Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 19 December 2011

Methodology and Rationalisierung in Max Weber's Sociology

We should note further how the German Historical School and other early opponents of Neoclassical Theory objected to it on the ground that “utility” is a “homogeneous” entity whereas in fact the “motivations” behind “economic action” are quite evidently “heterogeneous” (see Schumpeter’s account of this in the last chapter of his Economic Doctrines).One of the constant objections to capitalist enterprise is precisely this – that it “reduces” all aspects of human social interaction to the “homogeneous” pursuit of “profit”. Clearly, what these ‘critics’ fail to do is to confront the central question that we are addressing here – that is, how such a reduction of the heterogeneity of human activity to “homogeneous” and “rationally calculable enterprise” or “profit” is at all possible! Here again Weber makes the colossal Neo-Kantian mistake of assuming that there is a specific “form” of human “knowledge” or “action” that is singularly “economic” – just as he conceded to Kelsen that there is a specific dimension of human social activity that is “legal”! Weber simply mistakes what are mere and highly contingent “institutions” of human groupings – the “economy” and “value”, the “law”, “the State” and “power” – for hypostatic and ineluctable “forms” of human knowledge that a social scientist or “observer” can analyse in their epistemological specificity and “autonomy” from other “disciplines”! The fact that a great mind such as Weber’s never even posed itself the question as to how and why “utility” could be adduced as the “ectoplasm”, the “metaphysical quidditas” that could constitute the “subject-matter” of the Economics bears witness to the ability of the social production of “exchange value” and its politically-enforced transmutation into money, then money capital, and then profit, to mystify human social relations – as Marx took pains to emphasise.

In reality, this stance contradicts both Weber’s own methodological approach to the “objectivity” of science (his inverted commas) and, of course, that of Nietzsche’s Umwertung, which is the culmination of the negatives Denken as the ruthless and implacable application of the “logic of the Wille zur Macht”, of the Rationalisierung, to life and the world (cf. our Nietzschebuch). Kant’s Transcendental Analytic had presumed to show how “synthetic a priori judgements” corresponding to “the laws of nature” are possible in a manner that relies on the passive intuition of human experience of external phenomena whose ultimate cause is the inscrutable “thing-in-itself” but whose “ordering” is effected by Pure Reason. Kant reasoned that the “heteronomy” of the causal nexus, the “dependence” of every “cause” upon a “prior cause”, could only be “theorized scientifically” by an “autonomous noumenon”, a Pure Reason that functioned as a causa sui, a causa causans at the very beginning of the causal chain that supplied a “rational order or rule” to the “chain” or “sequence” of events that were “heteronomous” because “effected” by prior “causes”. Already in the Opus Postumum, Kant had expressed grave concerns on the ability of the Transcendental Logic to found a Dialectic of Pure Reason “purely” on the formal “per-fection” of logico-mathematical judgements. What was missing was a Ubergang, a “bridge” that could connect necessarily logico-mathematical judgements with the empirically-observable “events” of nature so as to justify the appellation of this “causal nexus” as “laws of nature”.

It was Kant’s evident failure to establish such a link – or rather, it was the impossibility to establish such a link without the positing of an “intuitus originarius” (Leibniz), of an intuition so “intuitive” as to be “theo-logical”, as to invoke the “divine” – that prompted Schopenhauer’s pitiless critique of Kant’s entire philosophy. “Where is it written,” asks Schopenhauer, that the causal chain, already explicable with Leibiniz’s “Principle of Sufficient Reason”, should be “initiated” by a causa causans, by an “autonomous Pure Reason”, by a Ratio that can supply the e-vidence for the existence of an Ordo et connexio rerum et idearum – a necessary order and connection between  things and ideas -, of a “Truth” that can serve as the adaequatio rei et intellectus?  No such Ratio-Ordo can exist except as a “divine emanation” that reduces Kant’s critique to a “moral theology” because the “autonomous causa sui” must be toto genere dif-ferent from the e-vents that compose the causal chain as well as from their “con-nection”! Consequently, the “phenomena” that we perceive cannot be ascribed to a “Thing-in-itself” that is literally a “Thing”, but rather to a noumenon that is the most active and subjective noumenon perceptible – though not “knowable” – to us of which “the World and its Representations” are mere “objectifications”:- the Will to Life! For Schopenhauer, therefore, the World is the endless and inexhaustible “objectification of the Will”, and human activity, the operari, is subjected to “the laws of nature” not through the existence of inscrutable “objects” but quite simply through the principle of sufficient reason which elevates all “representations” to the status of “subject-object” whilst lowering Kant’s faculty of “Reason” to that of mere “Understanding”. In Schopenhauer’s critique of Kantian idealism, “the World” still ec-sists as “objectification” of the Will. But in Mach’s scientific phenomenology no such “transcendental” reality need ec-sist, outside of the “phenomena” experienced by observers – the “sensations” or Empfindungen.

Following this “reversal” or Um-kehrung of Kant’s transcendental idealism, Nietzsche proceeds then to effect his own Um-wertung or trans-valuation of Schopenhauer’s “system” and “pessimism of the Will” by eliminating the dichotomy between operari and will or “intelligible freedom”, specifically by negating the “trans-scendence” of the Will – its “freedom” - and turning it into the “immanence” of the “instincts of freedom” or the “Will to Power”, where “instinct and freedom”, “will and power” form “poles” of tension the “resultant” of which is human “in-tention” or “pro-ject” or Entwurf. Once this Entwurf is understood, it will be immediately apparent how the entire critical and indeed “scientific” approach to Weber’s oeuvre which has been based almost exclusively on the “ideal types” and “rationalism” are wholly circumvented and rendered almost misleading when they are not totally irrelevant. Weber himself is in part “responsible” (this is written tongue-in-cheek) for this mis-interpretation and mis-apprehension of his work precisely because of his repeated attempts to preserve the “scientific autonomy” or “epistemological validity” of various “fields” of the Geisteswissenschaften in the “interpretative” or “hermeneutic” mold pursued by Dilthey and Simmel in particular, whilst at the same time prescinding from the “content” of these “scientific fields” in line with the Machian obliteration of all “meta-physical” concepts that might seek “to capture” the “reality” behind the “phenomena” or “sensations” – the “facts” – of “scientific empirical research”.

As we are about to show in this section, it is this Weberian attempt to distinguish “logically” the element of “purpose” from that of “finality” (ends and means, Zweck and Wert or Ziel) in his affirmation of the “objectivity” of “social science” that leads him to forget or neglect the “finality” in the “purpose” and the “purposivity” in the “finality”. Even the early tract on Roscher und Knies betrays in fact Weber’s early jurisprudential formation in that the polarity between “freedom” and “irrationality”, the “unscientificity” of “history” as a subject-matter, recalling the a-methodon hyle (form-less matter) of early Greek historiography, was the central tenet of Savigny and his Historical School of Law whose theoretical premises were adopted and adapted faithfully by the German Historical School of Economics. Long before Weber replaced Knies at Heidelberg, Rudolf von Jhering had already applied Windelband’s distinction between “ideographic” and “nomothetic” approaches in social studies to jurisprudential history, stressing the “purpose” or causa efficiens of “laws” in serving social needs over the “ideal aims” of “Law” understood as Neo-Kantian “Norm”.  (See on this Jhering’s Der Zweck im Recht and Windelband’s Normen und Naturgesetzen in Praeludien, both published in 1882-83.) Weber’s great merit in resuming this novel approach twenty years later was to apply Nietzsche’s revolutionary critique of Western “rationality” in an original synthesis that turned it from the “formalistic” Kantian notion indicated by that “substantive noun” into the more Nietzschean “operational version” of Rationalisierung indicating the “active”, “willful” role of “the instincts of freedom” and of “the ontogeny of thought” in “intellectualization” (Freund) of practical historical conduct. (The name “negatives Denken” serves to emphasize the “negative” approach to Ratio and to Freiheit, but not its converse, the “passive” approach to the “becoming” of Being and to the operari instead of opus, facere and agree instead of factum and actus. Again on this, see Heidegger’s works on Schelling’s Essay on Freedom and on Nietzsche.)

Whereas the Historical Schools seeks to distinguish between the “natural sciences” capable of determining “laws” that con-nect phenomena causally, “regularly and predictably” and the “historical or spiritual sciences” that can merely describe the contingent and the individual e-vents or “happenings” (Geschehen) in their “idiosyncrasy”, Weber adopts von Jhering’s and Windelband’s approach that establishes instead the epistemological “continuity” of all sciences in their search for objective generalizations based on empirical facts that are never “deducible” but that rely instead on the “falsifiability” of the existing scientific generalizations. Like Nietzsche, Weber perceives that there is no difference between “natural” and “historical” sciences from an epistemological aspect but only in terms of the practical “aim” (Ziele) or purpose (Zweck) pursued by each science – not in terms of an “ultimate truth” from which all future events may be “deduced”! Such “deductionism” or, as Weber calls it, “emanationism” is yet another version of the “moral theology” of German Classical Idealism from Leibniz through Kant to Hegel and Fichte that attempts to en-compass the whole of reality in ever more “com-prehensive” concepts that end up having little connection with any “reality” whatsoever! (This is, in essence, the platform of Kierkegaard’s “existential” critique against Hegel’s “essentialism”.) In similar vein, but from a different tack, Karl Knies pauses on the impossibility of reducing sciences dealing with “history” to the predictive status of positive sciences dealing with nature because the former, though “con-fined” by natural factors or “con-ditions”, rely nevertheless on the “creative” and therefore “irrational” actions of human beings that are not open to “scientific” or logico-mathematical “measurement”.

To this position disputing the “scientificity” of “the social sciences” Weber objects as he did with Roscher that it will never be possible to deduce the whole of reality because scientific research constitutes an “infinite regressus” into reality itself, and that in any case “mathematization” of reality cannot be the ultimate aim of science nor can it indeed “define” scientific activity or methodology. The very fact that it is impossible to specify with any degree of exactitude a “scientific methodology” goes to show that scientific activity will always be “negative-regressive”, due to the inevitable “falsifiability” of its “laws”, and that the human sciences, even the most exact, will always be open to “interpretation” of human action so that they, too, or especially, involve an infinite regressus.  This goes in part also against Windelband’s ideographic-nomothetic distinction in the sense that it is incorrect to conclude that what is “irrational” [ideographic] for the individual case then becomes “rational” [nomothetic] for the “mass”!

Au niveau d'une interprétation des motifs nous avons affaire non plus à une rationalité nomologique, mais téléologique, c'est-à-dire elle ne s'exprime plus par un jugement nécessaire de causalité, mais sous la forme de la causalité adéquate. Il s'agit de ce que Weber appellera plus tard le comportement rationnel par finalité 40. Il n'y a donc pas de doute que le comportement motivé est davantage accessible à l'évaluation rationnelle et au calcul que le phénomène singulier de la nature : nous comprenons mieux l'attitude de Frédéric le Grand en 1756 que les variations météorologiques. En conséquence, il est faux d'identifier liberté de la volonté et irrationalité.Au contraire, le comportement libre, à la différence de celui du fou ou de celui de la nature, est davantage accessible à l'interprétation, parce qu'il obéit à la rationalité téléologique déterminée par la relation de moyen à fin.

(Freund, Intro to Weber, Essais, p.58).

Clearly, then, Weber still identifies “rationality” with some form of “explicability” or “significance” of human action, whether it be of the “purposive-instrumental” type (Jhering’s causa efficiens or Zweck-rationalitat) or of the “normative-teleological” type (the causa finalis or Wert-rationalitat). But the problem remains that if indeed “free behavior is even more accessible to interpretation [than that of natural phenomena] because it obeys a teleological rationality determined by the relationship of means to ends”, then clearly “the ends” come very much into the “scientific interpretation” of “instrumental rationality” – which immediately “surrenders” this “rationality” to the very “dictatorship” (it “obeys”) of “the final or teleological rationality”! But this is precisely what the natural sciences, unlike the historical studies, need not do! – Because they have no need whatsoever to invoke a “teleological rationality” to establish their “instrumental rationality”! They simply rely on their immediate instrumentality in predicting the regularity of events!

Ce que Weber leur refuse, c'est leur validité comme vision scientifique du monde, car, étant recherche indéfinie, aucune science ne saurait se laisser borner par ce genre de clôtures.

On saisit mieux maintenant la distinction indiquée plus haut entre la validité générale d'un concept et sa signification universelle qui reste pourtant singulière. Pour Weber la science est un des moyens, à côté de l'économie, de la politique, de la religion et de l'art, de prendre conscience du réel. Cette distinction prend tout son sens si on se réfère à la philosophie wébérienne de l'antagonisme irréduc-tible des valeurs. Malgré tous ses succès, la science n'est pas en mesure de se substituer aux autres activités humaines, telle la politique ou l'économie, car notre intelligence du réel dépend autant de l'action que de la connaissance. Il n'y a donc point de privilège de la connaissance, en dépit de la rationalisation et de l'intellecualisation qui caractérisent la civilisation moderne. Certes la science est indéfinie; il n'y a donc point de terme pour elle aussi bien dans le domaine des mathé-

Max Weber, Essais sur la théorie de la science. Premier essai (1904) 51

matiques que dans celui de la physique ou de la chimie, elle accroît également sans cesse son champ d'investigation par suite de la constitution d'une histoire scientifique de l'art, de la philosophie, des religions, etc. En ce sens sa signification est universelle, car il n'y a pas d'aspect de la réalité d'où l'on pourrait l'exclure. Néanmoins, cette signification reste singulière parce qu'elle n'est qu'un point de vue, spécifique certes, mais qui ne saurait remplacer ceux de l'économie, de la morale ou de la politique. En d'autres termes il y aura toujours à propos de n'importe quelle question le point de vue du savant, mais aussi celui de l'homme d'État, de l'économiste et de l'artiste, sans possibilité de les réduire à un dénominateur commun. Or, c'est à cette unilatéralité que prétend la validité générale d'un concept, car elle s'estime capable de déduire toute la réalité à partir d'une loi établie par la connaissance seule, comme si l'action politique, économique et autres n'étaient que des manières du connaître. La diversité infinie du réel s'exprime dans toutes ces activités, mais aucune ne saurait la comprendre totalement. L'hiatus entre le concept et la réalité reste insurmontable, c'est-à-dire nous ne sommes pas près de résoudre l'énigme suivante : alors qu'il ne nous est pas possible de connaître le monde autrement qu'en construisant sans cesse de nouveaux concepts, pourquoi aucun concept, ni non plus leur somme ne sont-ils à même de saisir pleinement tout le réel, c'est-à-dire pourquoi la rationalisation croissante, sous l'influence prépondérante de la science et de la technique scientifique, renforce-t-elle chaque fois d'une autre manière, au fur et à mesure de ses progrès, la puissance de l'irrationnel 32 ?

But the question here is emphatically not whether the natural sciences can “take the place of other human activities such as politics or religion”; nor is it whether historical studies can replace these other activities. The question is whether the “historical studies” can claim the status of “science”!The way of posing the question by both Weber and Freund is singularly enlightening because it brings us to the crux of the entire analysis, of what Freund calls here “the enigma”, without further ado: what neither Weber nor Freund, nor indeed the near-totality of the critics and philosophers who have dealt with this question of “scientificity”, that is to say, of the “essential limits”, the categorical Vollendung of science and metaphysics, rather than with the “boundaries” of science or of “the sciences” – what virtually none of them have dared do is to pose the question in its “converse” form – which holds the whole key to the question of the Rationalisierung. And the question is:

“pourquoi en depit de la puissance croissante  ou’ de la presence insurmontable de l’ irrationnel, est-il possible par l’influence  preponderante de la science et de la technique scientifique de saisir presque pleinement [tout] le reel sous la rationalization croissante?”

The central problem with Weber’s formulation of the question of “objectivity” or of “interpretation” is to assume that the one is “possible” despite the other (!) without even trying to explain how or why this can be so! “Despite all its successes,” surmises Freund above, “science cannot take the place of human activity…because our intelligence of the real depends as much on action as it does on knowledge. There is therefore no privilege whatsoever of [scientific] knowledge [over action], despite the rationalization and intellectualization that characterize modern civilization”! Again, Freund has the problem in reverse, which is why it must remain an “enigma” for him and for Weber! The problem must be posed in these precise terms: despite the fact that there is no privilege or priority of scientific knowledge over human action, still modern civilization is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization!

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