“Social science cannot tell you how to live”

“The fate of an epoch that has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must … recognize that general views of life and the universe can never be the products of increasing empirical knowledge, and that the highest ideals, which move us most forcefully, are always formed only in the struggle with other ideals which are just as sacred to others as ours are to us.”

  1. Biographical Basics
    1. Childhood
      1. Born 1864 in at the end of the ten year period that produced Durkheim, Freud, Simmel, Mead
      2. Precocious but sickly and shy kid – reading the classics by age 14
      3. Very religious mother, successful businessman/politician father
      4. Childhood home full of prominent figures of the day
    2. Education - Youth - Early Career
      1. Goes away to college, joins frats, drinking clubs, etc.
      2. Studies legal history, economics. A rocket star young academic. Makes full professor just one year after starting. Called to Heidelberg a year after that.
      3. Father dies 1897. He spends next several years “staring out the window.” Nervous collapse. Out of action five years or so.
    3. Main Work
      1. Most of his important work appears between late 1890s and his death in 1920.
      2. Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, Sociology of Religion, Methodology of Social Sciences, Economy and Society
      3. Numerous works left unfinished. Wife Marianne puts in a lot of work to finish things up during 1920s.
  2. Main question: changing basis of rationality in Western society: “What social factors brought about the rationalization of Western society?”
  3. Intellectual Style
    1. historical – subject matter ranged from Roman agricultural practices to contemporary events
    2. systematic – more so than any other classical theorist (excepting, maybe, Pareto)
    3. comparative – in order to understand Western society looked at religion and economy in India, China, etc.
  4. Theoretical "method" : methodological individualism
    1. Sociology as science of social action
      • What individuals do…
      • …that takes account of others
    2. Focus on individual actor rather than social structures or "the social"
      1. Spencer on the body social as an organism
      2. Durkheim on institutions and cohesion of social structures
      3. Marx on conflicts between social classes within changing structures and relations of production
      4. Tönnies on modernization as shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft
      5. Maine on modernization as shift from status to contract
  5. Weber : modernization as changes in bases of human action associated with shifts in the historical situation.
      1. Conceptual foundation: focus on subjective meaning actors attach to actions oriented toward the re-actions of others in specific historical contexts
      2. Then, distinguish four types of action – purposeful, value oriented, emotional, traditional
        1. Purposeful, goal oriented (zweckrational): e.g., Engineer or investment banker
        2. Value oriented (wertrational): e.g., striving for salvation by rational means
        3. Emotional/Affective : not based on means/end reasoning, e.g., religious services in a fundamentalist sect
        4. Traditional: guided by customary habits of thought, e.g., an orthodox Jewish congregation
  6. Major Concepts
    1. Ideal Type
    2. Types of legitimate domination (tradition, legal-rational, charismatic)
    3. Bureaucracy (seven characteristics)
    4. State as monopoly on legitimate use of coercion
    5. Politics (ethic of responsibility vs. Science
    6. Subjectively meaningful action
    7. Rationality
    8. methodological individualism
    9. Styles of capitalism
    10. Ethical neutrality
    1. methodological approach to history and sociology (see below)
    2. Social world as multidimensional (even if MW did not really produce a multidimensional theory)
      1. material
      2. Ideas
      3. will-choice/decisions/actions, i.e., AGENCY
    3. methodological individualism : meaningful action of individuals as topic for sociology. What does action mean?  phenomenology and symbolic interactionism
    4. Role of intellectual
      1. Distinguish role of science and politics
      2. Must be open to inconvenient facts
      3. must strive to distinguish empirical facts from one's own private evaluations (a good touchstone for one's own work is to keep an eye on differences between empirical, political, and moral questions)

Introductory Lecture Material

Ideal Type. Historical analysis of ideas.

Three quick stories

"Anecdote to the Decline of the Work Ethic" by Heinrich Böll
Parable of the Talents in Gospel of Matthew
Franklin's Thirteen Virtues
Running just a little further to avoid brain tumors
Protestant Ethic Tweeted
"The Iron Cage"

Thirteen Virtues

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of thirteen virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his thirteen virtues as:

1. "Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation."
2. "Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
3. "Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time."
4. "Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve."
5. "Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."
6. "Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions."
7. "Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly."
8. "Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty."
9. "Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."
10. "Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation."
11. "Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable."
12. "Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation."
13. "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

References and Resources

Jim Moody Weber Notes at Duke
Weber page at SOCIOSITE
http://media.pfeiffer.edu/lridener/dss/Weber/WEBERW3.HTML ("The Ideal Type" from Coser, 1977:223-224)