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Max Weber: Basic Terms (The Fundamental Concepts of Sociology)

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MAX WEBER MAX WEBER: Basic Terms (The Fundamental Concepts of Sociology) Definitions of Sociology and Social action: Sociology is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action to arrive at a casual explanation of its course and effects. Sociology seeks to formulate type concepts and generalized uniformities of empirical processes. (History, on the other hand, is interested in the causal analysis of particular events, actions or personalities.) Action is human behavior to which the acting individual attaches subjective meaning. It can be overt or inward and subjective. Action is social when, by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting individual(s), it takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby guided. Social action may be oriented to past, present, or predicted future behavior of others. Others may be concrete people or indefinite pluralities. Not all action is social: if it ain't oriented to the behavior of others, it ain't social. Also, it is not merely action participated in by a bunch of people (crowd action) or action influenced by or imitative of others. Action can be causally determined by the behavior of others, while still not necessarily being meaningfully determined by the action of others. If I do what you do because it's fashionable, or traditional, or leads to social distinction, its meaningful. Obviously the lines are blurred (pp 113-114), but it's important to make a conceptional distinction. Modes of Orientation of social action: Uniformity of social action = action which is wide-spread, frequently repeated by the same individual or simultaneously performed by many individuals and which corresponds to a subjective meaning attributable to the same actors. Usage: probability of a uniformity in the orientation of social action, when the probability is determined by its actual practice ('it is done to conform with the pattern). Custom: usage when the actual performance of the action rests on long familiarity.


From here, the claim has tended to progress toward an ever increasing devaluation of the world. For, the more intensely rational thought has seized upon the problem of a just and retributive compensation, the less an entirely inner-worldly solution could seem possible, and the less an other-worldly solution could appear probable or even meaningful. The intellect, like all culture values, has created an aristocracy based on the possession of rational culture and independent of all personal ethical qualities of man. The aristocracy of intellect is hence an unbrotherly aristocracy. Worldly man has regarded the possession of culture as the highest good. In addition to the burden of ethical guilt, however, something has adhered to this cultural value which was bound to depreciate it with still greater finality, namely, senselessness (if the cultural value is to be judged in terms of its own standards). The pure inner-worldly perfection of self by a man of ''culture'', the ultimate value to which ''culture'' has seemed to be reducible is meaningless for religious thought. This meaninglessness follows for religious thought from the obvious meaninglessness of death when viewed from the inner-worldly standpoint. The cultivated man can die weary of life, but never satiated with it; for, the perfectibility of the man of culture, in principle, progresses indefinitely, as do the cultural values. Culture appears as man's emancipation from the organically prescribed cycle of natural life. For this reason, culture's every step forward seems condemned to lead to an every more devastating senselessness. The advancement of cultural values seems to become a senseless hustle in the service of worthless, moreover self-contradictory, and mutually antagonistic ends. The advancement of cultural values appears the more meaningless the more it is made a holy task, a ''calling.'' The need for salvation responds to this devaluation by becoming more other-worldly, more alienated from all structured forms of life, and by confining itself to the strict religious essence.


The various great ways of leading a rational and methodical life have been characterized by irrational presuppositions, which have been accepted simply as given and incorporated into life. What these presuppositions have been is historically and socially determined, to a very large extent, through the peculiarity of those strata that have been the carriers of the ways of life during its formative and decisive period. The interest situation of these strata, as determined socially and psychologically, has made for their peculiarity. Where prophecy has provided a religious basis, this basis could be one of two fundamental types of prophesy: exemplary and emissary. Exemplary prophesy points the way to salvation by exemplary living (usually contemplative and apathetic-ecstatic ways of life). Emissary prophesy addresses its demands to the world in the name of a god. These demands are ethical, and often of an active acetic character. The civic strata, conditioned by the nature of their life, which is greatly detached from economic bonds to nature, tend toward a practical rationalism in conduct. Their whole existence has been based on technological or economic calculations and upon the mastery of nature and man. These strata tend toward religions of active asceticism. Wherever the direction of the whole way of life has been methodically rationalized, it has been profoundly determined by the ultimate values toward which this rationalism has been directed. All kinds of practical ethics that are systematically and unambiguously oriented toward fixed goals of salvation are rational, partly in the same sense as formal method is rational, and partly in the sense that they distinguish between valid norms and what is empirically given. All ruling powers need legitimacy, which comes in three kinds... In the main, it has been the work of jurists to give birth to modern Western states, as well as modern Western churches. Jurists work in the realm of formal rationalization, they follow procedures, etc. With the triumph of formalistic (rather than substantive) juristic rationalism, the legal type of domination appeared in the West.

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