How is Society Possible? HTML version

How is Society Possible?
Georg Simmel
American Journal of Sociology, vol. 16 (1910-11)
Kant could propose and answer the fundamental question of his
philosophy, How is nature possible?, only because for him nature
was nothing but the representation (Vorstellung) of nature. This
does not mean merely that "the world is my representation," that
we thus can speak of nature only so far as it is a content of our
consciousness, but that what we call nature is a special way in
which our intellect assembles, orders, and forms the
sense-perceptions. These "given" perceptions, of color, taste,
tone, temperature, resistance, smell, which in the accidental
sequence of subjective experience course through our
consciousness, are in and of themselves not yet "nature;" but
they become "nature" through the activity of the mind, which
combines them into objects and series of objects, into substances
and attributes and into causal coherences. As the elements of the
world are given to us immediately, there does not exist among
them, according to Kant, that coherence (Verbindung) which alone
can make out of them the intelligible regular (gesetzmassig)
unity of nature; or rather, which signifies precisely the
being-nature (Natur-Sein) of those in themselves incoherently and
irregularly emerging world-fragments. Thus the Kantian
world-picture grows in the most peculiar reJection (Wiederspiel),
Our sense-impressions are for this process purely subjective,
since they depend upon the physico-psychical organization, which
in other beings might be different, but they become "objects"
since they are taken up by the forms of our intellect, and by
these are fashioned into fixed regularities and into a coherent
picture of "nature." On the other hand, however, those
perceptions are the real "given," the unalterably accumulating
content of the world and the assurance of an existence
independent of ourselves, so that now those very intellectual
formings of the same into objects, coherences, regularities,
appear as subjective, as that which is brought to the situation
by ourselves, in contrast with that which we have received from
the externally existent - i.e., these formings appear as the
functions of the intellect itself, which in themselves
unchangeable, had constructed from another sense-material a
nature with another content. Nature is for Kant a definite sort
of cognition, a picture growing through and in our cognitive
categories. The question then, How is nature possible?, i.e.,
what are the conditions which must be present in order that a
"nature" may be given, is resolved by him through discovery of
the forms which constitute the essence of our intellect and
therewith bring into being "nature" as such.
It is at once suggested that it is possible to treat in an
analogous fashion the question of the aprioristic conditions on
the basis of which society - is possible. Here too individual
elements are given which in a certain sense always remain in
their discreteness, as is the case with the sense-perceptions,
and they undergo their synthesis into the unity of a society only
through a process of consciousness which puts the individual
existence of the several elements into relationship with that of
the others in definite forms and in accordance with definite
laws. The decisive difference between the unity of a society and