Georg Simmel, 1858-1918: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography

By Kurt H. Wolff | Go to book overview

ON THE NATURE OF PHILOSOPHY1

GEORG SIMMEL

Under the concept of philosophy a large body of thought is collected. If we look for a point of entry into this accumulation, if we seek a determination of this concept from some point in the mental world that is not itself already within the province of philosophy, our need cannot be satisfied, given the structure that our knowledge has. For what philosophy is, is actually decided only within philosophy, that is, only by means of its own concepts and methods. Philosophy is, so to speak, the first of its own problems. Perhaps no other discipline directs its investigation back to its own nature in this way. The object of physics is surely not the science of physics itself, but, perhaps, optical and electrical phenomena; philology is concerned with Plautus' manuscripts and the development of inflections in Anglo-Saxon, but not with the nature of philology. Philosophy, and perhaps only philosophy, moves in the following curious circle: It determines the presuppositions of its method of thinking and of its purposes by the use of its own method of thinking and in accordance with its own purposes. There is no access to the concept of philosophy from the outside; for only philosophy can decide what philosophy is--indeed, whether it is at all, or whether perhaps its name merely conceals a worthless phantasm.

This unique procedure on the part of philosophy is the consequence--or perhaps only the expression--of its fundamental effort: to think without presuppositions. It is impossible for man to begin entirely at the beginning. He always finds, within or outside himself, a reality or a past which supplies a basis for his conduct, a starting point, or at least something which is hostile and must be destroyed. In just this way, our knowing is also conditioned by something which is "already there," by realities or by inner laws. These realities and inner laws, whether they are only the rules of logic and method or the fact of an existing world, cannot be produced by the thought process itself. But since the content and direction of this process depend on them, its sovereignty is limited in various ways. Hence,

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Georg Simmel, 1858-1918: A Collection of Essays, with Translations and a Bibliography
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