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Did Weber believe that, even though facts are one thing and values another, social and economic facts could be evaluated without the analysis being influenced by values? And what is the relation of objectivity to values? Could objectivity, for instance, be used to show that one value is superior to another? Or does objectivity apply only to the analysis of facts? These questions, and others like them, underlie much that has been considered ambiguous in Max Weber’s writings: His methodology. This essay has more humble ambitions. The answer, as will be shown, is both yes and no — because, this essay will argue, Weber maintained a two-tiered approach to value-free social science.
On the one hand, he believed that ultimate values could not be justified “scientifically,” that is, through value-free analysis. 2 Stating the Standpoints But first, just what is Weber’s own standpoint, as determined by his ultimate values? It is, no doubt, influenced by one of his key concerns: “the quality of human being in any given economic and social order. And in yet other essays, it champions individual liberty.
One hint that begins to shed light on Weber’s view on the fact-value question is a characteristic that recurs in several of Weber’s essays and speeches: Weber announces, often at the beginning of a speech or essay, the standpoint from which he plans to evaluate a given situation or set of facts. Likewise, if he changes his focus during a presentation, he often declares the new standpoint. Although Weber often announces the value from which he intends to analyze a particular policy, he also acknowledges that the value may be merely a construct of one’s culture or society. An example of the influence of culture upon perspective lies in Weber’s comments about political economy. Weber takes care to refute such views in his discussion of the methodology of political economy in “The Nation State and Economic Policy. 3 Adhering to Values What matters even more to Weber is whether one adheres unflinchingly to his values.
Weber himself seems to adhere to his own values — or at least he argues repeatedly for the veracity of one `cause’ over another. Perhaps this is among the trends that have led many Weber scholars astray, especially since “Weber feels that no cause can be `proved’, simply by intellectual means, to be superior to any other. Lassman and Speirs, in their introduction to Weber: Political Writings, provide the answer. 4 A Two-Tiered Approach to Value-Free Social Science Having examined Weber’s views of the role of perspective and values in social scientific analysis, the evidence, both from Weber’s writings and from commentaries on them, must now be considered in support of the interpretation that Weber took a two-tiered approach to value-free social science. First, it must be shown that held Weber believed ultimate values could not be proved scientifically, a position alluded to in several preceding remarks.
Lassman and Speirs, writing in their introduction to Weber: Political Writings, address the matter directly. Weber held the belief, they say, that “there is no longer any possibility of an objective ranking of ultimate values or moral principles. 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. 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? 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. Furthermore, Weber believed that value orientations could not be eliminated from social scientific work.