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The Elusiveness of Meaning. FromMax Weber to Jürgen Habermas, Maria Victoria Crespo

The Elusiveness of Meaning. FromMax Weber to Jürgen Habermas, Maria Victoria Crespo

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Published by Irving Reynoso
Maria Victoria Crespo,"The Elusiveness of Meaning. FromMax Weber to Jürgen Habermas" in David Chalcraft (ed.)Max Weber Matters. London: Ashgate (forthcoming, 2007).
Maria Victoria Crespo,"The Elusiveness of Meaning. FromMax Weber to Jürgen Habermas" in David Chalcraft (ed.)Max Weber Matters. London: Ashgate (forthcoming, 2007).

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Published by: Irving Reynoso on Aug 17, 2011
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Maria Victoria Crespo,"The Elusiveness of Meaning. FromMax Weber to Jürgen Habermas" in David Chalcraft (ed.)Max Weber Matters. London: Ashgate (forthcoming, 2007).
 Maria Victoria Crespo
This paper deals with the problem of understanding meaning in Max Weber’s and Jürgen Habermas’ methodological enterprises. For
this purpose, it focuses on theinterrelations between interpretation, understanding and explanation in their respectivemethodological writings.
The objective of this inquiry is thus twofold. First, it aims atreinvigorating the debate on Weber’s and Habermas’ conceptions of explanation andunderstanding meaning and their respective role in the social sciences (Dallmayr,McCarthy 1977; Habermas 1980, 1988).
Such discussion intends to show thatunderstanding of meaning and textual interpretation have a secondary role in Weber’sand Habermas’ methodologies. Therefore, the task is to uncover the limitations ofdeveloping a sociological method for textual interpretation and understanding ofmeaning based on Weber’s and Habermas’ methodological enterprises. Second, thispaper seeks to assess Weber’s methodological influence on Habermas’ theory ofcommunicative action. It shows that the main assumptions underlying Habermas’theory of communicative action are rooted in Weber’s concept of rational action and hismethod of rational interpretation. Max Weber matters to Habermas, but both Weber and
I focus on Weber’s methodological essays, the conceptual framework of the first part of Vol. I of 
 Economy and Society
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
. In the case of Habermas, Iconsider his
Theory of Communicative Action
and a selection of previous and complementary articles.
This question is motivated by the discussion that Habermas (1988) introduces in
On The Logic of theSocial Sciences
, where in the context of his dispute with Talcott Parsons he addresses the problem of themethodological primacy of explanation and understanding in Max Weber’s works. In this paper, thisHabermasian inquiry is not only applied to Weber but to Habermas himself.
Habermas matter less for a social science that seeks to engage in understanding meaningand textual interpretation as its primary goals.In their long historical trajectory, debates on the method of the social scienceshave been expressed through a succession of dualisms. First, it was the epistemologicaldichotomy between natural and human sciences, the former concerned with explanationand the latter with understanding. This divide was followed by a secondepistemological dualism that established a split between the subject, on the one hand,and the object on the other. More recently, philosophical hermeneutics have introduceda new opposition, now between ontology and epistemology. In this context, Weber’sand Habermas’ methodological projects are meant to be reconciliatory. Weber attemptsto overcome the classic dualism between explanation and understanding by introducingnew categories integrating both methodological forms to the methods of socio–historicalsciences. He leaves behind Wilhelm Dilthey’s (1988) distinction between
as themethod of the spiritual, human or cultural sciences, and causal explanations, typical ofnatural sciences.
To Weber, socio—historical sciences are not different from naturalsciences because of their singular subject matter or because they proceed throughunderstanding cultural meanings rather than through causal explanations. Webersuccessfully abandons Dilthey’s position, but he reproduces the dualistic view of scienceas he stresses the particular logical structure of socio—historical sciences: while naturalsciences are oriented towards generality, cultural sciences study individual phenomena.
Philosophical hermeneutics, specifically through the work of Hans-GeorgGadamer (1998), radically breaks with the dualism between subject and object. Gadamerdraws from (and reformulates) Martin Heidegger’s notion of the hermeneutic circle,which implies a commonality between the interpreter and the text, between subject and
object. For Gadamer (1998, xxi) understanding is a matter of the subject that experiencesthe text. Truth is not something objective that has to be proven following a method, butderives from the hermeneutic experience itself, from ongoing interpretation. Thus,understanding meaning involves a “fusion of horizons” between text and interpreter(Gadamer 1998, 306). However, Gadamer recreates the dualism between understandingand explanation by conceiving understanding as an experience that occurs on anontological level, and circumscribing explanation to an epistemological sphere.
It is inthe context of this dualism that Habermas raises the fundamental question of thereconciliation between the hermeneutic claim to universality and a critical socio—scientific project, and intends to bring “understanding” back into an epistemologicallevel (see Dallmayr, McCarthy 1977; Habermas 1977; Harrington 2001).The questions that I address in this paper are: What type of understanding is atstake in Weber’s and Habermas’ respective methodological projects? Doesunderstanding meaning emerge as the main purpose of their methodological enterprisesor is it subordinated to something else? What is the role of explanation? I argue thatneither Weber nor Habermas has a satisfactory theory of meaning and thusunderstanding and text interpretation are relegated to a secondary methodological placein their respective methodological projects. I argue that ultimately both Habermas’s andWeber’s conception of
acquires an explanatory character. Understandingmeaning remains elusive in their respective methodological enterprises.This paper is structured in four sections. Section 1 addresses Weber’s andHabermas’ notions of understanding and interpretation. I argue that Weberian rationalinterpretation is the key methodological link between both authors, as Habermas finds
For a critique and a response to Gadamer, see Bourdieu, 1995, “Preface.”

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