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Max Weber's 'Objectivity' Reconsidered

Max Weber's 'Objectivity' Reconsidered

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Max Weber's 'Objectivity' Reconsidered
    Book Description:

    This essential volume not only contributes to the resurgence of interest in Weber's oeuvre but goes beyond the exegetic and polemical debates of the burgeoning 'Weberological' literature in offering a coherent theoretical explanation for the proliferation of interpretations that Weber's writings continue to elicit.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8455-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Towards a Comparative Reception-History of Max Weber’s Oeuvre
    (pp. 3-28)

    In 1904, Max Weber published two of his most seminal works, his essay ‘The “Objectivity” of Knowledge in Social Science and Social Policy’¹ and the first of two instalments ofThe Protestant Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism. The former is no doubt his most widely read methodological piece, the latter his most celebrated empirical study. Despite their different topics and genres, these works share more than their date and their place of publication (theArchiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, of which Weber assumed the co-editorship that year). As contemporaneous works, the ‘Objectivity’ essay andThe Protestant Ethiccan and,...

  5. Part One: The Partisan and the Scholar:: Weber’s ‘Objectivity’ between Theory and Practice

    • 1 Weber on Objectivity: Advocate or Critic?
      (pp. 31-57)

      Weber’s reputation with respect to objectivity has been pulled in contradictory directions. On the one hand Weber can be portrayed as the classic modernist spokesman for objectivity, understood as the cool, detached attitude of the scientific specialist. In this view, objectivity is associated with the production of value-free, rational knowledge on the model of the natural sciences. On the basis of this image, Weber can be associated with the positivist and rationalist traditions of social science. Proponents of this image tend to applaud Weber for at least ‘preaching,’ if not always practising, a notion of objectivity understood as an ideal...

    • 2 The Paradoxes of Social Science: Weber, Winch, and Wittgenstein
      (pp. 58-88)

      Despite the vast secondary literature that now surrounds, and maybe smothers, Max Weber’s ‘The “Objectivity” of Knowledge in Social Science and Social Policy,’ there has been little detailed interpretation of the work.¹ During the past three decades, there have been many enlightening and stimulating characterizations, descriptions, and assessments of Weber’s methodological arguments, but there has been little attempt to reconstruct in depth and detail the internal structure and substance of the 1904 essay.

      One tendency has been to decontextualize the piece and view it, often anachronistically, as if it were an intervention in contemporary discussions in the philosophy of social...

    • 3 Ideal-Types as ‘Utopias’ and Impartial Political Clarification: Weber and Mannheim on Sociological Prudence
      (pp. 89-116)

      In this paper, I would like to address a paradox at the heart of Weber’s essay on ‘Objectivity’ that few commentators have noticed. On the one hand, the essay seeks to account for the conditions under which social science in general and historical economics in particular might achieve a degree of impartiality in its modes of inquiry. In doing so, Weber famously appeals to the possibility of attaining a unique kind of objectivity through the use of the ideal-type. However, the ideal-type for Weber is partial and perspectival in all its aspects. It is dependent on cultural values in the...

    • 4 Did Weber Practise the Objectivity He Preached?
      (pp. 117-134)

      We are commemorating the first centenary of Weber’s manifesto on objectivity in social studies (Weber 1988i).* This is a suitable occasion to celebrate because, as the dean of American philosophy put it recently, ‘Objectivity has fallen on hard times. Among some because of a failure to understand its linkage to rationality. Among others, who understand this linkage only too well, because rationality itself is an object of repugnance’ (Rescher 1997, 1). Indeed, objectivity calls for impersonal reason, and reason happens to be thebête noireof the New Age and postmodernism.

      The central thesis of Weber’s paper was that the...

  6. Part Two: ‘Objectivity’ in Cross-cultural Translation

    • 5 Speaking Past One Another: Durkheim, Weber, and Varying Modes of Sociological Explanation
      (pp. 137-164)

      Juxtaposing and opposing the works of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber have become ritual exercises of contemporary sociological training. The two authors themselves, however, never confronted one another’s work, which may seem surprising, given that Durkheim (1858–1917) and Weber (1864–1920) were contemporaries whose most productive periods coincided during the final decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth. What is more, each was able to read the language of the other. It would seem, though, that Weber’s knowledge of the French sociological literature of his time was extremely limited. The recurrent question of whether Weber...

    • 6 Talcott Parsons: A Critical Loyalty to Max Weber
      (pp. 165-183)

      Max Weber’s oeuvre first became known in Quebec’s French-and English-language universities by way of Talcott Parsons. At least in this respect, Quebec was in no way different from the rest of postwar North America in the early 1950s, when the second, 1949 edition of Parsons’sThe Structure of Social Actionhad its impact.¹ Monumental and highly original in the context of American sociology of the time, Parsons’s work compelled a rereading of Émile Durkheim’s work and corrected the ambiguous if not false image from which Durkheim’s sociology suffered in the United States, where one attributed a sort of ‘collective animism,’...

    • 7 Weberianism, Modernity, and the Fall of the Wall
      (pp. 184-205)

      A primary assumption of this chapter is that the attraction exerted by Max Weber’s historical sociology is related to the importance he attributes to the process of rationalization. Thus it begins with ‘Hegel, Weber, and the Theme of Rationality.’ An attempt is made to show how the two authors converge (but do not merge) on the universal significance and value of the concept of rationality, in spite of the fact that, according to Hegelian metaphysics,¹ history is the process whereby the world-mind develops through time, while Weber considers rationality as a contingency of history.² This concern with historical contingency constitutes...

    • 8 Rethinking Weber’s Ideal-Types of Development, Politics, and Scientific Knowledge
      (pp. 206-224)

      In this chapter, I would like to consider to what extent Max Weber’s ideal-types of development, politics, and scientific knowledge are still valid today. His studies ranged from the methodology of social science and the comparative sociology of world religions based upon his view of modernity to theories of politics as well as of scientific knowledge (Wissenschaft). There is no denying the historical fact that Weber, whose achievements are still influential today, won the debate with the ethicohistorical school of his time represented by Gustav von Schmoller (1838–1917), whose achievements have now been almost forgotten. In my view, however,...

    • 9 Weber, Braudel, and Objectivity in Comparative Research
      (pp. 225-240)

      Weber’s ‘“Objectivity” of Knowledge in Social Science and Social Policy’ constituted the introductory remarks of a new editorial board for the journalArchiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik(1904). He explains that the difference he perceived between the natural and the cultural sciences lies in the fact that ‘the significance of cultural events presupposes avalue-orientationtowards these events. The concept of culture is avalue-concept. Empirical reality becomes “culture” to us because and insofar as we relate it to value ideas’ (Weber 1949, 76). His argument is based on the need to make an ‘unbridgeable distinction’ between ‘empirical knowledge’ and...

    • 10 An Empirical Assessment of Weber’s ‘Objectivity of Social Science Knowledge’
      (pp. 241-258)

      The objectivity of social science knowledge has vocal critics. On the conservative right it is claimed that Western values like tolerance and free inquiry are unique to Western civilization, as are analytic and probing rationality. Those steeped in non-Western cultures acquire different values, learn a different mode of rationality, and lack the capacity for understanding Western culture. On the political left, muticulturalists, postmodernists, and deconstructionists claim that values and knowledge are a product of a strategic contention for power between rivals. Facts, truth, discourse, and interpretation are valid only for particular local consensus. An objective method and standard for truth...

  7. Part Three: Weber and Contemporary Social Science:: An Opportunity Missed?

    • 11 On Being a Weberian (after Spain’s 11–14 March): Notes on the Continuing Relevance of the Methodological Perspective Proposed by Weber
      (pp. 261-289)

      I take as constitutive of the distinctively Weberian approach to social science the recognition, indeed embrace, of (at least)¹ two more-or-less interrelated tensions: (1) the effort to delineate and account for what isspecific, and thus historically individual, in given empirical realities balanced against the attempt to formulate – and then apply in explanatory endeavours –generalizing concepts and theories; (2) the pursuit of types of knowledge, and thus the posing of questions, that aremeaningfulfrom the value perspective of the investigator (but less so from other value perspectives) alongside the commitment to bothimpartiality and rigourin addressing those questions...

    • 12 Weber and the Problem of Social Science Prediction
      (pp. 290-308)

      At first glance, Max Weber’s interpretive sociology appears to place little emphasis upon prediction of outcomes in order to test the validity of theoretical hypotheses. After all, Weber clearly dismissed the idea that causation in social science must take the form of invariant, universal ‘laws,’ insisting that the cultural values that motivate social action in different historical periods, and that also inevitably shape the motivation of social scientists in their choice of subject matter, are constantly subject to change. For these reasons, he argued, ‘a systematic science of culture, even only in the sense of a definitive, objectively valid systematic...

    • 13 Weber, Objectivity, and the Classics of Comparative Politics
      (pp. 309-321)

      During a fellowship year at Princeton I had the pleasure one evening of being seated at a banquet table right next to a famous philosopher. As we ate dinner, the conversation gradually turned to what kinds of readings we assign our graduate students. Eager to show how well educated I was and how much I insisted that my students be educated, too, I informed my conversation partner that I began my graduate core seminars in comparative politics with a three-week tour through the classics of social theory, moving on to the ups and downs of modernization and dependency theory in...

    • 14 Also One Hundred Years since Weber Flirted with Ethnography
      (pp. 322-350)

      Today we commemorate Max Weber’s ever-slippery theory of objectivity, dating from questions ‘customary to ask’occasioned‘when a social science journal ... passes into the hands of a new editorial board’ (Weber 1949, 50). I heartily join inouroccasion by co-commemorating Weber’s practices of description en route to and from another 1904 occasion: St Louis’s centennial and ‘universal exposition.’ (Contingent celebratory occasions tend to multiply!) Weber’s animated travel notes and ethnographic sensibilities may seem morecasualthancausal, indeed more casual even than ‘contextual, multicausal, and conjunctural causal,’ in Stephen Kalberg’s terms (Weber 2002, lx). Yet whether casually, causally,...

  8. Conclusion: The ‘Objectivist’ Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Science
    (pp. 351-374)

    Fourteen authors have presented at least as many different manners of reading and using Weber. They have addressed him, in varying combinations, as a revered founding father of modern social science, a co-equal rational interlocutor in the ongoing debates of that science, and the tragic prophet of the disenchantment of the social world through scientific intellectualism. They have treated Weber’s oeuvre as an end of knowledge in itself, but also as a means for advancing their own epistemological positions and their practical research objectives. The question for us now remains how to explain these and countless other divergent receptions and...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 375-382)
  10. Index
    (pp. 383-390)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 391-391)