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Max Weber - Social Philosopher

Lecturer: Cameron Shingleton

Originally Taught: Winter School 2010

Max Weber’s social thought was both philosophically influenced and philosophically influential. His central preoccupations were shaped decisively by Kantianism, Nietzsche and Goethe, while the tangible results of his interpretations of history and society are essential to an understanding of philosophers as various as Adorno, Karl Jaspers, Jürgen Habermas, Agnes Heller and Alastair MacIntyre.

Yet Weber is often associated with a series of somewhat over-used conceptual motifs which philosophers have adopted a notably defensive attitude to – the modern “disenchantment of the world”, the protestant “spirit of capitalism”, the iron cage of modern social life and the associated notions of rationalisation, intellectualisation and the rise of modern bureaucracy – the latter of which many have taken Weber to be prescribing rather than describing. With a view to getting beyond some of the received ideas, Max Weber, Social Philosopher aims to introduce Weber’s “interpretative sociology” from a philosophical angle via a discussion of five of his main themes – his notion of cultural or social science, his views of rationality and rationalisation, of capitalism, bureaucracy and the meanings of asceticism for religion and culture at large.

Each day of the course will focus in on a series of key questions relating to each of these five central Weberian preoccupations: What does objectivity mean once we move beyond the natural sciences – what methods are appropriate to the study of human societies, what is a Weberian ideal-type? What does rationality look like once we put behind us the perennial philosophical temptation of a priori theory-building? What is the historical “elective affinity” Weber sees between the spirit of early capitalism and the ethos and conceptual universe of protestant puritanism? What is Weber’s genealogy of bureaucracy, how does he think bureaucracy works and what is its significance as part of the modern social dispensation? How does the notion of asceticism fit into Weber’s sociology of religion, what is the difference for Weber between other-worldly and inner-worldly asceticism and what part does asceticism play in Weber’s analysis of the domains of art, science, erotic, economic and political life?

The course is intended for beginners and for those with some prior knowledge. Weber’s allegedly forbidding written style will be introduced via some of his raciest texts, including “Science as a Vocation”, his work on Buddhism and the under-read “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions”.

Day 1 Weber on the cultural/social sciences, ideal-types
Day 2 Rationality and rationalisation
Day 3 Capitalism and modernity
Day 4 Bureaucracy and politics
Day 5 Religion and the meanings of asceticism

Introductory - Intermediate