Max Weber's Avoidance of Catholicism and Greek Philosophy


The whole complex of ideas—of "values," "reference to values," "value-judgments," and "value-free science"—seemed on the point of disintegration. An "objectivity" of science had been regained that plainly did not fit into the pattern of the methodological debate. And, yet, even the studies on sociology of religion could not induce Weber to take the decisive step toward a science of order. The ultimate reason for his hesitation, if not fear, is perhaps impenetrable; but the technical point at which he stopped can be clearly discerned.

His studies on sociology of religion have always aroused admiration as a tour de force, if not for other reasons. The amount of materials he mastered in these voluminous studies on Protestantism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Israel, and Judaism, to be completed by a study on Islam, is indeed awe-inspiring. In the face of such impressive performance it has perhaps not been sufficiently observed that the series of these studies receives its general tone through a significant omission, that is, of pre-Reformation Christianity.

The reason of the omission seems to be obvious. One can hardly engage in a serious study of medieval Christianity without discovering among its "values" the belief in a rational science of human and social order and especially of natural law. Moreover, this science was not simply a belief, but it was actually elaborated as a work of reason. Here Weber would have run into the fact of a science of order, just as he would if he had seriously occupied himself with Greek philosophy. Weber's readiness to introduce verities about order as historical facts stopped short of Greek and medieval metaphysics.

In order to degrade the politics of Plato, Aristotle, or Saint Thomas to the rank of "values" among others, a conscientious scholar would first have to show that their claim to be science was unfounded. And that attempt is self-defeating. By the time the would-be critic has penetrated the meaning of metaphysics with sufficient thoroughness to make his criticism weighty, he will have become a metaphysician himself. The attack on metaphysics can be undertaken with a good conscience only from the safe distance of imperfect knowledge. The horizon of Weber's social science was immense; all the more does his caution in coming too close to its decisive center reveal his positivistic limitations.

Hence, the result of Weber's work was ambiguous. He had reduced the principle of a value-free science ad absurdum. The idea of a value-free science whose object would be constituted by "reference to a value" could be realized only under the condition that a scientist was willing to decide on a "value" for reference. If the scientist refused to decide on a "value," if he treated all "values" as equal (as Max Weber did), if, moreover, he treated them as social facts among others—then there were no "values" left that could constitute the object of science, because they had become part of the object itself.

This abolition of the "values" as the constituents of science led to a theoretically impossible situation because the object of science has a "constitution" after all, that is, the essence toward which we are moving in our search for truth. Since the positivistic hangover, however, did not permit the admission of a science of essence, of a true episteme, the principles of order had to be introduced as historical facts.

When Weber built the great edifice of his "sociology" (i.e., the positivistic escape from the science of order), he did not seriously consider "all values" as equal. He did not indulge in a worthless trash collection but displayed quite sensible preferences for phenomena that were "important" in the history of mankind; he could distinguish quite well between major civilizations and less important side developments and equally well between "world religions" and unimportant religious phenomena. In the absence of a reasoned principle of theoretization he let himself be guided not by "values" but by the auctoritas majorum and his own sensitiveness for excellence.

CW VOL 5,
The New Science of Politics
Introduction,
§3 pp 102-104.
[U.Chicago ed., p 19-21]

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