The Two Kings of Modernity: Science and Religion in Simmel's Metaphysics of Value

Neil Turnbull


Georg Simmel’s tantalising suggestion that that in each age there exists a ‘regal notion’, a secret ‘conceptual king’, opens up an important issue in contemporary social epistemology: the question of how we should conceive of ‘the metaphysics of the social’.  It suggests that within every weltanschauung there exists an adhesive field, a force of conceptual gravitation, capable of binding the fragments of historical being together into the wider significance of a world.  In this scheme, it is this force, this ‘idea-influence’, that is ‘the secret king’. However, it is important to speculate as to this king’s name, constitution and powers. What seems clear in this regard is that in its regal status, contra Foucault, this centripetal notion cannot be reduced to the dimension of governmental discipline and control, as it exists in a quite different relationship to power, at least as power has been conceived in the social sciences.  In this paper, I will suggest that the key to understanding the dynamics of the contemporary era in particular resides in understanding the tension between the king – understood as what intellectually reigns - and that which merely governs.


Vitalism; Metaphysics; Governmentality; Worldhood; Positivism; Science; Kingship

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