Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 9

Max Weber (1864-1920)

Science as a vocation
The term science seems to be an inaccurate translation, as the german term wissenschaft can be
understood as a enquiry. The use of the term science by Weber did not refer narrowly to the natural
sciences, but rather to a field of enquiry. This becomes clear from the use of the ter beruf which has
been translated into English as vocation. However the term vocation refers to something instrumental,
undertaken for definite ends. A more appropriate term is calling. Beruf thus implies an enquiry or
study which is non-instrumental and does not set to make itself useful in any immediate sense.
Science is thus, to be interpreted as an activity pursued for its own sake.
He undertakes a contrast between the United States and Germany to understand the material
conditions that enable the pursuance of science as a vocation and what are the prospects of a graduate
student who dedicates himself professionally to science in the university.
The first difference is evident in the very structure of the universities in the two countries. In
Germany, the academic career involves the person starting at the position of the Privatdozent. After
having conversed with the specialists, and having taken an exam in front of the faculty he is then
allowed to take lectures without receiving any salary other than the lecture fee of his students. He can
lecture on any topic he chooses fit. In the USA, the career is generally based on employment as an
assistant which is similar to the medical institutes of Germany and only a fraction of these assistants
are able to establish themselves as professors.
An academic career in Germany is based on plutocratic prerequisites as he would have to expose
himself financially, without a stable pay. But in the bureaucratic system, the young academic has a
stable salary from the very start and affixed position. However his position is continuously reviewed
and the attendance of students at his lectures forms an important consideration. However, in Germany
one cannot get rid of a man once he has been appointed and can expect certain rewards after a few
years of work.
In Germany the Privatdozen teaches fewer courses than he wishes. Though he can lecture on any
topic, but this would be considered insulting to other older docents. As a rule, the older docents
lectures on the big courses and the docent confines himself to the secondary courses. The advantage
is that a young man is free to do his own research. In AMERICA A DIFFERENT PRINCIPLE IS
FOLLOWED. It is in the younger years of ones career that the assistant is completely over burdened
with work. The syllabus is designed by the institute and the assistant is required to teach within its
In these insititutes one encounters the separation of the worker from his means of production. The
worker, assistant, is dependent upon the means of production provided by the institute and hence is
dependent upon the head of the institute just as the worker depends upon the factory management.
The director acts as if the institute is his and the position of the assistant is precarious. The german
institutes are also being Americanized or Bureaucratized. Thus, the artisan who once owned his tools,
the library, is now deprived of it.
Though the differences between the two types of universities are great, Weber argues that what is
common to both of them is the crucial element of chance which governs the possibility of a
privatdozen or an assistant becoming a professor or the head of the insititute. This element of chance
rather than ability is not only a result of human factors, which play a part in all selections. But it is

the laws of human cooperation, especially the cooperation of several bodies. And in this case the
cooperation between the faculty members which he holds responsible. A parallel to this is the PAPAL
election or that of the United states President, where mostly the favourite candidate or the most
prominent man hardly wins. In Germany further, monarchs and revolutionaries also interfere with
these selection making the process even more riddled with mediocrity.
However, this insufficiency of selection is not only the result of the collective will. The man who
appears for this position must not only prove himself to be a scholar, but a teacher. And this is proven
by the number of students who attend his lectures. But this itself could be determined by purely
external things, such as a mans temperament etc. Therefore Weber argues that he has a distrust of
courses which draw large crowds. Scientific training and practice are restricted to an intellectual
aristocracy. It is one thing to argue that a scholar must be able to present his scientific propositions in
a lucid manner so as to be receptive to the untutored mind, but this cannot be judged by enrolment
figures. This art is a personal gift, and cannot impact the qualification of a scholar.
As opposed to France, German universities have a corporate body of immortals in science who are
permanent professors and the universities seek to do justice to both research and instruction. And this
results is a mad life of hazard, as it is absolute chance that both are to be found in a man. Thus, a man
taking up an academic career must not only be financially well endowed, but must be willing to
tolerate the success of mediocre people. Thus he must live by his calling.
In analyzing the internal conditions of science as a vocation, he argues that the world has entered a
phase of specialization in which the individual can obtain perfect knowledge only by restricting
himself to a narrow field. The work of sociologists which is so often inter-disciplinary is viewed with
unease. It is only through this specialization that he can ensure to have achieved something enduring.
Apart from this need to put on blinders, an unchanging requirement is that of a passionate devotion to
science and enquiry.
However, even such enthusiasm cannot guarantee scientific results but it is a prerequisite for all
achievement. He argues that science cannot be viewed simply as a problem in calculation which can
be solved using intellect. Scientific work requires ideas and creativity, both of which cannot be forced.
It is this idea which gives shape and direction to the calculations that he performs. Normally this
idea, germinates on the soil of hard work but it is not uncommon for a dilettante to have a greater
impact on science than a specialist. The idea is not a substitute for work and work cannot compel an
idea, just as little as enthusiasm can. Both os them jointly can perhaps entice the idea.
Though these ideas are unpredictable as to when they would strike someone, but they do need a
passionate brooding and a devoted search for answers. At the same time, there is no guarantee that an
idea would strike us, even during the entire course of a devoted career. One could be an excellent
worker yet never have made a valuable contribution.
Weber notes, that the cult of the personality, and personal experience has become fashionable among
the youth. He argues that the youth seem to believe that it is the latter which constitutes the former
and therefore want to experience life that befits a personality and its rank. However, in the field of
science only he who is devoted solely to the work at hand has a personality. A man who deliberately
attempts to craft his work to become a personality is not a personality. Instead of an attempt to
discover something with others have not, one should only be devoted to the task which would lift the
scientists to the height and dignity of the subject he pretends to serve. These conditions, science
shares with art.

Science also has fate that distinguishes it from artistic work. Scientific work is chained to the notion
of progress, while in art there can be no progress. A work of art which is genuine fulfilment can
never be surpassed. Indic=visuals may differ on the merits of different works of art but no one can
ever say that such work of art has ourstripped the other.
However in science, it is in the nature of achievement to be surpassed. Every achievement or
fulfilment raises a question, the solution to which will surpass the previous achievement. Scientific
works may last as tools of training or for having an artistic quality. Then why is it that one engages in
such an activity. One reason could be for purely practical purposes, in order to be able to orient our
practical activities to the expectations that scientific experience puts at our disposal. Yet this has
meaning only to the practitioner. But most academic men are in science for sciences sake. And not to
create something of technical or commercial value.
Scientific progress is just a fraction of the process of intellectualization that we have been undergoing
for centuries. This process of intellectual rationalization cannot be viewed as solely negative. This
does not necessarily mean that everyone today has a greater knowledge of life than previously. The
savage knows much more about his tools and his immediate environment than us today. It means a
knowledge or belief that if one wished one could know everything about how the world worked.
There are no mysterious or incalculable forces that are involved. The world is thus, disenchanted. One
no longer needs to take recourse to magical means to explain the world.
Thus, this notion of rationalization has to be seen as a question of meaning. As Tolstoy has argues that
for a civilized man, death has no meaning for he is embedded in a process of infinite progress
according to which its own immanent meaning should never come to an end, for there is always one
step ahead. A peasant of the past died a satiated death because there were no remaining puzzles he
wished to solve and therefore had had enough of life. A civilized man, placed in the midst pf the
continuous enrichment of culture by idea, knowledge becomes tired of life but not statiated by it.
Death becomes a meaning less occurance such that life is alsoi meaningless. The progressiveness of
life is also its meaninglessness.
Today the youth feel that science is a realm of artificial abstractness. But here in life, genuine reality
is pulsating and the rest are derivatives of life, spiritless ghosts. The greek notion of science was
mediated by their discovery of logic such that a man had to either agree or disagree to the fallacy of
his statement it was the eternal truth. It was believed that they could grasp at the true being of the
soul and this would open the way to knowledge about how to act as a citizen.
The second tool of scientific work was the rational experiment which made its appearance in the
Renaissance. To these experimenters, such as Leonardo science meant the path to true art that was the
path to true nature. Art was to be raised to the position of science, and the aritist was comparable to
the doctor. Today, youth proclaim the opposite a redemption from science to return to ones nature.
In the 17th and the 18th century, those who undertook the study of the exact sciences believed that
sciences were a means to reach God. One could grasp his works and come upon the traces of what he
had planned for the world.
However today the exact opposite belief is in vogue. Science and intellectualism are the antithesis of
religion and meaning. In fact youth attempt to gain a religious experience or any meaningful
experience so as to escape the throes of intellectualism. However he argues, this emancipation from
intellectualism may lead to the exactly opposite goals as one would expect.

Further Weber argues, as along Tolstoy, that science is entirely meaningless because it gives no
answer to our questions what shall we do and how shall we live? Yet is science useful?
Today, one speaks of science without presuppositions. All scientific work presupooses the rules of
logic and method. Science also presupposes that what has been discovered is worth being known. But
this presupposition cannot be proved by scientific means it can only be interpreted with respect to
absolute meaning, which we can reject or accept depending upon our predisposition. The natural
sciences such as physics, chemistry assume that the ultimate laws of cosmic events as far as science
can construe them are worth knowing. Similarly modern medicine assumes that it is worthwhile to
save lives and ease suffering. Yet there may be instances wherein the patient refuses treatment and the
doctor persists. Whether it is worth living or not is not a question medicine deals with.
In analyzing the study and analysis of sociology, he emphatically argues that politics has no room in
the lecture halls. To practically take a political stand is one thing and to analyze political structures is
another. One does not need to hide ones standpoint but a true teacher will be cautious not to impose
his own stand on an issue upon a student. To let facts speak for themselves is the best means to to a
political position to a student. The prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic
platform. A demagogue preaches on the street, where direct criticism is possible but a lecturer lectures
to a silent audience and therefore th teacher must serve the student with his knowledge but not
impress upon him his political views. One has to be a teacher and not a leader.
Even to a man who is interested in more practical matters, science can contribute something. The
primary task of the teacher is teach inconvenient facts and the teacher is highly successful if he
compels the audience to make itself aware of several such facts. Scientific pleading is misleading
because of the various values of the world stand in contrast to ne another and cannot be resolved
rationally. Something may be true, holy, meaningful without being rationally true. What one can
discuss is the existence of different meanings and nothing more. The rationalism of an ethical conduct
of life has dethroned.
Thus he finds a difference is the attitude of students to their teachers in America. In this country, the
bureaucratic system means that the examination diploma is the key to obtaining any office. Thus,
there is little respect for any office or anything unless it is the personal achievement of individual
men. The Americans view their teacher as someone who sells knowledge in exchange for a price, and
therefore do not expect him to be a leader and teach them how to live their lives. While in Germany
students demand professors to be leaders. But to expect them to be so, and for teachers to live upto
that expectation he argues is incorrect.
What does science contribute? It contributes to the technology of controlling life by calculating
external objects as well as mans activities. Science also contributes to methods of thinking and
training thought. Science however, performs the most crucial task of elucidating the various possible
means for a certain given ends, and to compare these means and possibly elucidate the best among
many. However it certainly cannot help us in choosing our ends. So long as life remains immanent
and is interpreted in its own terms, there is only an unceasing struggle of various meanings. Science
today is a vocation engaged in the service of self clarification and knowledge of interrelated facts and
does not grant one the gist of seers and prophets to pass judgments over the meaning of the world.
Similarly he explains theology as m=being the intellectual rationalization of the possession of sacred
values. Several theologies claim that it too is a science. One can say that science and theology have
different presuppositions. All theology assumes that the world has meaning and that the meaning is
sacred. From hence it proceeds. They also believe that certain revelations are facts important for

salvation and make possible a meaningful life. These pre-suppositions are beyond life and science
and for those who do not believe in these, science cannot be a substitute for theology.
Thus, one observes that despite the advance of science, the gap between theology and science is
unbridgeable. The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and a
disenchantment with the world. The most ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from
public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and
personal human relations. If one cannot bear this state of existence, one can also perform the
intellectual sacrifice in favour of an unconditional religious devotion this is not ethically suspect as
not clarifying ones ultimate position. Such a religious return is still ethically superior to those
academic prophets who attempt to lecture on values and meanings.

Objectivity in social sciences

What is the ourpose and meaning of scientific criticism of ideals and value judgements?
All meaningful reflection about the ultimate elements of meaningful human conduct is oriented
primarily in terms of the categories end and means. We many desire something either for its own
sake or as a means of achieving something else which is more highly desired. The question of
appropriateness of the means for achievement of a given end is undoubtedly accessible to scientific
analysis. We can thus determine which means are appropriate or have a greater likelihood of
achieving a given ends. When the possibility of achieving a certain ends appears, then one can
determine the consequences of the means used, will produce in society in addition to the achievement
of the end. We can then provide the acting person with the ability to weigh and compare the
undesirable as over against the desirable consequences of his action. The act of choosing among the
ends is not something that Science can undertake.
Social science can assist a person in understanding the significance of the desired object, by thinking
in terms of context and the meaning of the ends he desires, and among which he chooses. It is evident
that one of the most important tasks of every science of cultural life is to arrive at a rational
understanding of the ideas for which men struggle. The scientific analysis of value judgements may
not only understand and empathically analyse the desired ends and the ideals which underlie them it
can also judge them critically. It can a=only be a dialectical criticism as it does not have a formal
logical judgement but it is a testing of the internal consistency of the desired end. It can therefore aid
the person in self-clarification concerning the final axioms from which desired ends are derived. It can
assists him in becoming aware of the ultimate standard of value which he does not make explicit to
himself or simply presupposes. As to whether the person expressing these value judgements should
adhere to these ultimate standards in his personal affairs it involves will and conscience and not
scientific knowledge.
An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he should do but rather what he can do under certain
circumstances, tell hi what he really wants, its meaning and underlying ideals, and trace the historical
development and changes associated with certain values and ideals in society.
However, the challenges to the claims of social science arise acutely from the realm of social policy.
The distinctive character of a problem of social policy is that it cannot remain value neutral.
Normative standards of value can and must be the object of dispute in a discussion of a problem of
social policy because the problem lies in the domain of general cultural values. One thing is certain,

that the more general the problem involved i.e the broader its cultural significance, the less subject it
is to a single unambiguous answer on the basis of the data of empirical sciences and the greater the
role played by value-ideas. It is simply naive to believe that it is possible to establish a principle or
rule for social sciences whereby all practical problems can be solved. The creation of generally valid
ideals and principles cannot be the task of any science.
If in a particular concrete case, the ultimate value judgements which underlie practical activity are not
only to be designated and scientifically analyzed but also shown in relationship to other value axioms.
But in doing so, a positive criticism of the latter is unavoidable.Even in undertaking an analysis of
social policy, legislations and so on, wherein an analysis might have to include aspects of ones own
value judgement, Weber argues that the author must make it sufficiently clear what these standards are
to which he has held up his object of analysis. However the discussion of social policy, for him is
altogether separate from social science although a social policy could be the object of study for the
Further weber argues that scientific neutrality does not demand a complete absence of any value
judgements but simply a separation of the two when the researcher is undertaking his scientific
analysis. He argues that though this may seem difficult to achieve, wherein one can absolutely
segregate ones values from their scientific analysis, but it must be undertaken. He argues that the
very recognition of a scientific problem coincides with the possession of specifically oriented motives
and values.
While Weber poses a distinction between empirical knowledge and value judgements but this seems
to suggest the existing of an objectively and empirically true knowledge in the social sciences. This
suggestion is problematic. There is no absolutely objective scientific analysis of culture, of soicla
phenomena independent of special and one sided viewpoints according to which they are selected,
organized and analyzed for expository purposes. The reason for this lie in the character of social
science which seeks to transcend the purely formal treatment of the legal or conventional norms
regulating social life.
The type of social science he advocates, is an empirical science of concrete reality. The aim being to
understand the characteristic uniqueness of the reality in which we move. The attempt is to understand
the relationships and cultural significance of individual events and the casues of their being
historically so or not otherwise. However, the social world is an infinitude which presents us with a
multiplicity of successive and co-exisistently emerging and disappearing events. All the analysis of
infinite reality which the finite human mind can conduct rests on the assumption that only a finite
portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation and that only it is worthy of
being known.It has been argued by some that the way in which this segment is selected is through the
perception of laws the reccurence of certain causal relationships which contain the essential aspect
of reality. However this is a reversal of reasoning, whereby all elements that correspond to the law are
present as the reality while those which do not are relegated, viewed as accidental and unimportant.
Weber argues that it is not possible to deduce concrete reality from laws and factors. This is not
because some higher mysterious power resides in reality. The real reason is that the analysis of reality
is concerned with the configuration into which those factors are arranged to form a cultural
phenomena. If one wishes to explain the individual configurations causally, we must invoke other
equally individual configurations on the basis of which those can be explained. Since the social
sciences are concerned with analysing the significance of cultural phenomena, and culture is a value

concept, a purely empirical knowledge cannot be generated about it. Only a small segment of the
phenomena becomes significant because of their value relevance to us.
Thus, as in the case of all science, one cannot function in a presupposition less environment. Rather it
is the supposition of meaningfulness that leads to a phenomena becoming the object of investigation.
The focus of attention on reality under the guidance of values which lend it significance is entirely
different from the analysis of reality in terms of laws and concepts. Even in explicating causes to an
event, one only selects those causes which one considers to be essential to the event, and even this
analysis cannot be exhaustive. Thus one cannot talk of laws, in the social sciences but rather causal
The objective analysis of cultural events which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of
science is the reduction of empirical reality of laws is meaningless. It is not meaningless because
cultural forces are objectively less goverened by laws. Firstly, because knowledge of social laws is not
knowledge of social realtiy but is rather one of the various aids used by our mind for attaining this
end. Secondly because te knowledge of cultural events is incoceieveable except on the basis of the
significance which the concrete constellations of reality have for us in certain individual concrete
situations. In which sense, and in which situations this is the case and which case it is not is not
revealed by any law, it is decided according to the value ideas in the light of which we view culture in
each individual case.
Culture is a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of world process, a segment on which human
beings confer meaning and significance. All knowledge of cultural reality may be seen as knowledge
from particular points of view. Just as without the investigators conviction regarding the significance
of particular cultural facts, every attempt to analyze concrete reality is absolutely meaningless, so the
direction of personal belief, the refraction of values in the prism of his mind, gives direction to his
work. Accordingly cultural science therefore involves subjective presuppositions insofar as it
concerns itself only with those components of reality with which they have some relationship.
BUT THIS DOES not mean that the research in the cultural sciencesare entirely subjective and are
valid only for specific people. The choice of the object of investigation and the extent or depth to
which the investigation attempts to penetrate into the infinite causal web are determined by the
evaluative ideas which dominate the investigator and his age. In the method of his investigation, the
guiding point of view is of great importance for the construction of the conceptual scheme which
will be used in the investigation.
The significance of theory and theoretical conceptualization to the social sciences
Theorization in Webers opinion is a problematic concept in the social sciences largely because any
theory purporting to explain reality or to be a representation of reality, is in fact representational only
of a segment of it, chosen by the analyst himself. However, Weber argues still for the importance of a
theory of social sciences and emphasizes the importance of the construction of the ideal-typical in
sociology. He argues that the ideal-typical is not the representation of reality but gives an
unambiguous means for the description of that reality. This procedure is indispensible for heuristic
and expository purposes. The ideal typical is formed by the one sided accentuation of one or more
points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and
occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sided
viewpoints into a unified analytical construct.

It is mental and not a historical construct and cannot be found in reality. Historical research then faces
the task of determining the extent to which each idea; type corresponds to or diverges from reality.
Weber further distinguishes between the ethical imperative, or what ought to exist from an analytical
ideal type. The latter is a matter os using ones skills to construct a model that would be
nomologically possible.
Te construction of ideal types recommends itself not as an end but rather as a means. Every
conscientious examination of the conceptual elements of historical exposition of historical
relationships to show cultural significance must make use of concepts which are in fact ideal type.
Concepts such as individualism, imperialism, mercantilism etc are means by which one seeks to
understand reality. It us neither historical reality nor fitted to serve as a schema under which the real
situation may be subsumed. It is simply a limiting concept in which the real situation can be compared
and surveyed for the explication of some of its components.
If a social scientist rejects the use of these concepts in his study, he will ten unconsciously make use
of other such constructs without putting them in words. Thus, these types are not to be confused with
historical reality, neither is historical reality to be forced into these types and neither are they laws or
forces which explicate the exact functioning of various social phenomena. This further goes on to
signify, that there may not be one single ideal-type for understanding the cultural significance of a
phenomena, but there may be many that help one understand different aspects. Now these types
cannot be seen as contending views of reality but simply different measures used to compare reality
and empirical facts.
Further, Weber argues that the construction of the ideal typical can be influenced instead by ideals of
what ought to be essential. But this constitutes a matter of evaluative judgement and not the
construction of an analytical device. It is only elementary scientific self contrl that can prevent the
ideal type from becoming a value judgement on reality.
The state for instance is an important ideal typical construct which is seen to be elementary to the
analysis of any cultural phenomena or any society. In empirical reality, what corresponds to the idea
of the state is an array of diffuse ideas regarding the authority relationship of some humans towards
others and legally regulated relationships.
Marxist laws and concepts, according to Weber are also ideal types and their significance to the
analysis of any cultural phenomena has to be explicated in the analysis of that phenomena. Some may
argue that the prevalence of these mental constructs is characteristic of a nascent discipline however
these constructions are necessary for any discipline attempting to study social reality.
Thus the progress of the social sciences is and remains a continuous process of the perpetual
reconstruction of concepts through which we can comprehend reality. It is not the error in the attempt
to construct the ideal type which is seen in this progress it shows that this construction depends on
the setting of the problem and this depends on the content of the culture itself. The greatest advances
in the sphere of social sciences are associated with a shift in practical cultural problems and take the
guise of concept-construction.
The objective validity of all empirical knowledge rests exclusively upon the ordering of reality
according to categories which are subjective in a specific sense, namely, that they present the
presuppositions of our knowledge and are based on the suppositions of the value of those truths which
empirical knowledge can alone give us. This, means that science can offer nothing to those persons to
who this truth is of no value.