Max Weber (1864-1920)

“Social science cannot tell you how to live”

“The fate of an epoch that has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must … recognize that general views of life and the universe can never be the products of increasing empirical knowledge, and that the highest ideals, which move us most forcefully, are always formed only in the struggle with other ideals which are just as sacred to others as ours are to us.”

  1. Biographical Basics
    1. Childhood
      1. Born 1864 in at the end of the ten year period that produced Durkheim, Freud, Simmel, Mead
      2. Precocious but sickly and shy kid – reading the classics by age 14
      3. Very religious mother, successful businessman/politician father
      4. Childhood home full of prominent figures of the day
    2. Education - Youth - Early Career
      1. Goes away to college, joins frats, drinking clubs, etc.
      2. Studies legal history, economics. A rocket star young academic. Makes full professor just one year after starting. Called to Heidelberg a year after that.
      3. Father dies 1897. He spends next several years “staring out the window.” Nervous collapse. Out of action five years or so.
    3. Main Work
      1. Most of his important work appears between late 1890s and his death in 1920.
      2. Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, Sociology of Religion, Methodology of Social Sciences, Economy and Society
      3. Numerous works left unfinished. Wife Marianne puts in a lot of work to finish things up during 1920s.
  2. Main question: changing basis of rationality in Western society: “What social factors brought about the rationalization of Western society?”
  3. Intellectual Style
    1. historical – subject matter ranged from Roman agricultural practices to contemporary events
    2. systematic – more so than any other classical theorist (excepting, maybe, Pareto)
    3. comparative – in order to understand Western society looked at religion and economy in India, China, etc.
  4. Theoretical "method" : methodological individualism
    1. Sociology as science of social action
      • What individuals do…
      • …that takes account of others
    2. Focus on individual actor rather than social structures or "the social"
      1. Spencer on the body social as an organism
      2. Durkheim on institutions and cohesion of social structures
      3. Marx on conflicts between social classes within changing structures and relations of production
      4. Tönnies on modernization as shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft
      5. Maine on modernization as shift from status to contract
  5. Weber : modernization as changes in bases of human action associated with shifts in the historical situation.
      1. Conceptual foundation: focus on subjective meaning actors attach to actions oriented toward the re-actions of others in specific historical contexts
      2. Then, distinguish four types of action – purposeful, value oriented, emotional, traditional
        1. Purposeful, goal oriented (zweckrational): e.g., Engineer or investment banker
        2. Value oriented (wertrational): e.g., striving for salvation by rational means
        3. Emotional/Affective : not based on means/end reasoning, e.g., religious services in a fundamentalist sect
        4. Traditional: guided by customary habits of thought, e.g., an orthodox Jewish congregation
  6. Major Concepts
    1. Ideal Type
    2. Types of legitimate domination (tradition, legal-rational, charismatic)
    3. Bureaucracy (seven characteristics)
    4. State as monopoly on legitimate use of coercion
    5. Politics (ethic of responsibility vs. Science
    6. Subjectively meaningful action
    7. Rationality
    8. methodological individualism
    9. Styles of capitalism
    10. Ethical neutrality
  7. TAKE AWAY
    1. methodological approach to history and sociology (see below)
    2. Social world as multidimensional (even if MW did not really produce a multidimensional theory)
      1. material
      2. Ideas
      3. will-choice/decisions/actions, i.e., AGENCY
    3. methodological individualism : meaningful action of individuals as topic for sociology. What does action mean?  phenomenology and symbolic interactionism
    4. Role of intellectual
      1. Distinguish role of science and politics
      2. Must be open to inconvenient facts
      3. must strive to distinguish empirical facts from one's own private evaluations (a good touchstone for one's own work is to keep an eye on differences between empirical, political, and moral questions)
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