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20246526 Sprinzak Weber s Thesis as an Historical Explanation

20246526 Sprinzak Weber s Thesis as an Historical Explanation

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Weber's Thesis as an Historical Explanation
Ehud Sprinzak 
 History and Theory
, Vol. 11, No. 3. (1972), pp. 294-320.
 History and Theory
is currently published by Wesleyan University.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/journals/wesleyan.html.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community takeadvantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.http://www.jstor.orgMon Jul 2 06:37:50 2007
 
WEBER'S THESIS AS
AN
HISTORICAL EXPLANATION
EHUD SPRINZAK
The social sciences seem increasingly doubtful that logical positivism canhelp them become history-free. This has contributed to rediscovery of thehistorical dimensions of social life,l and perhaps explains why many method-ologists and philosophers of science are hard pressed for a proper formulationof the logic of historical e~planation.~he difficulty with many formulationspresented so far is that they are more logical than historical and may sometimesprovide little help to a proper historical analysis. This happens not because ofan inherent deficiency in the nature of philosophy or the philosophy of science,but because of the inherent gap that exists between the requirements of thelogic of explanation and the capacity of the social sciences to follow theserequirements without becoming either trivial or too general.
Previously published in
History
and
Theory:
Gabriel Kolko, "Max Weber onAmerica,"
1 (1961), 243-260;
Otto
B.
van
der
Sprenkel, "Max Weber on China,"
3 (1964), 348-370;
Rex A. Lucas,
"A
Specification of the Weber Thesis: Ply-mouth Colony,"
10 (1971), 3 18-346.
In the next volume: David Goddard, "Weberand the Objectivity of Social Science."
1.
Social theory was, of course, never separated from history, but even the most"scientific" branches of it seem to be intensively interested in history today. Theseinterests have to do mainly with the attempts to apply methods and theories developedapart from the historical context
to
solve historical questions in an unconventional way.
S
far as psychology is concerned, they can be detected
in
Erik Erikson's alreadyclassical study of Luther and in his recent research on Gandhi-
Young Man Luther
(New York,
1962)
and
Gandhi's Truth
(New York,
1969)
-in
which historical docu.ments are manipulated to support psychological theory. Sociology seems also interestedin the subject, an interest that is indicated by volun~es ike
Sociology and History,Theory and Research,
ed. Werner
J.
Cahnman and Alvin Boskoff (New York,
1964);
Sociology and History: Methods,
ed. S.
M.
Lipset and
R.
Hofstadter (New York,
1968).
Political scientists may benefit in this respect from the studies of Lee Benson, such as"Research Problems in American Historiography" in
Common Frontiers of tlze SocialSciences,
ed.
M.
Komarovsky (Glencoe, Ill.,
1957).2.
Basic contributions in this respect are Carl
G.
Hempel's "The Function of GeneralLaws in History," reprinted in
Readings in PIzilosophical Analysis,
ed.
H.
Feigl and
W.
Sellars (New York,
1949), 459-471,
and E. Nagel,
The Structure of Science
(New York,
1965),
ch.
15.
But many further thoughts in this direction may be found
in
E.
H. Carr,
What Is History?
(London,
1962);
I.
Berlin,
Historical Inevitability
(London,
1954);
K.
R.
Popper,
Tlze Poverty of Historicism
(London,
1961);
and numerous articles (par-ticularly in
History and Theory)
that go into the details of these problems as well asdiscussing their illustrations.
 
It therefore seems that in order to comprehend the complexities of historicalexplanation, a concrete historical problem must be examined. There is nolack of historical problems that require explanation, but sometimes it is hardto translate them into the language of explanation. For it is only when conflict-ing interpretations exist that the theoretical problem of explanation presentsitself as a substantial and relevant issue.
A
classic example of such a state ofaffairs is the well-known historical debate regarding Weber's analysis of theProtestant origins of the spirit of modern capitalism.The debate has notonly centered on Weber's thesis itself; it has also, though indirectly, broughtinto question the ability of the social sciences to contribute to the settlement ofmajor historical questions.Like other pathbreaking theories, Weber's major contention is more quotedthan really known4 Thus, within the social sciences, his reputation is estab-lished to such a degree that the thesis regarding the close affinity betweenProtestantism and capitalism is held without much questioning. Within history,as a distinctive discipline, the Weber analysis has been subjected to recurringattacks; and though often alluded to, it is generally held to be untenable. Butneither the approval nor the disapproval rests on a clear vision of what Webermeant.The purpose of this essay is to contribute to the understanding of the realissue involved by projecting the Protestantism-capitalism thesis as an explana-tory problem, and to clarify the Weber thesis.
I
believe such an analysis maybe helpful in solving major problems posed by social and political history tothe social scientist. For in a climate of unprecedented growth of disciplinaryand sub-disciplinary specialization, empirical reality often seems to be dissolvedby the social sciences to such an extent that the data compiled and analyzedby them fail to add up to concrete historical events that we all experience inour simple and unsophisticated life. Weber's approach, partly because of itsrelatively early formulation and partly because of his profound understandingof the meaning of reality as well as its interpretation, may help social scientiststo regain control of their own productions.Following a presentation of the conventional version of Weber's thesis, thefour major arguments that have been raised against it will be presented.
A
close examination of Weber's conception of the logic of historical explanationwill ensue. In view of that analysis an effort will be made to reconstruct the
real
Protestantism-capitalism thesis and to show that most of the substantialarguments made against it have been anticipated by Weber and invalidated
3.
A
concise presentation of the debate may be found in Robert W. Green,
Protcs-tantisnz
and
Capitalisnz
-
Tlze Weber Thesis
and
Its Critics
(Boston, 1959).
4.
Cf. E. Fischoff, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism-TheHistory of a Controversy,"
Social Research
11
(19441,
53-55. Fischoff's stimulatingapproach has contributed substantially to the present paper.

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