Max Weber's View of Objectivity in Social Science

Weber's own 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." 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."

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Rogers Brubaker, The Limits of Rationality: An Essay on the Social and Moral Thought of Max Weber (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984), pp. 5 and 6.

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Anthony Giddens, "Weber and Durkheim: Coincidence and Divergence," Max Weber and his Contemporaries, eds. Wolfgang J. Mommsen and Jürgen Osterhammel (London: The German Historical Institute/Allen & Unwin, 1987), p. 188.

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Weber: Political Writings, "Between Two Laws," p. 76.

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.

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Portis, Max Weber and Political Commitment, p. 71.

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Portis, Max Weber and Political Commitment , p. 71.

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. Thus, in comparing different religious, political or social systems, one system could not be chosen over another without taking a value or end into consideration; the choice would necessarily be dictated by the analyst's values. On the other hand, Weber believed that once a value, end, purpose, or perspective had been established, then a social scientist could conduct a value-free investigation into the most effective means within a system of bringing about the established end. Similarly, Weber believed that objective comparisons among systems could also be made once a particular end had been established, acknowledged, and agreed upon, a position that allowed Weber to make what he considered objective comparisons among such economic systems as and socialism. Thus, even though Weber maintained that ultimate values could not be evaluated objectively, this belief did not keep him from believing that social problems could be scientifically resolved -- once a particular end or value had been established.