The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms
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Published in 1918, The View of Life is Georg Simmel’s final work. Famously deemed “the brightest man in Europe” by George Santayana, Simmel addressed diverse topics across his essayistic writings, which influenced scholars in aesthetics, epistemology, and sociology. Nevertheless, certain core issues emerged over the course of his career—the genesis, structure, and transcendence of social and cultural forms, and the nature and conditions of authentic individuality, including the role of mindfulness regarding mortality. Composed not long before his death, The View of Life was, Simmel wrote, his “testament,” a capstone work of profound metaphysical inquiry intended to formulate his conception of life in its entirety.
Now Anglophone readers can at last read in full the work that shaped the argument of Heidegger’s Being and Time and whose extraordinary impact on European intellectual life between the wars was extolled by Jürgen Habermas. Presented alongside these seminal essays are aphoristic fragments from Simmel’s last journal, providing a beguiling look into the mind of one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers.
them, it can pour itself into social, altruistic, spiritual, and artistic formations and see its respective final-purpose in these; on countless occasions life itself fulfils what is originally its own ideal, nourished only by its individual root, by distancing itself from itself, by giving itself up. If one wants to call this throughout a perfection of one’s own personality, this can only be a label, not the ethically definitive final-purpose, because the sanction here in question can come, not
importance—which interrupts the entire metaphysical life-coherence—of the death-moment. Because this very moment—through repentance or even by means of ceremonial activity—is supposed to undo the most wicked life of sin, an excessive emphasis seems to me to be placed on a temporal-earthly detail—an emphasis incompatible with the wonderful, overall insight that we are all from the outset the children of God who make only a fleeting sojourn on this earth. Even on earth we live as His children,
sense of former times, but as an abbreviated symbol for the feeling of an ultimately firm, persisting identity of the person). This impossibility arises from very diverse standpoints. From the viewpoint of the physical-metaphysical, organic unity of body and soul, Aristotle scorns the principle of soul migration that would allow any number of souls to enter any number of bodies: the art of carpentry could just as easily go into flutes; in reality a particular soul is united and unitable only with
separated from it: namely, the subject’s own life. Even he who, purely according to its content, conceives his 100 Chapter Four life under artistic, religious, or scientific viewpoints, knows it at the same time to be his actual life, because the conception could not occur at all if it were not actual, not actually lived. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a second category with which actuality shares this monopoly position in regards to the sequence of experience—a category according to
Because life is fulfilled only in individuals, the creation of moral norms is in principle an individual process. Yet therefore the establishment of law and universal law, as it dominates ethics and is developed to the purest abstraction in the Kantian view, perhaps does not possess the logical or self-evident necessity claimed for it. And further—though I may deduce what I have to do ever so precisely from the material relations of things and from laws that arise outside of me—ultimately or