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).

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