Weber believed that sociologists can learn to understand the actions of individuals and groups. This type of understanding is known as verstehen or "interpretive understanding" (E & A p. 138). Verstehen was Weber's main method of sociological analysis. He saw sociology as being a unique discipline because of its ability to be able to understand people. Weber saw this as an advantage over other disciplines, like science, which doesn't provide the same level of understanding.
Weber thought Sociologists should use the concept of verstehen to explain actions. In sociology, action can be either basic action (with meaning), or it can be a more complex social action, a term Weber introduced, meaning an action that not only has meaning but is directed at humans and generates a response. It is the goal of the sociologist to recognize the meanings that individuals give to their actions and to determine the significance that the actions holds in the individuals' society or culture (E & A p.138).
Weber categorizes four types of social action: instrumental-rational, value-rational, affective, and traditional. Instrumental-rational action is the pursuit of goals where the goal and the means to obtaining the goal are calculated to identify the positive and negative aspects associated with the completion of the goal. Rational means justify a rational end in this type of action. Value-rational action is Weber's second type of social action. This action is also... [continues]
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