Kant, Simmel and Fashion.


        The French philosopher and sociologists Pierre Bourdieu argued against the Kantian view of pure aesthetics, noting that the only permissible taste was that of the ruling class. He also rejected the idea of good taste as he believed there was only one choice in taste to be had.  This idea was previously expressed by Georg Simmel [1858-1918] who gained an interest in fashion believing that the upper classes changed their fashion taste as soon as the lower classes copied it.   Indeed, the middle classes copied much of the ruling class taste in an attempt to raise their social status, something they never managed to achieve.


      Simmel’s contribution to social theory went far beyond fashion and taste. He was one of the first German sociologists to challenge the Kantian view whereby he put down the foundations for the school of anti-positivism.  Simmel took Kant’s major question of what is nature and reframed it into what is society?    Simmel’s aim was to locate some form of individuality  in the context of a given culture in order to show that individual taste was declining.    Simmel firmly believed that culture moulded individuals by usurping free agency and embedding people into belief systems which they had no say over.  Simmel referred to “the cultivation of individuals through the agency of external forms which have been objectified in the course of history”.[i][ Simmel set the foundations for the structuralist view of society using the terms  “forms” and “contents” to discuss social relationships, categories he believed were interchangeable.  With this in mind Simmel had a great influence of early urban sociology.


       Simmel’s ideas were somewhat influenced by Max Weber whereby Simmel used to topic of “personal character” to emulate Weber’s “ideal type”.  He also wrote extensively on the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well as on the works of the artist Rembrandt. [ii] Simmel’s books include such topics and emotion and love and his views held particular sway with the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School.     




[i]  Donald Levine (ed) (1971)Simmel: On individuality and social forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 6,]   

[ii][Simmel Georg [1916] Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art 


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