Max Weber And Social Sciences

.. n writings support Lassman and Speirs’ conclusion that Weber considered ultimate values and their subsequent political values to be subjectively determined. For instance, in Between Two Laws Weber writes that certain communities are able to provide the conditions for not only such bourgeois values as citizenship and true democracy, but also much more intimate and yet eternal values, including artistic ones. 20 The language that Weber uses to characterize these two types of values leads to the interpretation that he held them to be a subjective matter. Regarding the first set of values, labeling them bourgeois brings to light their contingent nature: They are the product of a class, a strata.

Regarding the second set, the labels intimate and eternal clearly set them apart from any objective foundation. An intimate value is by definition personal, an opinion. Further: It carries the connotation of emotion, of mystification. Likewise with eternal. This element of mystification, of faith in what is ultimately unknown and unknowable, materializes in other pieces of evidence that help substantiate Weber’s view that ultimate values cannot be objectively established. The nature of the cause the politician seeks to serve by striving for and using power is a question of faith.

21 Yet here Weber refers to the politician, not the social scientist. But could the same theorem not be applied to the social scientist? Could social scientist not be substituted for politician and, say, facts for power? And then could the social scientist not be asked to use those facts objectively while maintaining a commitment to his values? Answering these questions in the affirmative, which can be done only through an argument by extension, a frail but not hopeless step, leads to interpreting The Profession and Vocation of Politics as a metaphor for the actions of the social scientist, showing that the values he seeks to serve are also a question of faith. The argument by extension notwithstanding, there is other evidence that Weber held the social scientist’s values to be a subjective matter. Portis, for instance, says Weber believed it impossible to justify ultimate values scientifically. He presumed they were derived from the metaphysical commitments that define one’s general outlook.

22 Rogers Brubaker, in The Limits of Rationality, also acknowledges that Weber’s discussion of value orientations amplifies those of a long line of ethical relativists. Weber believed that value orientations are essentially subjective, and that conflict among them cannot be rationally resolved. 23 Furthermore, Weber believed that value orientations could not be eliminated from social scientific work. They necessarily determine the analyst’s perspective. Portis writes that Weber, in his Freiburg inaugural address, said political economy was a `political science,’ in the sense that it must proceed from a value perspective. 24 More crucially, Portis goes on to quote Weber as writing that `there is no objective scientific analysis of culture ..

or social phenomena independent of special and one-sided viewpoints — expressly or tacitly, consciously or unconsciously — they are selected, analyzed, and organized for expository purposes.’ 25 But how, given this assertion by Weber, can he be seen to advocate a value-free analysis once a perspective has been established? The first hint lies in the quotation itself. Weber does say that there is no objective analysis independent of special and `one-sided’ viewpoints, a remark that does not rule out objectivity, only objectivity prior to a perspective. This interpretation of Weber’s position derives additional support from other comments Weber made regarding objectivity. Example: One of the deadly sins in the area of politics is, Weber says, a lack of objectivity. 26 The objectivity, however, can engage only after a value has been established; otherwise, this remark is logically inconsistent with Weber’s statement that the nature of the cause the politician seeks to serve by striving for and using power is a question of faith. The two statements, taken together, imply that once a political position — a value or perspective — has been established, the politician must hold to the ideal of objectivity.

Furthermore, without resorting to the two-tier interpretation of Weber’s view of value-free social science, it would be difficult to reconcile Weber’s comment that a lack of objectivity is a sin with the comment that there is no objective analysis independent of special viewpoints. Lassman and Speirs supply another piece of evidence for the view that Weber believed a subjective end had to be established before objective analysis could proceed. They write: The `disenchantment’ that Weber described did not stop with liberalism. The traditional philosophical foundations of all political ideologies and doctrines were threatened by a relentless undermining of their own presuppositions. This extract reveals that Weber, at least in Lassman and Speirs’ view, was interested in analyzing from an objective viewpoint the makeup of various political systems — but it also shows that the objective analysis could only be carried out once the purpose of the system, i.e., the ultimate value upon which it is based, is identified and acknowledged.

Thus it seems, both by default and implication, that Weber believed the political analyst could adhere to the principle of objectivity once an value or perspective had been laid out. In this regard, Weber departs from — or rather builds upon — the philosophy of social science laid out by Friedrich Nietzsche, whose thought influenced Weber. Nietzsche’s perspectivism maintains that all interpretation is necessarily mediated by perspective, making analysis unavoidably laden with biases, presuppositions, values, and so forth. Weber builds on Nietzsche’s perspectivism by maintaining that objectivity is still possible — but only after a particular perspective, value, or end has been established. For the politician, the question of value is a choice of a faith; but once it is made, it should be pursued by objective means.

For the social scientist, value necessarily determines perspective and influences the facts chosen for analysis, but once those decisions are made, the social scientist is bound by the principle of objectivity. The work of Weber scholars supports this conclusion. Brubaker, for instance, affirms the two-tier interpretation of Weber’s view regarding objectivity: The selection of means to a given end can be assessed in terms of its objective rationality, since it is possible to discriminate objectively — for Weber, scientifically — between adequate and inadequate means. But the notion of objective rationality does not apply to wertrational action — to action conceived as intrinsically rather than as instrumentally valuable, as an end in itself rather than as means to some further end. 27 Portis agrees, writing that Weber came to believe that empirical methods, in social science, could distinguish between true and false beliefs only when researchers took a distinct orientation toward their own ultimate values.

28 On another level, however, Portis also argues that Weber nevertheless maintained that political activity and social science are incompatible pursuits, and this is where Portis’ interpretation of Weber’s thought on objectivity goes afoul. Weber, he says, denied that objectivity would be equated with impersonality or that it was possible for thought to be compartmentalized into normative and objective categories. 29 As a result, Portis maintains, Weber argued that a social scientist who engaged in political activity rendered inauthentic the test of his propositions against reality. Thus, Weber’s perspective, Portis contends, is that politics are autonomous from science both in principle and in practice. Portis is partly right.

Yet he is also partly wrong. He accurately portrays Weber’s first-level view that denies the existence of either positive or natural law, affirming the fact-value dichotomy: The categories through which social phenomena are perceived must be radically subjective, derived from priorities that the investigator brings to work rather than universal laws discovered through systematic observation. 30 Portis, however, soon goes astray — or just does not go far enough — in characterizing Weber’s view of the fact-value dichotomy: Because these categories are antecedent to social scientific analysis, social problems cannot be scientifically resolved. 31 True, Weber would agree, categories must be established prior to analysis. Once established, these categories also entail ends, and it is by working objectively toward those ends that allows the social scientist to resolve a given social problem scientifically. Moreover, if one accepts Weber’s view that objectivity can be applied to social and economic problems only after a distinct value orientation has been established, it follows that political action does not corrupt a social scientist’s objectivity as long as the scientist’s perspective or values are explicitly acknowledged.

The crucial element that Portis overlooks is that by choosing categories, by establishing a value prior to analysis, as the social scientist must, he is necessarily making decisions that are inherently political in nature. Given this, the converse of Portis’ conclusion in fact holds: That a social scientist cannot engage in objective analysis without taking overt political action, because the choice of values is itself a political act. From this it follows that science and politics are, for Weber, not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually inclusive. The social scientist cannot proceed with objective analysis until after his values or perspective have been established, an act which is political, whether conscious or not, whether announced to others or not. Thus, despite Portis’ ideal vision of Weber’s thought to the contrary, social science and political activity are compatible: The social scientist, in conducting research and analyzing facts, is necessarily influenced by his political position, at least to the extent determined by his ultimate values.

Weber knew this, and exhorted his fellow social scientists to clarify both for themselves and for others the values driving their investigations. Such a clarification is the prerequisite to objective analysis of facts with a particular purpose or value in mind. Furthermore, again despite Portis’ claims to the contrary, part of the power and allure of Weber lies in the dual legacy that he handed down: He succeeded, at least in the totality of his work, in being overtly political while remaining true to his integrity as a social scientist. At least one work by Weber — his short essay titled The President of the Reich — directly bears this out. And even if, as Portis argues, Weber did become psychologically tormented by the tension he felt between his need to voice his political views and his need to feel integrity as a social scientist, what allowed him, in the end, to succeed in being both political and scientific was his two-tier approach to value-free social science.

Weber sees the damage inherent in failing to openly acknowledge one’s values, and the even greater danger in falling prey to the delusion that the analyst can evaluate social facts completely independent of own values. Weber sums up this position in The Nation State and Economic Policy: We in particular succumb readily to a special kind of illusion, namely that we are able to refrain entirely from making conscious value judgements of our own. 32 In other words, when the analyst fails to clarify and consciously acknowledge his values, it is unlikely that he can conduct the subsequent analysis impartially. The acknowledgement of a value orientation is the prerequisite to objective evaluation. Sociology Issues.