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"Objectivity" In Social Science And Social Policy, By Max Weber

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"Objectivity" in Social Science and Social Policy, by Max Weber

In this article Weber gives his understanding of the nature of the social sciences and methods of scientific research. The centre question under discussion is how to combine judgement about practical social policy and objectivity. Weber is debating over the validity of the value-judgements uttered by the critique. "In what sense, - asks he, - if the criterion of scientific knowledge is to be found in the "objective" validity of its results, has he (the author) remained within the sphere of scientific discussion?" (51). What is "objectively valid truth" in relation to social and cultural phenomena? By looking into the phenomenon of objectivity Weber attempts at resolving the conflict of methods in contemporary to him social sciences.

"Our science, - says he, - first arouse in connection with practical considerations. "Its most immediate...purpose was the attainment of value-judgements concerning measures of State economic policy" (51). Thus, social science began with applying the methods of the natural science, in which there was no distinction between what "is" and what "should be". "With the awakening of the historical sense, a combination of ethical evolutionism and historical relativism became the predominant attitude in our science". (52). It was hoped thereby to raise economics to the status of an "ethical science" with empirical foundations. (52).

Weber argues that empirical science cannot be aimed at providing strict norms and ideals from which directives for immediate practical activity can be derived. (52). He does not reject the value-judgements in scientific discussion altogether though. Rather, he seeks to find the meaning of scientific critique of ideals and value-judgements and identify its goal. This involves categories of "end" and "means". And it is here, in Weber's view, that scientific analysis should be used to evaluate the appropriateness of means for achieving a given end. One of the most important functions of science, therefore, is to make possible the analysis of the correlation between goal and cost of particular actions. The science can make a willing person realize that every action as well as inaction entails in it a decision to take a certain value stand. The act of choice itself, though, is the personal responsibility of an individual. While scientific consideration of value statements is aimed at critical judgement of the set goals and the ideals underlying them.

We cannot learn the meaning of the world from the result of its analysis, proceeds Weber. On the contrary, we should be able to create this meaning itself. (57). For him, social science should be "a place where those thruths are sought, which can claim the validity appropriate to an analysis of empirical reality" (59). In cases when the value judgements are expressed the authors should be, first of all, aware of the standards by which they judge reality, and secondly "it should be made explicit just where the arguments are addressed to the analytical understanding and where to the sentiments".(60).

Weber is advocating against confusion of the scientific discussion of facts and their evaluation. And at the same time he makes it clear that scientific objectivity is in no way similar to an attitude of moral indifference. Scientific knowledge, he claims, should be scientific and in this sense should be separate from political affiliations. Weber stresses out that knowledge in the social sciences should be of unconditionally valid type. This entails discussion of objectively "valid" truth and the notion of objectivity in the social sciences. (63).

Weber sees scarcity of means as a fundamental social-economic phenomenon. The events of everyday life, he says, are economically conditioned. To the extent that our science imputes particular causes - be they economic or non-economic - to economic cultural phenomena, it seeks "historical knowledge". (66).

Weber rejects Marxian materialistic conception of history as a dilettante approach and criticises supreme significance of the economic factor. (68-69). "The explanation of everything by economic causes alone is never exhaustive in any sense whatsoever in any sphere of cultural phenomena, not even in the "economic" sphere itself, he says. (71). Weber insists that all those factors which are "accidental" according to the economic interpretation of history follow their own laws in the same sense as economic factor. Significance of economic factors, therefore, should depend on the type of causes we attribute to those specific elements of the phenomenon in question that are of interest and importance to us.

According to Weber, absolutely objective scientific analysis of culture or "social phenomena" does not exist. The type of social science we are interested in is an empirical science of concrete reality.(72). Our aim is therefore to understand the uniqueness of the reality around us. We seek to achieve this through understanding of relationships and the cultural significance of individual events in their contemporary manifestations on one hand, and looking at the causes of their being historically so and not otherwise, on the other. (72).

All the analysis of infinite reality which the finite human mind can conduct rests on the tacit assumption that only a finite portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation, and that only it is "important" in the sense of being "worthy of known". But what are the criteria by which this segment is selected? Weber is criticising the approach under which the decisive criterion in the cultural sciences too...was the "regular" recurrence of certain casual relationships, when "laws" were sought, while elements of each individual event not fitting into the "law" were viewed as accidental and therefore scientifically unimportant. 73. The ideal which all the sciences, including the cultural sciences, serve therefore is a system of propositions from which reality can be deduced". 73. The reality to which the laws apply always remains equally individual and equally undeducible from laws, concludes Weber. (73).

Social science, therefore, is interested in the real or individual structure of our cultural life. (74). The significance of a cultural phenomenon and the basis of this significance can not be deduced, justified and explained by a system of analytical laws, as "the significance of cultural events presupposes a value-orientation towards these



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