Max Webers Central Question
pages 4851 (without footnotes)
But it is not Max Webers image of man ultimately personal, binding upon no one, quite distant from most of us that is decisive for an insight into the problematic that constitutes his sociology, but rather the attempt to discipline this line of questioning according to specific methodological and academic standards. This is the sole central problem in his so-called Wissenschaftslehre. The pieces assembled in WL belong almost exclusively in the context of Webers sociology of Lebensführung the rejection of claims of Lebensführung on the part of science, this specifically atheistic (gottfremden) power, hostile to all piety. However, these essays contain, principally in the debates with Knies, Eduard Meyer, Stammler and Ostwald, the authors heroic endeavour to save the problem to express it in an Aristotelian manner of the old moral sciences, of the old practical philosophy for a modern empirical social science. This is the core of Webers so-called Wissenschaftslehre. Again, however, it is not possible to redeem this claim in this context. Perhaps the reader might in any case gradually lose patience with so much heresy. But a final proof of this contended central interest of Weberian sociology will not be spared this reader.
We could still object that all of the proofs for Webers central interest that have been presented so far are to be found in obscure passages; but this can hardly be said of the most important exposition of all (in our opinion) of the anthropological principle. It is to be found in the report composed for the Verein für Sozialpolitik in 1913, and only printed as a manuscript, in which form it served as evidence in the debate on value judgements.125 It was published by Weber in the journal Logos in 1917 under the title The meaning of value-freedom in the sociological and economic sciences, and belongs today to the central works of the Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre.126
Weber refers to the essay on objectivity, in particular to the analysis of the problem of value relevance and culture developed there and that means value-interests, which also indicate the path to be taken by purely empirical scientific work. Struggle is not to be excluded from all cultural life. Peace signifies the shifting of the forms of struggle or finally the chances of selection, nothing else. If and when such displacements stand the test of an ethical or some other evaluative judgement on this nothing can be stated generally. Only one thing results without any doubt:
Here Weber, in the memorandum of 1913, refers to the Inaugural Address, delivered almost two decades previously, in remarking that in an often certainly immature form he had wished to express this i.e. the demand that one had ultimately to assess every order of social relations in terms of its anthropological consequences in my inaugural academic address.128
|We shall break off our discussion at this point. I regard this passage from Webers last essay devoted in a restricted sense to epistemological questions Vol. 7 of Logos appeared in the years 191718 as the most important indication given to us by Weber for the understanding of his work. It would do no harm to write the two sentences down on a small piece of paper and then, whenever Weber referred to institution, grouping, enterprise, association, sect, acquisitive activity, exchange, market and so forth, to take out this piece of paper and ask: what does this order, this type of social relationship imply for the human type to which it sets limits or opens up chances? Naturally one has to write the sentences down correctly. The dissemination of these sentences in the English-speaking world demonstrates how little my comparison of the history of the reception of Webers work with the party-game Chinese whispers missed the point. At a rough estimate, four out of every five readers of Max Weber will today only be able to read him in English translation. Quite probably the proportion is even higher. What would they have on their little pieces of paper should they unwarily follow my advice? Certainly that which many more than four out of every five readers would regard as the correct text:
It must be freely admitted that, with the current niveaux and standards according to which a text of Weber is reconstructed, the practice of transmuting the question: Which human type has the optimal chance of becoming dominant? into the (certainly easier to operationalise) question: Which types have the greater possibilities of entering leading positions? is to be recommended. What this sole available translation in the world language of sociology of those sentences written upon our little piece of paper has led to in countless Masters theses, seminar papers, textbooks, etc., hardly bears thinking about. No real damage. But innumerable young people would have been given the chance of wondering about an obscure sentence, reflecting on it and posing questions. How should they know what is withheld from them?
But those are questions that reach beyond our theme. The object here was to seek the realisation of Max Webers problematic. In Webers texts there are sentences which everyone knows and which are cited again and again. Like the one stating that what is at issue is the saving of a remnant of humanity from the parcelisation of the soul.130 Or the one that states that all historical experience confirms that one would not achieve the possible if the impossible were not constantly sought after in the world.131 Such sentences have a value as powerful and beautiful prose, impressive evidence for the person but saying nothing about the work of Max Weber. We have tried to demonstrate that the central interest of the work was, in terms of academic and methodological discipline, directed to Menschentum. With this objective Weber aimed his cognitive objective (free of all extravagance) exactly at the same level at which, according to his Wissenschaftslehre, it was to be set. There is in Weber no discrepancy between work and person. The work is the work of Max Weber, and he saw what was close to his heart. He was neither scientist nor positivist, if these concepts convey anything. For nothing connects the vigour of his scientific questioning with the fuss about standards, permissibility, etc., which has become the norm in the regimentation of contemporary social science, the most recent mannerism of academic presumption and obscurity. Weber questioned in a quite unpositivistic fashion the view that questions which we cannot answer, or cannot answer with any certainty, are therefore really idle questions. More than this: Empirical science would be in a bad way if those most important questions for which it had no answers had never been posed.132 This is to be found in the Wissenschaftslehre, and not in the collection of political writings.
Weber did not only pose these highest questions, he also tried to respond to them. But that does not belong in the context of an attempt to make his Fragestellung visible.
|Max Weber in 1919 (Mohr Siebeck)|