The Protestant Ethic Debate

The Protestant Ethic Debate: Weber’s Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910

Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Protestant Ethic Debate
    Book Description:

    Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism continues to be one of the most influential texts in the sociology of modern Western societies. Although Weber never produced the further essays with which he intended to extend the study, he did complete four lengthy Replies to reviews of the text by two German historians. Written between 1907 and 1910, the Replies offer a fascinating insight into Weber’s intentions in the original study, and the present volume is the first complete translation of all four Replies in English.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-386-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
    David J. Chalcraft, Austin Harrington and Mary Shields
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    It would be foolhardy to suggest that serious attention has yet to be paid to Weber’sThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. On the contrary, this text is arguably the most famous and widely read in the classical canon of sociological writing and has been extensively debated within the discipline ever since its first appearance as a series of two articles in 1904–05. Karl Fischer, one of Weber’s first critics, spoke of the ‘lamentable chain of misunderstanding’ as early as 1908 (Fischer 1908: 38), and even though the work has been extensively studied, there is the sense...

  5. Translators’ Note
    (pp. 21-23)
    Austin Harrington
  6. Part I
    • CHAPTER 1 Karl Fischer’s Review of The Protestant Ethic, 1907
      (pp. 27-29)

      Fischer’s central strategy is to dispute what he sees as Weber’s ‘idealist interpretation of history’. He considers some alternative material and economic factors for the spread of capitalism in early modern Europe, and concludes with what he claims is a more plausible ‘psychological’ explanation for the rise of capitalist mentalities. In general, his position is that while the correlation between confessional affiliation and capitalist development may be in some countries remarkable, it does not permit us actually to ‘derive’(ableiten)the spirit of capitalism from Puritanism.

      Fischer begins by arguing that in his translation of the relevant passages in the...

    • CHAPTER 2 Weber’s First Reply to Karl Fischer, 1907
      (pp. 31-38)

      I am grateful to my two co-editors for agreeing to reprint the preceding comments.iFor however misleading a critical review might be – as I believe the present one is – it always highlights places where misunderstandings areliableto arise which the author has not done enough to prevent, whether or not they are actually his fault.

      Indeed, with regard to almost all the objections raised by my critic, I must deny any fault on my part, and for some of these I must even reject all possibility of misunderstanding for the attentive reader. Despite my affirming thecontrastin ‘spirit’...

  7. Part II
    • CHAPTER 3 Karl Fischer’s Reply to Weber, 1908
      (pp. 41-42)

      Fischer maintains that Weber’s ‘temperamental’ response has missed the crux of the issue. He denies assuming either that Weber sought to explain presently existing connections between religious confession and socio-economic position or that what Weber sought to ‘derive’ from religious motives were the material–economic forms and structures of capitalist enterprise. Weber, he complains, has ascribed to him the most unfavourable position: he fully understood that what Weber sought to ‘derive’ from Protestant asceticism was the ‘spirit of methodical conduct of life’ and that Weber only wished to consider those cases where religious influences on material culture were truly indisputable....

    • CHAPTER 4 Weber’s Second Reply to Karl Fischer, 1908
      (pp. 43-51)

      A reader who wanted to get to grips with this (not very fruitful) reply would have to be not only ‘thoughtful’, but above allpatientenough to refer tomyessay on every point to find out what I said and what I omitted to say. He would surely then be astonished at the claim that I had not ‘seen’ the elementary ‘methodological’ principles and problems of historical causation that my critic presents to me above in this patronising way. And he would be astonished that I hadtherefore‘offered nothing’ by way of reflection on the decisive causal questions...

  8. Part III
    • CHAPTER 5 Felix Rachfahl’s Review of The Protestant Ethic, 1909
      (pp. 55-59)

      Felix Rachfahl’s review is considerably longer than Karl Fischer’s, containing some 90 pages, serialised in five parts in theInternationale Wochenschrift, 1909, nos. 39–43. It also includes frequent references to Troeltsch’s essay on ‘Protestant Christianity and the Modern Church’ (Troeltsch 1906a) and ‘Protestantism and Progress’ (Troseltsch 1906b), which Rachfahl sees as broadly co-extensive with Weber’s thesis.

      Rachfahl sees three areas of difficulty in Weber: (1) problems with the concept of ‘capitalist spirit’; (2) Calvinism and the vocational ethic; and (3) the economic influence of Calvinism.

      Rachfahl sees Weber’s concept of the capitalist spirit as both too wide and too...

    • CHAPTER 6 Weber’s First Reply to Felix Rachfahl, 1910
      (pp. 61-85)

      In theInternationale Wochenschrift(vol. 3, 1909, nos. 39–43) Professor Rachfahl published a critique of my essays on the Protestant ethic and the ‘spirit’ of capitalism (see my article inChristliche Welt, 1906, and earlier Replies to Karl Fischer,Archiv, XXV and XXVI).¹iAs this critique is also directed (secondarily) at my friend Ernst Troeltsch, he will reply in the same publication.iiAlthough it would have been most natural and useful for me to reply there too, I unfortunately felt (and still feel) unable to do so, despite my regard for its editor, whose leadership of theDeutsche...

  9. Part IV
    • CHAPTER 7 Felix Rachfahl’s Reply to Weber, 1910
      (pp. 89-91)

      Like Weber’s first Reply to Rachfahl, Rachfahl’s second essay contains extended denials and disclaimers of the positions imputed to him. Rachfahl insists that Weber and Troeltschhaveborrowed from each other, consciously or not, and that far from ‘dishonourably’ playing them off against each other, he was merely seeking to determine differences between them. He denies asserting that the Protestant vocational ethic played no role whatsoever or that Enlightenment political culture and tolerance in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were exclusive causes of capitalist growth. He points out that he never ascribed to Weber the ‘foolish–doctrinaire thesis’ of ‘deriving’...

    • CHAPTER 8 Weber’s Second Reply to Rachfahl, 1910
      (pp. 93-132)

      Professor Rachfahl has replied to me once again in four issues of theInternationale Wochenschrift. Instead of honestly admitting his gross errors and superficial reading, he partly takes a new turn and partly compounds these errors even more desperately, and generally continues in just the way I was compelled to characterise previously.¹ At the end we find him assuring us in a way that strikingly recalls the habits of American party hacks during an election campaign that he has ‘fulfilled’ his ‘purpose’ and ‘burst the bubble of soap on the Neckar’. At another point he even avers that he, Rachfahl,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 133-140)
  11. Index
    (pp. 141-149)