteriori structures of presentation) are complementary activities. A science that only admits of empirical research without eidetics remains scientifically blind, and a science that only admits of eidetic research without an investigation of sociohistor- ical facts remains empty. The manner of this complementary relation between empirical and eidetic research is the next question to be considered. However, science as a mere factology, that is, a science that ignores its epistemological presuppositions, is irresponsible.2′ Through well-sedimented, taken-for-granted research practices, it is difficult for those only trained in the applied statistical methodologies to acknowledge the import of Simmel’s research. Simmel does not merely provide “theoretical models” or weakly evidenced armchair philosophical insights; he accomplishes rigorous scientific investigations of the social world. It is the task of this thesis to demonstrate that Simmel’s research methodology has scientific legitimacy.

In his essay, “The Philosopher and Sociology,” Maurice Merleau-Ponty provides the leading clue for grasping the significance of the Simmelian approach. Merleau-Ponty corroborates my thesis of complementarity in his interpretation of Husserl:

Husserl seems to us to be exemplary in that he may have realized better than anyone else that all forms of thought are in a certain sense interdependent. We need neither tear down the behavioral sciences to lay the foundations of philosophy, nor tear down philosophy to lay the foundations of the behavioral sciences. Every science secretes an ontology; every ontology anticipates a body of knowledge. It is up to us to come to terms with this situation and see to it that both philosophy and science are possible. (1964:98)

The question arises as to Simmel’s position concerning this thesis of complementarity. It must be kept in mind that we have to carefully abstract from Simmel’s entire corpus to demonstrate the eidetic nature of his research. In addition, except for some pure exemplary studies, the content of Simmel’ s studies is hybrid, the combination of eidetic and empirical investigations. Did he work in this manner because he did not know what he was doing, because he was a highly disorganized academician? Even though the main concern here is to feature Simmel’s eidetic analyses, it is necessary to recognize his eidetics in relation to his overall research.

I have argued that the sense of both eidetic and empirical science requires elucidation and demarcation. However, the distinction may only be heuristic, and it may be appropriate to overcome the heuristic bifurcation in the actual practice of research. If this is the case, then Simmel’s practice of working between the two scientific perspectives is vindicated.

Merleau-Ponty calls into question the bifurcation of facts and ideas, empiricism and eideticism. He claims that Husserl abandoned the parallelism of complementarity and later developed “the idea of a reciprocal envelope” (1964:100). Merleau-Ponty’s position strengthens the position of complementarity to a radical degree whereby the eidetic and the empirical become the polar moments for modes of research along a continuum that include the admixture of both. At the same time, he is aware of the difficulties in establishing the sense and the practice of such an orientation:

The movement back and forth from facts to ideas [eide] and from ideas to facts is discredited as a bastard process-neither science nor philosophy-which denies scientists the final interpretation of the very facts that they have taken the pains to assemble, and which compromises philosophy with the always provisional results of scientific research. … If “mixed” investigations really have the inconveniences we have just mentioned, then we have shall have to admit that a simultaneously philosophical and scientific view of experience is impossible, and that philosophy and sociology can attain certain knowledge only if they ignore one another. (1964:99)

I claim that it is this simultaneously philosophical (eidetic) and scientific (empirical) view that characterizes the work of Simmel. It is not incidental to this proposal that, biographically, Husserl was a mathematician turned philosopher and Simmel was a philosopher turned sociologist turned philosopher. The rigid bifurcation of early Husserl reflects his interests in mathematics, logic, and epistemology. The idea of a reciprocal envelope emerged in his thinking when his attentions turned to the lebenswelt. By contrast, Simmel was clearly a student of the world: sociology, the philosophy of culture, and the philosophy of personality. Thus, the thesis of complementarity is colored by each thinker’s specific research interest.

From the Merleau-Pontian perspective, it can be argued that Simmel was ahead of his time. Simmel can only be understood after the heuristic bifurcation of eidetic and empirical science is clearly recognized. In the institutionalization of science, it is clear that the nature of eidetics has yet to be understood and its legitimacy yet to be established. But, Simmel works from a perspective that already recognizes the heuristic distinction, which allows for the process of research to be a continuum in which eidetic and empirical research shade into one another. Simmel transcends the whole developmental process that leads Husserl to his last thoughts, which is the position Merleau-Ponty represents. Simmel discusses what he recognizes as a needless demarcation.

[It is asked] of every science whether it is devoted to the discovery of timelessly valid laws or to the presentation and conceptualization of real, unique historical processes. Generally, this alternative ignores innumerable intermediate phenomena dealt with in the actual practice of science. It is irrelevant to our conception of the problem of sociology because this conception renders a choice between the two answers unnecessary. For on the one hand, in sociology the object abstracted from reality may be examined in regard to laws entirely inhering in the objective nature of the elements. These laws must be sharply distinguished from any spatiotemporal realization…. On the other hand, the forms of sociation may be examined, with equal validity, in regard to their occurrence at specific places, and at specific times, and in regard to their historical development in specific groups. (1971:28-29; italics added).

In this crucial text, Simmel recognizes the need to combine eidetic research with empirical research, because he also has an interest in establishing the conditions for the emergence and the real historical development of the forms.22 But this is to imply that a purely eidetic scientist would produce empty research and the purely empirical scientist would produce blind research. Merleau-Ponty interprets a letter sent to Levy-Bruhl by Husserl in 1935: “Here he seems to admit that the philosopher could not possibly have immediate access to the universal by reflection alone-that he is in no position to do without anthropological experience or to construct what constitutes the meaning of other experiences and civilizations by a purely imaginary variation of his own experiences” (1964:107). Simmel’s eidetic/ empirical research already presupposes this sentiment.

By situating Simmel’s eidetics within the framework of the overall manner of his sociological project, the main thesis of this article is strengthened. The thesis can continue to demonstrate the eidetic nature of Simmel’ s work, but with an additional clarification of its relation to the overall picture of his style as well as its relation to social science and empirical science in general. It is also now possible to insightfully characterize his specific methods in comparison with Husserl’s method of imaginative variation. In Simmel’s essay, Conflict (1955), for example, it is obvious that he attempts to cover a multitude of aspects and modifications through which conflict may manifest. This procedure, rather than eliminating nonessential attributes in order to grasp the eidetic principles, instead involves the process of ideational variation in order to investigate the many possibilities that the form, conflict, as an invariant structure may manifest. Ideational variation is the end rather than the means of this eidetic strategy. Starting from the form, conflict, Simmel attempts to capture as many species of the form, that is, as many variations of the form as possible. Simmel includes facts as exemplifications of principles, but he will many times employ imaginative variation to illustrate a principle. By grounding the plethora of variants of the form, conflict, empirical studies may be guided in recognizing an eidetic match for a specific empirical instantiation. Thus, Husserl’s method emphasizes the grasping of the pure fundamental eidos; Simmel’s method emphasizes the possible variations by which an eidos may manifest.


Simmel was aware of the epistemological status of the sociological cognition that he specifically advocated, and he intended for this cognition to be an eidetic apprehensfon of the forms of association. Simmel characterizes how it is possible for the observer of the social world to constitute the forms from the standpoint of three levels of cognition: the passive thoughts of psychological association, the active grasping of empirical universals, and the eidetic registrations of the sociologist. Simmel’s discussion corroborates Husserl’s very detailed descriptions (the method of questioning back [Ruckfrage] into the founding layers of consciousness) of the constitutional accomplishments in the genetic development of the contents of consciousness.23

Simmel describes the vague thoughts about the associational forms, i.e., judgments that are associatively constituted (psychologically) in the minds of those immediately interacting. This layer of associative cognition displays the lowest level of predicative understand ing: “The consciousness of constituting with the others a unity is actually all there is to this unity. This does not mean, of course, that each member of a society is conscious of such an abstract notion of unity. It means that he is absorbed in innumerable, specific relations and in the feeling and the knowledge of determining others and of being determined by them” (1971:7). Husserl’s description of psychological association shows that this strata of cognition recognizes only particular features of each object associated (for our purposes the example is association). Since at this level of cognition “the abstract notion of unity” is missing, judgments that characterize associations are based upon the psychological asso- ciation of “specific [social] relations” according to their mere similarity. The predication transcends the particular situation only in a passively associated likeness with other of the “innumerable, specific relations.” This associative likeness does not disturb the particularity of each experience. Psychological association does not turn the attribute into a universal (Sokolowski 1974:59). If experienced specific social relations such as conflicts are only passively associated, then “conflict” is intended as a merely similar attribute and in no way has been meant as a universal. The judgment-formations are S 1 is p1, S2 is p2, S3 is p3, etc. The following examples add judgment-contents to these judgment-forms: this relation (specific situation) with my boss is a conflict, this relation with my mother-in-law is a conflict, and this relation between my children is a conflict. This predicate, “conflict,” has not yet achieved the status of a universal in the understanding, for the abstraction of a unity, a form of association, is missing. Until such abstraction is achieved, there can be no grasp of an identity, which is the necessary cognition for a science of sociology.24 The sense of science is to grasp the one in the manifold.

This higher level of cognition is reached when a universal is explicitly thematized in the activity of judging. Simmel examines this achievement also.

It is quite possible for an observing outsider to perform an additional synthesis of the persons making up the society. The synthesis … is based only upon the observer himself. The determination of which aspect of the externally observable is to be comprehended as a unity depends not only on the immediate and strictly objective content of the observable but also upon the categories and the cognitive requirements of the subjective psyche. Again, however, society, by contrast, is the objective unit which needs no outside observer. (1971:7)

An “outside observer” does not necessarily entail an external observer. The social actor can observe her own associations in reflection. If self-observations were impossible, then the actor would be precluded from achieving a higher understanding of universals manifesting in her own associations. The social actor would remain intellectually puerile con- cerning her own life, yet would have at least the potential or the ability to achieve a sophistication when observing others, which is an absurdity. By stating that the “synthesis … is based only upon the observer himself,” Simmel is drawing attention to the fact that this cognition is a constituting achievement of consciousness.25

When the observed is constituted as an instance of a category, the meaning intention is fulfilled in the assignment of a universal to the predication. In the ontological domain, an identity is registered, and in the apophantic domain, a predicate is meant as the same. Judged as an instance of a universal, the entity emerges for the first time as an individual. The form in which cognition achieves the registration of a universal is S1 is P, S2 is P, S3 is P, etc. “P” is a universal and S1, S2, and S3 are cognized as individuals, i.e., instantiations of a type. The importance of achieving this level of intellection cannot be overstated because even though “the associative consciousness is immersed in particulars, it does not have a sense of individual as opposed to universal” (Sokolowski 1974:60). The unsophisticated intellection of association consists of merely subjective acts, the passive intending of similarities that are at once idiosyncratic and everyday. A claim that intends a universal is objective, truly public; the universal predication is meant to hold for anyone who intends such-and-such an object. A single statement looks the same regardless of the cognitive level of the intention. But, upon further activities of the speaker, those who recognize the universal clearly will recognize the cognitive limitations of the speaker who merely makes associations. Once the objectivity of an empirical universal is recognized, those who have performed the registration of the universal judgment are able to anticipate future instances. An empirical universal is further enriched through the collection of more factual information gathered from the inductive study of its instantiations. As a part of the collective knowledge of a community, an empirical universal entails a history. The collective knowledge of the empirical sciences presupposes a teleology that aims at an ideal exhaustive determination of an empirical universal (ibid. 61-62).

Simmel remarks that the universal category employed in predication is dependent upon the observer. The observing social scientist works from already identified forms “on hand” as is the case with established modes such as color and shape in the recognition of perceptual objects. The sociologist may constitute the observed association through the form of competition or perhaps attend to the form, superordination/subordination. Regardless, the chosen form characterizes the objective unity of the observed interaction. The selected form likely will not exhaust the multitude of features of the phenomenon in question, but it can highlight certain features. Analogously, an observer may select to unify perceptual objects according to shape or color. The fact that an observer intends a specific form is based upon the objectively given contents and the interests of the observer. The observed association manifests various forms, which serves to suggest or to motivate further evidencing activity. The social scientist selects forms of association in order to understand a social sector in light of a specific research purpose. According to Simmel’ s precepts, social scientists collect and systematize the forms of association as an aspect of professional life (Simmel 1971:27). Social scientists then investigate the instantiations of such forms and the emergence of new forms in the evolution of societal organization.

The cognitive registration of empirical universals leads to the establishment of the empirical sciences in the form of a body of collective positive content that is dependent upon this cognitive form of observation. And, the registration of eidetic universals establishes the eidetic sciences. But, the achievement of an eidetic registration is founded upon the registration of an empirical universal. The empirical universal naturally suggests the possibility of a structural necessity—why does this type of object always have features x and y, and z only sometimes? The vague notion of necessity, which often appears in the horizon of a meaning-context that intends objective content, may motivate eidetic thought experiments. It is only from the “sophistication” of epistemological biases, and not from a natural sophistication of mind, that the evidencing activity for the fulfillment of an eidetic intuition has been preempted in the historical development and establishment of scientific method.

Simmel’ s characterization of the forms of association clearly demonstrates that he intends for them to be grasped through the seeing of pure essences, i.e., the cognition of an eidetic structure. Simmel states, “They are valid whether the historical actualities enforce them once or a thousand times…. Ascertaining them … would provide material for the induction of timeless uniformities” (1971:28-29; italics added). Only a uniformity that is con- stituted eidetically can be considered timeless, for an eidos exhibits a necessary structure that must always be present, regardless of the when and where, in every instantiation of the phenomenon. By “induction” Simmel means that the apprehension of the (eidetically constituted) forms of association involves the activity of collecting them through the investigation of the social world. Induction also implies that the forms are not a priori theoretical constructions.

In addition, Simmel stresses that empirical facts are properly organized according to the forms as pure forms, i.e., universals that are registered eidetically. Considering the form, competition, Simmel explains, “The point is to ascertain from all the facts what competition is as a pure form of human behavior…. In spite of the great variety of contents, the form maintains its own identity and proves that it belongs to a sphere which is governed by its own laws” (1971:29; italics added). The Husserlian, Sokolowski, makes similar points but in reverse order: “The world of Husserlian eide is a ‘separate’ world, . . . but it is reached through the vehicle of imagination. An eidos remains a moment that can only be viewed in its instances” (1974:66). As a form of human behavior, “competition” can be understood as an empirical universal, but as a pure form of human behavior, that is, as a sphere governed by its own laws, “competition” is understood eidetically. If the form is considered qua its spatiotemporal instantiation, then external laws govern it, that is, socio- historical forces (the contents of association) shape the form, which is its nature as an empirical universal. Empirical research complements the eidetic research by studying the range of phenomena in which the form is found. Specific studies determine the extent of the form’s “injection” (Wolff’s term) into the process of association within a given socio- historical sector. But regardless of the shapings of the form within the sociohistorical situations, the form exhibits an eidetic structure, which maintains the necessary principles intrinsic to its identity.

Simmel distinguishes empirical science from eidetic science and he makes this distinction with full awareness of the three levels of cognition. Each of the two complementary sciences is based upon its distinctive cognitive activity. Simmel recognizes the validity of an empirical approach to the forms, yet it is clear from his remarks (and the yet-to-be- examined Simmelian analysis of the forms) that he intends an eidetic science of the forms of association.


Simmel recognizes the status of the eide of association in comparison with other kinds of eidetic structures. He compares the eidetic objects of sociology with those of geometry. Geometry is an a priori science separable from related sciences of content, e.g., land surveying. The sociology of forms is distinctly separable from substantive domains of sociological content, e.g., religion and education, which have their own forms: “Geometry studies the forms through which any material becomes an empirical body, and these forms as such exist, of course, in abstraction only, precisely like the forms of sociation. Both geometry and sociology leave to other sciences the investigation of the contents realized in forms, that is, the total phenomena whose forms they explore” (Simmel 1971:28). Though both sociology and geometry abstract from concrete forms, they differ in that the former is expressed in inexact, nonmathematical concepts, and the latter is expressed in exact, math- ematical concepts.

Simmel corroborates Husserl’s doctrine that distinguishes exact and morphological eide, and recognizes that morphological eide do not exhibit exact idealizations. The geometrical eide are clear and distinct entities, whereas the eidetic forms of association have the attribute of imprecision or indeterminancy inherent to its a priori structure. Morphe are intuited only within the limits of sensuous presentation, which is why they cannot be perfectly idealized.

The approximate identity that forms exhibit under materially dissimilar circumstances (and vice versa) is enough…. The fact that absolute identity is not actually realized shows the difference between historical-psychological and geometrical phe- nomena. Historical-psychological processes . . . can never be completely rationalized. Geometry, by contrast, does have the power to isolate absolutely pure forms out of their material realizations. (Simmel 1971:30)

Sokolowski indicates that the forms of social life are generally morphological. He reports that in The Structure of Social Action, Talcott Parsons believes that a “perfectly rational act” can be conceived (1974:78). From both the Husserlian and Simmelian perspectives such a claim is countersensical. Simmel explains, “The mathematician can feel quite safe in assuming that, in spite of the imperfect drawing, the concept of the ideal geometrical figure is known and understood, and that it is regarded as the essential significance of the chalk or ink marks. The sociologist, however, may not make the corresponding assumption; the isolation of truly pure sociation out of the complex total phenomenon cannot be forced by logical means” (1971:31).

The predicates of geometric eide are exact because the objects of geometric intuition transcend sensibility. They preclude the vague moments that are inherent to sensible intuition. Sociological eide exhibit morphological characteristics, which entails that the eidetic principles are expressed through inexact concepts that nevertheless appropriately describe the inexactness of the data. To illustrate, a circle exhibits the eidetic principle that each point along the boundary of its figure is equidistant from a single point that is its center. This a priori exactness is registered despite imperfect sensible representations. The taxonomist, whose descriptive interest is precisely the sensuously intuited shapes, articulates with inexact concepts such as “rounded,” “tooth-edged,” “extends upward.” Likewise, a morphological eidos, such as the social form, “confrontation,” is expressed in. inexact predicates (“to some degree critical of the other,” “potential distancing effect”) precisely because the morphological eidos cannot transcend sensible intuition, even though as an eidos it transcends any of its real instantiations.

Due to this indeterminacy, the morphological eidos is more difficult to distinguish from an empirical generalization. The difficulty resides in the fact that both the empirical generalization and the morphological eidos can only lead to knowledge claims that base their evidence upon sensible intuition and its inherent vagueness. In contrast, the evidence of the exact eide engenders idealizations that are exact precisely because they transcend any sensible instantiation that merely occasions their apprehension. When Simmel is misread as providing empirical generalizations, then his analysis appears incomplete, for he does not provide the empirical data for such. But the problematics reside in the nature of the morphological eide, which exhibit the appearance of empirical generalizations.

In order to properly cognize Simmel’s descriptions of the forms of association, a reader must be prepared for eidetic seeing, which is hardly the case concerning the “traditional” educational training. In fact, many social scientists believe that only rigorous statistical methodologies produce “data,” and everything else is either “theory” or “archaic, primi- tive method.” But to cover over the morphological nature of sociological entities with the abstraction of mathesis, without having allowed “the-things-themselves-to-show-themselves- from-themselves” through diligent and rigorous cognitive apprehension, is to cover over the world for the sake of technical expertise.26 Statistical methodology achieves its own manner of excellence when that which it has given over to mathesis, the morphos, has been recognized according to its eidetic boundaries. The meaning of the statistical data will then properly relate to the life-world experience that it is supposed to represent. Obviously, a relation between morphological eide and their idealized representations in statistical mathematics is in need of a careful analysis. However, Simmel’s comparative study of sociological and geometrical forms would be pointless unless he already clearly recognized the forms of association as eide, yet as eide that are fundamentally distinct from that of exact eide such as those exemplified by geometry.


Not only did Simmel intend an eidetic science, but he indeed successfully registered the ei- detic principles inherent to specific forms. One of the fine eidetic analyses in Simmel’ s cor- pus is his descriptions of the purely quantitative aspects of the group, originally published in 1908 and found in Wolff’ s translation, The Sociology of Georg Simmel (Simmel 1950). Simmel identifies eidetic principles peculiar to the specific number of people comprising the association. The analysis here is limited to Simmel’ s discussion of dyads. Three of the eidetic principles that distinguish the dyad from larger group associations are here selected.

The social structure here [the dyad] rests immediately on the one and on the other of the two, and the secession of either would destroy the whole. The dyad, therefore, does not attain that super-personal life which the individual feels to be independent of himself. As soon, however, as there is a sociation of three, a group continues to exist even in the case one of the members drops out. (Simmel 1950:123)

The decisive characteristic of the dyad is that each of the two must actually accom- plish something, and that in the case of failure only the other remains —not a super—individual force, as prevails in a group even of three. (Simmel 1950:134)

Within a dyad, there can be no majority which could outvote the individual. This majority, however, is made possible by the mere addition of a third member. (Simmel 1950:137)

Simmel offers no statistical studies to prove these principles. But neither does one expect more than a few concrete examples that 2 + 1 = 3. The above principles were chosen because their intuitive registration appears to be a relatively easy accomplishment. Simmel provokes the reader to register for herself these three eide, which distinguish dyads from triads and any larger group structure. He does not always provide the evidence that dis- plays the necessity in the eide. Procedures for testing the proposed eidos for intuitive self-evidence or non-self-evidence are left up to the reader. The Husserlian procedure requires that the eidetic candidate be submitted to imaginative variation in order to evaluate whether or not the proposed invariant principle necessarily remains through the variations. The simplicity of the above principles is such that ideational variation may seem superfluous. However, the obviousness of these eidetic principles, or any eide, in no way means that they are inconsequential.

To illustrate, let us test the first eidetic principle. Imagine two people shopping together for food. If one leaves, the immediate interaction ceases, the society is dissociated. Imagine three people in the same activity. If one departs, a transcending form of association remains intact regardless of the modification of activities. The two remaining social partners may continue to shop or may not, but a form of association exists that transcends the departure of a single individual. But if one partner should secede from the dyad, then whether or not the other continues the same activity, the association has been terminated. Let us consider a specific form, conversation, within a horizon for various form possibilities that could arise from the immediate interaction. If two people are conversing and one of them ceases to converse, the conversation form is terminated, which is an activity that essentially requires the minimum of two interlocutors. The dyadic association may continue, but not in the form of conversation. If three people are conversing and one conversant drops out, then the conversation form continues between the two remaining. A triadic association continues, and the nonconversing party witnesses the transcendent superpersonal structure, the conversational form. This witnessing is impossible for a dyad, for the specific form, in this case, conversation, is terminated along with the association. Consider two strangers merely sharing a taxi ride. If one is dropped off, the remaining other can no longer think in the terms that “we” are sharing the taxi ride, or that “we” are both aware that we share the same primary environment. The termination of the dyad destroys the “we group.” But if three share a taxi ride and one is dropped off, there remains the superper- sonal “we,” with which the one can no longer share experiences. The “we” is a past experience that now has evolved into “myself” versus “they” who continue the same style of experience in which “I” no longer share. Or as variation, if they vacate the cab together without me, then it is “I” who continue the style of experience that “we” once shared together. The eidetic candidate has shown to be an invariant principle through these imaginative variations. The universal feature of the dyad is the termination of the association with the secession of either individual. The universal feature of any group greater than two is its transcendent life beyond the secession of any one individual. Imaginative variation has been employed in order to test the a priori necessity of the universal, that is, to evaluate it as an eidos.

The complete list of Simmelian eidetic principles that concern only the quantitative aspect of association would well serve to guide the empirical investigation of particular sociohistorical groups. Eidetic science provides a framework from which empirical research locates its research. Since the contingency of the plethora of empirical characteristics is overcome through eidetic necessity, empirical science can more easily identify forms, their variations, and their emergence and abandonment. The essential structure of the “what” of the empirical, factual “what is” receives an ontological clarification. The misinterpretation is to think that this eidetic framework is a “theoretical framework”; rather, it is an ontological framework! Naturalistic theoretical bias with its pervasive empiricism not only fails to distinguish the eidos from an empirical generalization but veils the fundamental sense of eidetics by interpreting it as theory, which distorts its scientific usefulness. The practice of “eidetic seeing” is not a theoretical discipline; it is an applied science. But, it is also the case that empirical science is in a helpful, critical position to verify or disqualify eidetic claims through the evidence that it uncovers. Furthermore, empirical science is in a better position to recognize new forms as they emerge in the evolution of society.

Simmel provokes his reader to critically examine any supposed eidetic intuition. One didactic strategy is to lead the reader to an intuitive registration of a form but then to twist the situation, or to modify the structure in order to make the registration problematic.27 Simmel critically challenges his own dyadic principles: “Monogamous marriage does not seem to have the essential sociological character of the dyad, namely, the absence of a super-personal unit” (1950:129). The reader is reduced to aporia. A seemingly simple eidetic registration now seems destroyed by a counterexample. But here Simmel has changed the level of sociological distance.28 The examination is no longer restricted to the immediacy of the interactive process. Marriage is an abiding institutionalized dyad form. In the temporally immediate interactive processes, the marriage form may “act” as a third party. The marriage as a substantive form is invested with “content” such that it is constituted by one or both partners as autonomously promoting its own motivations, values, etc., in the process of association. Partners may conform to its dictates as if it has “its say” as a third associate. Thus, a majority is formed when one partner sides with the marriage and the other sides against “its dictates.” Simmel remarks that this nondyadic character is already represented in the traditional roles played by third parties in the marriage form, which symbolizes the participation of a superpersonal collectivity, the minister, witnesses, best man, father giving away the bride, etc. (Simmel 1950:130). In a marriage, a larger group structural resemblance may manifest in certain immediate interactions between marriage partners due to the almost tacit but real infusion of collective prescription.

It is probable that in other institutionalized forms that exhibit “permanence” or abid- ance, a perceived dyad could manifest as a superpersonal unit, a character of all groups larger than the dyad. These variations do not disturb the essence of the dyad; the eidetic principles still hold for the dyad per se. In fact, these variations only strengthen the registration of the dyad’ s eidetic principles. We are led to recognize that the positive fact of two people associating does not necessarily mean the association of two. One might explore other phenomena in which a perceived dyad manifests a larger group resemblance, e.g., the interaction with a child who has an imaginary friend. Simmel indicates that dyadic interaction can occur between two groups or a group and a single individual (1950:123). Even though a large group may be observed, the individuals may be represented by one voice when dealing with the other, thus forming a dyadic association. The important consequence of Simmel’s own critical evaluation of the dyadic eidos is that the sociological significance of number is not based upon counting heads. Simmel has tested the eidetic structure and its necessity remains.

In addition, let us entertain two other caveats that challenge the eidetic intuition con- cerning dyads. Since marriage is historically heterogeneous, has not Simmel polluted the purity of eidetic exploration with an empirical universal? If marriage has not been apprehended eidetically, are there marriage forms in which the aspect of the superpersonal unit necessarily does not manifest? Second, if the form-structure concerning the superpersonal unit is “in principle” potentially operative in the marriage dyad, is it not “in principle” potentially operative for any institutionalized dyadic structure?

Obviously, polygamous marriage forms do not qualify as dyads, so such forms do not challenge dyadic principles. Simmel discusses such forms to show the eidetic differences between the dyad, the triad, and the larger group. The solution to the first problem is found in a footnote. Simmel states that “physiological pairing” is the characteristic common to all historically known forms of marriage. But, because of the heterogeneity of marriage forms, a positive essence cannot be apprehended. Nevertheless, the form exhibits a negative eidos.

It can be said which relation between man and woman is not marriage—the purely sexual relation. Whatever marriage is, it is always and everywhere more than sexual intercourse. However divergent the directions may be in which marriage transcends sexual intercourse, the fact that it transcends it at all makes marriage what it is…. The very point that all marriage forms have in common is the one they have to transcend in order to result in marriage…. Among sociological formations, marriage seems to be the only one, or at least the purest, of this type. (Simmel 1950:132)

If the principle of the transcendence of sexual intercourse is removed, then the essence of marriage is destroyed. Without this transcendence, the association would not be marriage. Of the negative eidos, Sokolowski writes,

There is another aspect to eidetic intuition which is only mentioned in passing in Husserl’s texts, but is so important that without its presence eidetic intuition would not be what it is. This is the negative aspect of free variation: the insight that removal of certain moments [non-independent parts of a whole] to it, destroys the individual— either totality, as a being, or at least as an instance of the eidos we are trying to isolate. (1974:80)

Furthermore, Simmel treats the marriage form as an instantiation of a form-genus structure. This structure consists in a form that involves a particular thematic attribute. Yet, that one attribute is the very attribute that must be transcended in order for the form to emerge. Remove the principle of transcendence and the form is destroyed (negative eidos). Simmel entertains the possibility that social forms other than marriage may exhibit this form-genus structure, but he remarks that his research had yet to uncover such (1950:132).

Simmel meets our first objection. He does not slip into confounding an empirical generalization with eidetic registration concerning the form, marriage. However, if this is the only eidetic principle that can be apprehended about the heterogeneous forms of marriage, then is this principle sufficient to ground the eidos concerning the potential for the semblance of a superpersonal unit to manifest in any dyadic marriage form? It must be assumed that marriage, to some degree, refers to an institutionalized form, that is, an externally and objectively recognized relation between man and woman. It is possible to imagine primi- tive societies, “make-shift” anarchy, or socially prohibited marriage whereby external and objective recognition of the form is not sufficient to exhibit an institutionalized character. If it can be shown that for any institutionalized form of dyadic association the superpersonal unit potentially manifests, then it would follow that such manifestation could occur in any marriage form. We are led to address our second caveat.

Simmel addresses our second caveat, which inquires about the eidetic necessity of the potential manifestation of the superpersonal unit in institutionalized dyads, by supplying another example. “Something sociologically similar can be seen in the dyad of business partners” (Simmel 1950:132). Business partnership is an institutionalized structure to which both partners would have duties and thus “the firm” could be posed as if it were another associate. It is possible to imagine thinking such as, “I think we could do x, but from the point of view of our firm we should do y.” So far our discussion has favored a “subjective interpretation” of the superpersonal unit. The objective aspect of the superpersonal unit manifests as the objective history of the business in its external relations with others, and in its relations with the economic situation. Both of these factors have been prescribed for the business by some degree of superpersonal prescription. Each of the two business associates is potentially able to separate his subjective choices from the objective nature of the institutionalized form. The contents of association then may split between personal and business contents that perhaps conflict. The partner then experiences distance within his own psyche such that the objective conditions warrant a content that the partner recognizes as that of the business. The business then achieves the status of superpersonal unit within the immediate dyadic interactions between the business partners.

Simmel uncovers this principle of social predetermination by which the superpersonal unit is infused into dyadic association. The particular dyadic form is infused with a socio- historical “authority,” a prescribed parameter to its character. This prescription is more general the more standardized and pervasive the form. Because of its distance from specificities, the standardized form allows for a greater individual freedom, and thus a purer dyadic association.

Simmel asserts the following eidetic principles that contrast marriage and business in terms of the fundamental telos of the interactions: “The interaction among the participants [business partners qua business partners] has its purposes outside itself, while in marriage it has it within it. In business, the relationship serves as the means for obtaining certain objective results; in marriage, all objective elements are really nothing but means for the subjective relation” (1950:132). Will the alleged eidetic principles stand up to the critical test? Simmel claims that the objective character of the economic system ensures that the business is “intrinsically [a necessary principle] separate from the person of the owner, may he be one, or two, or more persons” (ibid.). Since business involves exchange and any form of exchange of objects, service, etc., transcends the merely subjective desires of those participating in the exchange, an “economic system” can be assumed at even the most primitive levels of economic development. Thus, the eidetic principle that through the external purpose to its dyadic interaction, a superpersonal element potentially infuses the business dyad seems to pass scrutiny. Yet, we have only examined a potentiality. It is possible to imagine a business partnership that through naivete or ignorance about objective conditions, or as some revolutionary groundbreaking structure, the dyadic interaction could be far less frequently infused with the prescriptions of superpersonal authority, especially in its early stages prior to the meeting of objective obstacles. However, the telos of their interactions would still consist in the conjecture of prescriptions based upon future objective conditions, no matter if well prefigured or subjectively contrived fantasy. Business necessarily entails extrinsic purpose.

In marriage is it that the objective elements (superpersonal socially predetermined prescriptions) that potentially infuse interaction are only a means for the purposes of the subjective dyadic relation? We challenge the necessity of this principle by asserting that some of the prescriptions have to do with the children from the marriage and thus the marriage relationship is a means for obtaining objective results outside of itself. But, marriage entails the possibility of children and the generation of a family is a natural outcome of marriage. Children are immediately linked to the marriage form because the children are the flesh and blood of the partners, or they are mediately linked to the marriage form through adoption. The fact that children usually establish their own independence seems to establish that the marriage is a means for objective results outside of itself; as independent agents, the “grown children” live their “own lives.” Nevertheless, these “objective elements” outside of the mar- riage form are a means for the subjective satisfaction of the marriage partners. Thus, what is done by the marriage partners, the observation of the grown children, is accomplished wholly for purposes intrinsic to the marriage relationship.

It is possible to imagine a marriage that is based wholly upon “convenience,” that is, one in which external factors constitute its only reason for being. All of the purposes are external, socially imposed. Let us assume these premises are not secret; the marriage could be for tax or immigration purposes. Are the purposes of the interaction intrinsically a function of the subjective relation? Are interactions a means for results intrinsic to the marriage? In these cases the eidos does not hold. But, the reason for this is that the marriage is reduced to a legal formality; it is marriage only in established name. The “name” allows for advantages that come from the name, without engaging in the substantive rela- tionship that the name represents. The reality of this “marriage type” is only as mere appearance, that is, a semblance that masks the fact that its true eidos is that of a business venture. The advantages in these “arrangements” are for wholly extrinsic purposes. The eidetic principles for business and marriage continue to pass scrutiny.


The purpose of this article has been to illuminate the significance of Simmel’s formal sociology and Husserl’s notion of an eidetic science. The vindication of Simmel’s sociological research as comprising an eidetic science has at the same time exemplified the Husserlian formulation of the intuitive grasping of essences. Husserl’s epistemological advancement, which establishes the proper recognition of eidetics, promotes Simmel’s sociology as research based on the intuitive presentation of eidetic evidence, rather than as the construction of social theory. The training for, and the institutionalization of, eidetic scientific analysis obviously is the next step in the process of creating a superior science that would consist of the complementary eidetic and empirical practices.


1 This is a general impression. For a factual history of Simmel’s influence in the United States, see Levine, Carter, and Gorman (1976a, b).

2 For a discussion of Simmel’s development, see Levine’s, “Introduction” in Simmel (1971:xiii-xv). Our thesis does not intend to characterize the entire corpus or the extent of methodologies employed by Simmel.

3 Kurt H. Wolff coins the word “sociation,” for the German Vergesellschaftung. I shall employ a more straight- forward English translation, the word “association” except when quoting Wolff’s translations. There is an ambi- guity of “association” in terms of its sociological and psychological meanings, but from the context of its use the intended meaning should be clear.

4 For an introduction to the notion of eidetic science, see Husserl (1983:5-32).

5 For an exemplary eidetic analysis by Simmel, see (1950:118-69).

6 Serious studies concerning a comparison of Simmel’s sociology with phenomenological inquiry have yet to be produced. Upon reading Simmel as ancillary to an interest in social phenomenology, I realized the eidetic nature of his approach. It was the overall Simmelian scholarship of Donald N. Levine and a statement made by George Psathas (1973:3) that motivated the writing of this paper: “[Simmel] in his development of ‘formal sociology’ and his insistence on the study of forms of sociation, showed an approach to the understanding of social phenomena that saw through the particular variations of content and setting to underlying uniformities. In this sense, Simmel’s approach was eidetic, the search for forms resembling the phenomenological quest for underlying essential properties or features.” Steinhoff (1925:215-59) provides an early treatment involving Simmel’s intuition of forms. For another analysis of Simmel’s forms see Weingartner (1962), especially pp. 23-28, where there is explicit reference to Husserl. Weingartner’s discussion concerns the relation between acts and contents. He discusses Husserl’s early treatment of this problem [1900], with which Simmel would have been familiar. The discussion does not take into account that Husserl later abandoned this early treatment as inadequate.

7 The Husserlian, Alfred Schutz, is best known in the field of social phenomenology. However, the eidetic approach is still marginal in the field of sociology. Rather than seen as the complement to empirical methods, eidetic methodology is understood as a peculiar bent of a certain minor tribe of sociologists. For an example of eidetic science, in this case, the essential structures of the life-world, see Schutz and Luckmann (1973).

8″Doctrine of assymetry” is Levine’s label for Simmel’s various epistemological stances, which are appropri- ated according to the properties of each object domain: “A Simmelian approach to methodological pluralism would thus consider what limitations on the applicability of different epistemic approaches are imposed by the properties of the objects they deal with. In other words, we need to consider the differential relevance of diverse kinds of phenomena to the different mental forms we bring to their study, both within and outside of Simmelian sociology” (1989:70). Compare Levine’s statement with that by Husserlian commentator, Levinas: “These material-ontological, in the proper sense of the term-categories are different in each domain of being. They divide, as Husserl expresses it, existence into regions. Each region is the object of a regional ontology…. The regions of being differ from each other not only in their essences and in the categories which delimit their essences but also in their existence. The very fact of being, of being there, is not an empty and uniform characteristic” (1973:4).

9 There is a possible caveat, which, however, would be based on a misunderstanding. The argument would claim that our apprehensions of forms are arbitrary and limited by the analytic weaknesses of the mind. Thus, the apprehension of forms is a subjective affair of the observer: See Simmel (1955:21).

The process which is given one name actually contains several distinguishable forms of relation. Human nature does not allow the individual to be tied to another by one thread alone, even though scientific analysis is not satisfied until it has determined the specific cohesive power of elementary units …. Perhaps the ties between individuals are indeed often quite homogeneous, but our mind cannot grasp their homogeneity…. What we have to do is to represent it as the co-efficiency of several cohesive forces which restrict and modify one another, resulting in the picture which objective reality attains by a much simpler and much more consistent route. Yet we cannot follow it with our mind even though we could. (Simmel 1955:21)

Letting this point stand, it does not follow that forms are posited of reality through the subjective analytical limitations of the observer. A chair exhibits the eidetic principles of sit-upon-ability, back-support-ability, and weight-support-ability. The fact that a chair can be used for barricading a door or for dropping off of a landing as a weapon do not change its essence. This means that a chair may exhibit other features that allow for other possible meanings to be constituted through various sense-bestowing activities. These other ways allow for the object, chair, to exhibit eide that pertain to other types of objects. On the other hand, one can sit on the bumper of a car and lean against the body of the car for back support. Here, one constitutes through one’s act the essence of chair with an object that empirically is not a chair. Analogously, the form, party, exhibits an eidetic structure, regardless of the fact that, during certain periods of association, competition, conflict, flirtation, secret telling, etc., may be intermingled during the party. These structures belong to the nature of the things themselves, even though Simmel questions the cognitive limits by which the observed phenomena are “carved-up.”

10 Schutz’s (1967) early interest involved developing a phenomenological psychology of intersubjectivity, which consists in apprehending the invariant structures by which a social actor experiences the social world. In other words, Schutz explored the eidetic structures of Simmel’s contents of sociation.

11 For a worthy discussion of the Baden school on this point, see Oakes (1988:49-53).

12 As Husserl argues:

Any matter of fact includes a material essential composition; and any eidetic truth belonging to the pure essences comprised in that composition must yield a law by which the given factual singularity, like any other possible singularity, is bound …. Any science of matters of fact (any experiential science) has essential theoretical foundations in eidetic ontologies. [Furthermore,] it has been our purpose to outline . . . the fundamental structure . . . with which individua must be determinable under “synthetical principles a priori” … in conformity with which all empirical sciences must be grounded on the regional ontologies which are relevant to them and not merely on the pure logic common to all sciences. (Husserl 1983:18,32; italics in original).

 13 This quote undoubtedly will bring charges of essentialism to Husserl’s doctrine. See Levinas:

Intentionality is what makes up the very subjectivity of subjects. The very reality of subjects consists in their transcending themselves. The problem of the relation between subject and object was justified by a substantialist ontology which conceived existence on the model of things resting in themselves…. Husserl, by overcoming the substantialist concept of existence, was able to demonstrate that a subject is not something that first exists and then relates to objects. The relation between subjects and objects constitutes the genuinely primary phenomenon in which we can find what are called “subject” and “object.” (1973:41)

Without a substantialist metaphysics, the charge of essentialism is unfounded. Husserl is far from having Aristotle “upstaging” the general thesis of Kant.

14 For corroboration of this point, see Hughes’ “Foreward” in Simmel (1955:8): “Critics of Simmel say that he never proves anything by empirical test. That is true. … He flashes an illustration before us; say the Catholic clergy. The clergy gives him a model (ideal-type or pure case) of a social group” (italics added).

15 See Levine (1985:90-91): “Durkheim’s program of positive sociology . . . depended on the assumption that social facts constitute a universe of naturally existing, concrete entities—’les faites sociales sont des choses’— and this property alone secured the basis for treating them as the object of study for a rigorous empirical science.”

16 See Levine (1981:72): “Next to the notion that Simmel lacks a coherent theoretical orientation perhaps the most common other stereotype about Simmel is that he is wholly ahistorical. Like the former stereotype this view too has some basis in reality. Much of his writing does proceed by analyzing general formations which have been abstracted from concrete historical settings.”

17 See Husserl (1977:54): “This universal essence is the eidos, the ‘idea’ in the Platonic sense, but apprehended purely and free from all metaphysical interpretations, therefore taken precisely as it becomes given to us in immediate intuitiveness in the seeing of ideas.”

18 See Husserl (1983:41):

Blindness to ideas is a kind of psychical blindness; because of prejudices one becomes incapable of bringing what one has in one’s field of intuition into one’s field of judgment. The truth is that all human beings see “ideas,” “essences,” and see them, so to speak, continuously; they operate with them in their thinking, they also make eidetic judgments-except that from their epistemological standpoint they inter- pret them away. It is the business of theories to conform to data, and the business of theories of knowledge to distinguish fundamental kinds of data and describe such kinds with respect to their proper essences. (1983:41)

Also see Husserl (1983:44) “The seizing upon and intuition of essences is, however, a complex act, specifically seeing essences is an originary presentive act and, as a presentive act, is the analogue of sensuous perceiving and not of imagining” (italics in original).

19 See Levine (1981:61): “From that perspective [the empirical ethos], Simmel was far too unempirical to be taken seriously …. Pitirim Sorokin had declared that Simmel’s sociological enterprise was misguided in aim and flawed in execution, and that ‘to call sociologists back to Simmel .. . means to call them back to a pure speculation, metaphysics, and a lack of scientific method’ (Sorokin, 1928, p. 502, n. 26).”

20 See Schiller’s (1966) development of the naive genius and the sentimentalist characterologies. 21A good discussion of the reduction of science to technomethodological operation, see Husserl (1970a: 1-6).

22 For example, Simmel (1990) investigates the forms of association that accompany the developmental stages of a money economy.

23 Husserl’s most concise and germane description for our purposes can be found in “Part III The Constitution of General Objectivities and the Forms of Judging ‘in General'” (1973:317-78).

24 Two senses of “abstraction” must be distinguished. The sociology that Simmel advocates is one that concen- trates exclusively on the forms of association, which leaves the psychological contents of those associating to the study of other disciplines. In this sense, sociology must abstract the forms (in the sense of, to separate them) from the givenness of the phenomena. This methodological procedure of abstraction is only possible due to the general cognitive ability to abstract an identity from a manifold (in the sense of the recognition of a general idea or of the ability to think of something apart from any particular manifestation). This ability, for example to recognize a specific chair as a chair, is taken for granted in the everyday world. However, at the level and interest of science, where the phenomena of study are not taken for granted, the abstraction of a universal is precisely scientific progress.

25 Like Husserl, Simmel remains attentive to the misinterpretations of realism. Simmel argued against realism in the social sciences. But on the other hand, he also, like Husserl, remains attentive to the misinterpretations of idealism, which is the concern of the last sentence of the previously quoted material.

26 To grasp the seriousness of this claim, see Husserl (1970b:1-186).

27 One could put forth the argument that Simmel, in fact, did develop a style that engenders eidetic investiga- tion. His “peculiar” style of presenting contradictory theses, paradoxical concepts, etc., calls into question a principle. These strategies test the necessity of a proposed principle. Quoting testimonies of others, Wolff (Sim- mel 1950:xvii) states, “Simmel took ‘his students down an oblique pit into the mine’; he was not a teacher, he was an ‘inciter.’ ‘Just about the time when . . . one felt he had reached a conclusion, he had a way of raising his right arm and, with three fingers of his hand, turning the imaginary object so as to exhibit still another facet.’ ”

28 See Levine (Simmel 1971:xxvii): “The conceptual scaffolding of Simmel’s sociology, then, consists of four types or levels of forms: (1) the forms of elementary social interaction; (2) institutionalized structures; (3) auton- omous ‘play’ forms; (4) the generic form of society itself.” Also see Levine (Simmel 1971:xxxiv-xxxv): “Cul- tural forms arise . . . when the unity of immediate experience is disrupted and a distance is interposed between subject and object…. Some forms organize gradations of vertical distance, whereas others are forms for organizing horizontal distances.”


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