- Weber, Max
- (1864–1920)German sociologist and philosopher. Born in Berlin into a liberal legal family, Weber studied law and the history of law at various universities. He had a brief academic career as professor of economics in Freiburg and Heidelberg, before retiring through the onset of ill-health in 1897. Weber is remembered philosophically first for insisting on the distinction 398 between fact and value, and for insisting that the conduct of the social sciences must be value-free. He is remembered secondly for his adherence to the verstehen tradition of Dilthey . On the first issue, Weber argued that scientific, historical, and philosophical analysis of a period could never by itself provide the criteria necessary for a definitive solution of evaluative questions, including those of politics. The social scientist must strictly distinguish between that which exists, and that which ought to be: the importance Weber attached to this reflects his concern at the increasing power of faceless, impersonal bureaucracy, making evaluative decisions on purely ‘scientific’ and technological criteria. On the second, connected, issue he recognized that sociological study must recognize that actions have a meaning in the eyes of agents, and no scientific approach to them that ignores that dimension can be adequate. The sociologist must be able to place himself in the mind of those he studies. The subjectivity that this might seem to introduce is avoided by the discipline of describing the ‘ideal type’, embodying the objective spirit of bureaucracy, Calvinism, capitalism, etc. Weber insisted that no understanding is complete without including the moral, political, and religious dimension of the concerted activities of human agents. His most famous work, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1922, trs. as The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1930), connected the rise of capitalism with the desire to find a sign of predestined salvation in worldly success. Weber realized that such studies require comparative analysis of other cultures and times, and much of his writing addresses that problem. Important theoretical works include Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1922, trs. as Economy and Society, 1968) and the collected papers translated in The Methodology of the Social Sciences (1949).
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.