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Max Weber And Social Sciences

Updated October 16, 2019

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Max Weber And Social Sciences essay

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Max Weber And Social Sciences Max Weber and Social Science Max Weber thought that statements of fact are one thing, statements of value another, and any confusing of the two is impermissible, Ralf Dahrendorf writes in his essay Max Weber and Modern Social Science as he acknowledges that Weber clarified the difference between pronouncements of fact and of value. 1 Although Dahrendorf goes on to note the ambiguities in Weber’s writings between factual analysis and value-influenced pronouncements, he stops short of offering an explanation for them other than to say that Weber, being human, could not always live with his own demands for objectivity. Indeed, Dahrendorf leaves unclear exactly what Weber’s view of objectivity was.

More specifically, Dahrendorf does not venture to lay out a detailed explanation of whether Weber believed that the social scientist could eliminate the influence of values from the analysis of facts. Did Weber believe that, even though facts are one thing and values another, social and economic facts could be evaluated without the analysis being influenced by values? And what is the relation of objectivity to values? Could objectivity, for instance, be used to show that one value is superior to another? Or does objectivity apply only to the analysis of facts? Do one’s values or perspective stem from human nature, metaphysical views, personal identity, or is it just as likely that they are a mere construct of culture? These questions, and others like them, underlie much that has been considered ambiguous in Max Weber’s writings: His methodology. Since his death, sociologists and political scientists have been disputing where Weber stood with regard to questions concerning the relationship of objectivity to facts and values. Most of Weber’s commentators, Edward Bryan Portis writes, have assumed his advocacy of the fact-value dichotomy, despite his explicit and implicit assertions to the contrary, because of his numerous statements denying the ability of science to refute any normative position or to help one choose among contending normative orientations. 2 Indeed, hardly a scholarly piece is written on Weber, it seems, without the preamble that Weber’s views on this subject have been widely misunderstood, with the implication that the scholar at hand intends to finally set the record straight. This essay has more humble ambitions.

Although it takes issue in the final section with part of the exhaustive view laid out by Portis, this essay does not purport to put forth yet another definitive interpretation of Weber’s views on objectivity. Rather it seeks to shed light on Weber’s view of the applicability of objectivity by attempting to answer the overarching question that sits at the foundation of those posed above: Was Weber an advocate of value-free social science? The answer, as will be shown, is both yes and no — because, this essay will argue, Weber maintained a two-tier approach to value-free social science. On the one hand, he believed that ultimate values could not be justified scientifically, that is, through value-free analysis. Thus, in comparing different religious, political or social systems, one system could not be chosen over another without taking a value or end into consideration; the choice would necessarily be dictated by the analyst’s values. On the other hand, Weber believed that once a value, end, purpose, or perspective had been established, then a social scientist could conduct a value-free investigation into the most effective means within a system of bringing about the established end. Similarly, Weber believed that objective comparisons among systems could also be made once a particular end had been established, acknowledged, and agreed upon, a position that allowed Weber to make what he considered objective comparisons among such economic systems as capitalism and socialism.

Thus, even though Weber maintained that ultimate values could not be evaluated objectively, this belief did not keep him from believing that social problems could be scientifically resolved — once a particular end or value had been established. But first, just what is Weber’s own standpoint, as determined by his ultimate values? It is, no doubt, influenced by one of his key concerns: the quality of human being in any given economic and social order. 3 Sometimes, however, his standpoint is nationalistic. And in yet other essays, it champions individual liberty. Indeed, Weber’s perspective changes, and it is likely to be driven not by one value but by levels of them, ranging from humanism to a concrete objective. But the fact that Weber had a perspective lends little support to the two-tier interpretation, other than to show that he believed it was permissible for a social scientist to possess a value-determined standpoint.

His treatment of perspective is another matter, however. One hint that begins to shed light on Weber’s view on the fact-value question is a characteristic that recurs in several of Weber’s essays and speeches: Weber announces, often at the beginning of a speech or essay, the standpoint from which he plans to evaluate a given situation or set of facts. Likewise, if he changes his focus during a presentation, he often declares the new standpoint. In his opening remarks of The Nation State and Economic Policy, one of Weber’s early speeches, he sets a precedent for this pattern while unveiling a justification for his perspective. The inaugural lecture is an opportunity, Weber says, to present and justify openly the personal and, in this sense, `subjective’ standpoint from which one judges economic phenomena, revealing that he maintained that even the examination of such seemingly hard data as economic facts were subject to the influence of a perspective determined by values.

4 When Weber shifts course later in the speech to prescribing what should be done to deal with the problems on Germany’s eastern frontier, he discloses his new perspective: the standpoint of the German people. 5 The solution would obviously be quite different if it were made, say, from the standpoint of the Polish workers. Similarly, in one of his later lectures, The Profession and Vocation of Politics, Weber tells his audience near the beginning of his remarks that he will expose the political deficiency of this system .. from the standpoint of success. 6 Although Weber often announces the value from which he intends to analyze a particular policy, he also acknowledges that the value may be merely a construct of one’s culture or society.

An example of the influence of culture upon perspective lies in Weber’s comments about political economy. As soon as the method of analysis known as political economy makes value judgements, Weber says, it is tied to the particular strain of humankind (Menschentum) we find within our own nature. .. The economic policy of a German state, and, equally, the criterion of value used by a German economic theorist, can therefore only be a German policy or criterion.

7 Yet the perspective still must be acknowledged. Regardless of whether a social scientist’s value-orientation stems from cultural norms, nationality, or a worldview, what remains certain for Weber is that the value is neither intrinsic to the subject matter nor specific to its context — a view that categorically separates value from facts. Weber takes care to refute such views in his discussion of the methodology of political economy in The Nation State and Economic Policy. First, Weber assails those economists who maintain that political economy can derive its own ideals from the subject matter. The notion that there are independent or socio-political ideals shows itself to be a delusion as soon as one delves into the literature in an attempt to identify the basis for its evaluation, Weber says. 8 The truth is that the ideals we introduce into the subject matter of our science are not peculiar to it, nor are they produced by this science itself.

9 Rather, the values stand above the subject matter; they are of a higher order. For Weber, it is less important what another analyst’s core values are than whether he clarifies them for the benefit of both himself and his audience. Weber also criticizes those scientists who often unconsciously allow the starting point for our analyses and explanations of economic events to determine our judgements of these events, 10 demonstrating that he separates the subjectivity of value-orientation from the objective evaluation that is carried out after the value orientation has been established. In other words, Weber is chastising those scientists who allow the subjectivity of their perspective to determine their analysis of the facts. As examples of the economic scientists who have made this mistake, Weber points to the historical apologists and to the Marxists. What matters even more to Weber is whether one adheres unflinchingly to his values.

In The Profession and Vocation of Politics, Weber explicitly articulates how one must look at life from a chosen value: What matters is not age but the trained ability to look at realities of life with an unsparing gaze, to bear these realities and be a match for them inwardly. 11 The comment exposes the inherent relationship, for Weber, between value-free analysis and value-driven moral action, a dichotomy that resurfaces in Weber’s discussion of an ethics of commitment and an ethics of responsibility. To be a match for them inwardly is to cling to one’s values even in the face of the inevitable polar night of icy darkness. 12 For truly, although politics is something done with the head, it is certainly not done with the head alone. 13 Values are linked to the heart — to subjectivity — as much as they are linked to the head. Weber himself seems to adhere to his own values — or at least he argues repeatedly for the veracity of one `cause’ over another.

Perhaps this is among the trends that have led many Weber scholars astray, especially since Weber feels that no cause can be `proved’, simply by intellectual means, to be superior to any other. 14 Despite his own attachment to, for example, the values of individual liberty, his philosophical stance did not provide a mechanism for validating democratic values in and of themselves. 15 How can Weber’s arguments for his ultimate values be reconciled with the view that value-free analysis can be conducted only after a value or purpose has been established? Lassman and Speirs, in their introduction to Weber: Political Writings, provide the answer. Although Weber believed that values could not be given any form of `ultimate’ foundation, it was possible and indeed necessary 16 to argue for them because the tensions between competing values are essential in order to prevent cultural stagnation.

17 Even though Lassman and Speirs do not explain precisely how it is possible to put forth objective arguments supporting subjective values while maintaining a commitment to truth, they do allude to one solution: Weber’s scholarly investigations and political essays have the purpose of making clear, in an objective manner as possible, the realities and possibilities given in any particular situation. 18 Having examined Weber’s views of the role of perspective and values in social scientific analysis, the evidence, both from Weber’s writings and from commentaries on them, must now be considered in support of the interpretation that Weber took a two-tier approach to value-free social science. First, it must be shown that held Weber believed ultimate values could not be proved scientifically, a position alluded to in several preceding remarks. Lassman and Speirs, writing in their introduction to Weber: Political Writings, address the matter directly. Weber held the belief, they say, that there is no longer any possibility of an objective ranking of ultimate values or moral principles. 19 Weber’s ow …

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Max Weber And Social Sciences. (2019, Oct 16). Retrieved from