Weber's Thesis as an Historical Explanation Ehud Sprinzak History and Theory, Vol. 11, No. 3. (1972), pp. 294-320.

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The social sciences seem increasingly doubtful that logical positivism can help them become history-free. This has contributed to rediscovery of the historical dimensions of social life,l and perhaps explains why many methodologists and philosophers of science are hard pressed for a proper formulation The of the logic of historical e~planation.~ difficulty with many formulations presented so far is that they are more logical than historical and may sometimes provide little help to a proper historical analysis. This happens not because of an inherent deficiency in the nature of philosophy or the philosophy of science, but because of the inherent gap that exists between the requirements of the logic of explanation and the capacity of the social sciences to follow these requirements without becoming either trivial or too general.
Previously published in History and Theory: Gabriel America," 1 (1961), 243-260; Otto B. van der Sprenkel, 3 (1964), 348-370; Rex A. Lucas, "A Specification of mouth Colony," 10 (1971), 3 18-346. I n the next volume: and the Objectivity of Social Science." Kolko, "Max Weber o n "Max Weber o n China," the Weber Thesis: PlyDavid Goddard, "Weber

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. These interests have to do mainly with the attempts to apply methods and theories developed apart 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 already ; classical 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 interested in the subject, an interest that is indicated by volun~eslike 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 o f tlze Social Sciences, ed. M . Komarovsky (Glencoe, Ill., 1957). 2. Basic contributions in this respect are Carl G. Hempel's "The Function of General Laws 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 o f Historicism (London, 1961); and numerous articles (particularly in History and Theory) that go into the details of these problems as well as discussing their illustrations.

It therefore seems that in order to comprehend the complexities of historical explanation, a concrete historical problem must be examined. There is no lack of historical problems that require explanation, but sometimes it is hard to translate them into the language of explanation. For it is only when conflicting interpretations exist that the theoretical problem of explanation presents itself as a substantial and relevant issue. A classic example of such a state of affairs is the well-known historical debate regarding Weber's analysis of the Protestant origins of the spirit of modern capitalism.The debate has not only centered on Weber's thesis itself; it has also, though indirectly, brought into question the ability of the social sciences to contribute to the settlement of major historical questions. Like other pathbreaking theories, Weber's major contention is more quoted than really known4 Thus, within the social sciences, his reputation is established to such a degree that the thesis regarding the close affinity between Protestantism and capitalism is held without much questioning. Within history, as a distinctive discipline, the Weber analysis has been subjected to recurring attacks; and though often alluded to, it is generally held to be untenable. But neither the approval nor the disapproval rests on a clear vision of what Weber meant. The purpose of this essay is to contribute to the understanding of the real issue involved by projecting the Protestantism-capitalism thesis as an explanatory problem, and to clarify the Weber thesis. I believe such an analysis may be helpful in solving major problems posed by social and political history to the social scientist. For in a climate of unprecedented growth of disciplinary and sub-disciplinary specialization, empirical reality often seems to be dissolved by the social sciences to such an extent that the data compiled and analyzed by them fail to add up to concrete historical events that we all experience in our simple and unsophisticated life. Weber's approach, partly because of its relatively early formulation and partly because of his profound understanding of the meaning of reality as well as its interpretation, may help social scientists to regain control of their own productions. Following a presentation of the conventional version of Weber's thesis, the four major arguments that have been raised against it will be presented. A close examination of Weber's conception of the logic of historical explanation will 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 substantial arguments made against it have been anticipated by Weber and invalidated
3. A concise presentation of the debate may be found in Robert W. Green, Protcstantisnz and Capitalisnz - Tlze Weber Thesis and Its Critics (Boston, 1959). 4. Cf. E. Fischoff, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism-The History of a Controversy," Social Research 11 (19441, 53-55. Fischoff's stimulating approach has contributed substantially to the present paper.



by his cautious remarks. Weber's contribution to a modern conception of an historical explanation, illustrated by recent validating research, will then be shown.

There are many popular versions of "what Weber really meant" in his essays, some of which were published under the title The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalisrn.They vary not only according to the peculiar taste of the author, but also according to the author's school or discipline. What is common to most of them is the assertion that, in his thesis, Weber sought to relate causally modern capitalism to certain ideas of early Protestantism, particularly to the ascetic Protestantism of Calvinist origins. Most of the writing on the subject stresses, consequently, Weber's insistence on the spiritual nature of the thesis, namely the derivation of certain economic behavior from religious ideas and not from economic factors.6 It is said that in his study Weber tried to prove that the spirit of modern capitalism was created after the Reformation and as a result of it. The version of the thesis most commonly referred to is that capitalism is based on an ethos the core of which is the obligation to make more wealth in a more rational way, not for the sake of mundane enjoyment but for the sake of wealth production in itself. This spirit -which, Weber argued, has appeared only in the modern West -was introduced by the religious doctrines of Luther and Calvin and their followers. Luther, according to Weber, denied the inherent Catholic dichotomy between the secular sphere of life and the religious one. He introduced the concept of the "calling" (Beruf) in reference to the secular duties of the believer, thus sacralizing that realm of life that Catholic doctrine had considered inferior. Everything that the believer engaged in thus was invested with religious meaning. Calvin is said by Weber to have gone a step further. He developed the doctrine of predestination. Following the notion that God was a free supreme being unlimited in space or time, this doctrine asserted that everything in the world, including the fate of human beings, was predetermined. Nothing could be done by man to change this predestined course according to which grace and salvation were extended to very few. What was left for the believers, anxious to know their fate in the afterworld, was to determine whether they were chosen by the grace of God or doomed to eternal damnation. Such
5. Transl. Talcott Parsons (New York, 19 ). 6. Since I intend to explore, in a later stage of this paper, the meaning of the Weberian thesis in Thc Protestant Ethic,I have reconstructed here the alleged thesis from the writings of Weber's major critics. A direct reference to them will be made shortly when their counterarguments are presented.


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proof could not be gained through intermediary bodies or institutions (like the traditional church), but could be acquired by success in one's calling in the present world. Thus, extending Luther's conception of calling to mean secular business and economic activity, Calvin and his followers are said to have given a religious meaning to success in business. In the course of history, this religious sanction, with all its moral limitations, disappeared, but left behind the spirit of capitalism. Whether this version of Weber's argument is a true explication of what he said is a question that should be left open for quite some time. For what is of greater importance now is that this is the thesis for which he was - and to a great extent still is -held responsible. In this respect, the arguments that have been made in an attempt to discredit him entirely were directed against part of this thesis and its supporting evidence. Though every critic has his individual variations of argument, it appears useful to refer not to single contenders but to common themes. I shall therefore refer to four contentions that summarize the anti-Weberian arguments: the mislocated capitalism, the misinterpreted Protestantisnz, the misunderstood Catholicism, and the misplaced causality. It appears that under these headings most of the points raised against Weber could fairly be subsumed. Mislocated Capitalism. The simplest argument that has been voiced against the Weber thesis is that it mislocated the rise of modern capitalism. According to this contention, the appearance of what Weber called the "spirit of capitalism" must have been correlated positively with the rise of modern capitalism as an economic and social system. Moreover, it must have come after the Protestant Reformation. I it could therefore be shown that modern capitalism came into f being before the Reformation, it could be argued that the spirit of capitalism that Weber portrayed out of studies of religious texts either existed before the Reformation or was a creation of his self-developed imagination. This argument has been raised with some strength by R. H. Tawney and with stronger connotations by Robertson, Hyma, and particularly by Fanfani.? By showing that parts of Europe (particularly Italy and Flanders) had already developed capitalist systems in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Weber7s critics believe that they have discredited his thesis.8 Misinterpreted Protestantisnz. Since a major portion of Weber's thesis had to do with his understanding of the conceptual development of Protestantism, it is of little surprise that much pain has been taken by his critics to prove that
7. Cf. R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise o f Capitalism (London, 1929), 319-320; H. M. Robertson, Aspects o f tlze Rise of Economic Individualism (Cambridge, 1933), Ch. 11, "Pre-Reformation Capitalism"; Albert Hyma, Rerzaissnrzce to Refol.mntioi2 (Grand Rapids, 1951), 484-485; A. Fanfnni, Catholicism, Protestniztism and Capitalisin (New York, 1935), 160-162, 201. 8. Tawney, 16,25-26.

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he misinterpreted the development of Protestantism. It was argued that Luther in his translation of the Bible did not change the meaning of the Latin term vocatiog (the German Berz~f);hat Weber did not study the original writings t of Calvin and his supporters on the continent; and that a selective reading of eighteenth-century Protestant writers has led him to a distorted picture of sixteenth-century Calvinism, which was originally very communal and anticapitalistic in its orientation.1° The major point made by the misinterpreted Protestarztisnz School is that Protestantism and capitalism have had unrelated lines of development and that Weber's alleged "inherent" correlation between them did not have a real basis.ll Misunderstood Catlzolicism. To support the "misinterpreted Protestantism," the approach of "misunderstood Catholicism" has further raised some points of centrality. Weber was charged with not studying in depth the economic doctrines of late medieval Catholi~ism,~"he Pauline doctrine,13 and with not conducting a comparative study of Catholicism and Protestantism, the only method that could validate his contention empirically.14Consequently, Weber was accused of ignoring the strong "capitalist" elements within the Catholic doctrines of the time and of misrepresenting the crucial fact that the very emergence of the Protestant movement was a religious reaction from within the Church to a general process of secularization and acquisitiveness that took place under the lax Roman pontificate. Misplaced Causality. It is not necessary to exhaust all the points raised against Weber to realize that they culminate in a general indictment that the Weber thesis relied on a "misplaced casuality." According to this charge, Weber tried to establish a one-directional and unicausal relationship between Protestantism and capitalism. But once one of his contentions about modern capitalism, ascetic Protestantism, Catholicism or a combination of them is shattered, the whole causal chain is broken. If capitalism existed before the Reformation, if Protestantism was anticapitalistic, and if Catholicism was not different from Protestantism in its economic doctrines, then the whole thesis falls apart. Major parts could still hold, but to no avail. R. H. Tawney, who was not totally hostile to Weber, thought that it was possible to demonstrate certain influences exerted by Protestantism on modern capitalism but argued that historical causation could work in two directions and a possibility of Protestantism being influenced by capitalism should have also been taken into
9. Robertson, 2-3,25-32. 10. Hyma, 455-456, 466, 482-488; Robertson, 14-15; Tawney, 112-113; W. Sombart, The Quir~tesserzceo f Capifalisin (London, 1951), Ch. XIX. Winthrop S. Hudson, "Puritanism and the Spirit of Capitalism," Cllurch History 18 (1949), 8, 15-17. 11. Fanfani, 207-209. 12. Sombart, 246-249. 13. Tawney, 225; Hyma, 486. 14. Hyma, 500-504.

consideration.15 For more critical historiai~sthan Tawney, Weber's causal one-sided analysis appeared alien to the "historical method" itself and became the basic factor that jeopardized the thesis as a whole.lG

It is not until one immerses oneself in the contrasting arguments and in the historical data that are brought to support them that one realizes that the prior problem of validating or invalidating the thesis is theoretical, and must be resolved before the evidence can be introduced. Unless questions pertaining to the meaning of causality and establishment of a proper conceptual framework are solved, or at least formulated, no decision as to the validity of the thesis can be reached. Such questions are hardly raised by Weber's critics; or, if they are, it is done superficially and casually. However, even a quick look at Weber's study reveals repeated references to these problems. Of particular interest is Weber's concluding remark of the Protestant Ethic.
Here we have only attempted to trace the fact and the direction of its ["Protestantism's"] influence to their ["elements of modern culture"] motives, in one though a very important point. But it would also further be necessary to investigate how Protestant Asceticism was in turn influenced into development and its character by the totality of social conditions, especially economic. The modern man is in general, even with the best will, unable to give religious ideas a significance for culture and national character which they deserve. But it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic, and equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history. Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplishes equally little in the interest of historical truth.17

Such an argument and many others make it clear that, unlike most of his critics, Weber was conscientiously engaged in the logical structure of his argument and that only by tracing his methodological explicit rules could a key to his thesis be suggested. Since Weber clarified the major issues in his early methodological works, an examination of his logic is now in order. If we probe Weber's empirical studies of culture as well as his methodological ones, it appears that they are based on two major notions or axioms. The first one is that empirical reality is composed of infinite facts and factors. The second is that every historical event is only one set of alternatives that happened to occur but did not have to. As to the first contention, Weber,
15. See Tawney's introduction to Weber's The Protestnnt Ethic, 8. Cf. Tawney, Religion, 226. 16. Cf. Robertson's remark on Weber's complete lack of historical method, in Robertson, 25. 17. Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 183.

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following Rickert,ls insists that by definition any reality must be understood as having an infinite number of manifestations, be it even a single event that comes under consideration. Any conception and understanding of such reality must therefore be based on selection. The absolute infinitude of this multiplicity is seen to remain undiminished even when our attention is focused on a single "object," for instance a concrete act of exchange. . . . All the analysis of infinite reality, which the finite human mind can conduct, rests on the tacit assumption that only a finite portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation and that only it is "important" in the sense of being worthy of being.19 The critical point in Weber's argument seems to be that it is not a matter of whether we are consciously engaged in the process of explanation or unconsciously speak the language of explanatory common sense. The very process of human analysis is a limited one, finite, while its object, "reality," is infinite, in the sense that it is open to observation from different angles and potentially infinite interests. Now, if a selection is to be made, what distinguishes science from mere observation is that certain criteria for that selection are to be decided consciously and in advance. Weber cannot and does not reject the possibility that an experienced historian, even though not fully aware of the logic of explanation, might do better than a bunch of methodologists. That fact, however, does not make much difference, since a good science must be able to formulate the logic of proof as well as its formal procedures. Much has been said about Weber's belief in the intuition of the historian or the social scientist, and the insight by which he conceives his original hypotheses. Indeed, Weber paid a high tribute to the so-called "empathy" of the historical school, and was ready to accept the importance of the artistic presentation of the study as But as a matter of principle, he insisted that a clear-cut analytical distinction be made between the psychological process by which the historian arrives at his thesis, as well as the artistic form in which he presents it, and the procedures for its confirmation. Once the thesis has been presented, it is its logical structure that decides whether it is to be accepted as true. According to this conception, the structure of the argument as well as its empirical support could and should be extrapolated from the manuscript in order to be tested.21 Mathematical equations no less than the brilliant expositions of Ranke were a result of intuition: They all arise in the intuitive flashes of imagination as hypotheses which are then verified vis-d-vis the facts, i.e. their validity is tested in procedures involving the
18. 19. 20. 21.
Cf. R.Aron, Germar~ Sociology (Glencoe, Ill., 1957), 68-71. M. Weber, The Methodology o f the Social Sciences (Glencoe, Ill., 1949), 72. Cf. J. Freund, The Sociology o f Max Weber (New York, 1969), 45.

Freund, 56.

use of already available empirical knowledge and they are "formulated" in a logical correct way. . . . We are here concerned only with the logical category under which the hypothesis is to be demonstrated as vaIid in case of doubt or dispute for it is that which determines its logical structure.22

If the first assumption emphasizes selectivity as basic to the understanding of reality and logically justifiable selectivity as the one that science should look for, the second has to do with the indeterminateness inherent in empirical reality. Had everything that happens in the world been predetermined in advance by a powerful supreme being, then instead of an inquiry into empirical reality, the study of history would have had to do with finding the logical key, which would in turn inferentially lead to every occurrence. But if historical events are not predetermined but are rather the alternatives that happened to occur, then the historian's question becomes not only what happened but also what did not happen and ~ h y . ~ 3 The absence of certain actions or events, no less than the presence of others, is important in understanding what happened. What did not happen may have made possible the event that did happen.
The judgment that, if a single historical fact is conceived of as absent from or modified in a complex of historical events in a way which could be different in certain historically important respects, seems to be of considerable value for the determination of the "historical significance" of those facts.24

Taking off from these two basic contentions, Weber goes to his analysis of the question of causality. His argument is simple and important. If, on the one hand, empirical reality - as any "whole" by definition -is composed of an infinite number of facts or facets and if, on the other hand, it might have been different, then, in order to understand it beyond the level of the nonquestioning acceptance, two further logical operations must be made. First, we have to pick from the vast number of events that happened those that are more relevant than others for our under~tanding.~~ Second, we have to account for those relevant events in a genetic sense, so as to explain why this set of events and not others took place. This may seem an easy job to do; and Weber is, of course, the first to admit that historians have been doing it all along. Yet he insists that when carried out unconsciously, this operation may have misleading effects. I t may lead people to believe causality inheres in the
22. 23. 24. 25.

Weber, Methodology, 176. Ibid., 165. Ibid., 166. Aron, 79.

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nature of history, whereas it remains, in effect, in the mind of the historian who asks questions about history. As to the first operation, Weber argues that unconsciously or not, historians tend to pick up their events and their questions about these events according to their conception of world history. This means that they make these choices not in a direct relationship to the events that happened in the past but rather to those that happen in their time that make certain events of the past appear relevant.3G Commenting on Eduard Meyer's reference to the Battle of Marathon, Weber argues that what makes the battle relevant is not the fact or time that it was fought, but that it appears to be a crucial moment in the history of the Western civilization. Had it been lost it might have changed the whole history of the West." This criterion of relevance Weber fully justifies, and it is therefore not surprising that the fist sentence of The Protestant Ethic reads:
A product of modern European civilization studying any problem of universal history is bound to ask himself to what combination of circumstances the fact should be attributed that in western civilization and in western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared which . . . lie in a line of development having universal significance and val~e.~S

The Protestant Ethic interested Weber not merely because he decided to develop the new discipline of the sociology of religion but because it seemed to him to provide a partial key to what he considered an important concrete phenomenon, the creation of modern capitalist culture. It subsequently became important in view of world history. Wow the idea that the Battle of Masathon and the Protestant Ethic are chosen for study because of their importance to world history may be assumed to be correct. So long as no one questions it, there is no problem. Every research or inquiry is established, like an iceberg, on an unspecified number of unseen foundation^.^^ But what happens if this assumption is challenged? What happens if we want to prove this assumption, i.e., that the event under consideration was in fact crucial for the development of modern culture? This is, according to Weber, the core question that the social scientist and the historian must be ready to face. In order to answer this question -the most important in his causal analysis - Weber suggests making a distinction between two types of knowledge, the "nomological" and the "ontological." Nornological knowledge is that knowledge which involves knowing the laws 26. Ibid., 70. 27. Cf. Freund, 73. 28. Weber, T h e Protesfont Ethic, 13. 29. A similar idea, and its implications, has been developed in an impressive manner by Michael Polanyi in his Pei:~onol K~zowledge (New York, 1964), Part 11, under the concept "tacit knowledge."

according to which people behave under certain circumstanccs. Ontological knowledge nleans those concrete events that we know for surc to have happencd (events like the Battle of Marathon, the existence of religious movements like Protestantisin or the cultural phenomenon of capitalism). With these two distinguishable typcs of knowledge it becomes, according to Weber, possible to make the decisive step and to establish the causal chain. I we f know the laws under which certain phenomena occur, we have the mechanism that may, to use modern language, process our data or events. The ontological knowledge - the knowledge of certain events which are not questionable may therefore be considered as an input; and since we already have the output, we are pretty safe in our causal analysis. We can also infer what could have happened had the Battle of Marathon been lost, since by the sarnc logical proccdures we may also process a different set of data -the tentative loss of Marathon - and get, of course, different results. Weber sums up his argument in this way:
The "knowledge" on which such a judgment of the "significance" of the Battle of Marathon rests is in the light of all that a e havc said hitherto, on the one hand, knowledge of certain "facts" ["ontological knowledge"], belonging to the "historical situation" and ascertainable on the basis of certain sources, and on the other - as we have already seen -knowledge of certain known empirical rulcs, pdrticularly thosc relating to the ways in which human beings are prone to react under given situation ["nornological knowledge"]. . . . When this has been donc, then, we can render a positive judgment that the joint action of thosc facts . . . "could" bring about the effect which is asserted to be "objectively possible." This can only occurred mean, in other words, that if we "conceived" the effects a? having acl~ially under the modified conditions we ivouM then recognize those facts, thus modified, to be "adequate causes."30

Students who have busied themselves with looking at Weber's ideal typev as his major contribution to the theory of explanation may be a littlc surprised by his closeness to some modern, widely accepted, theories of causal explanation. These thcories insist on the need of "postdiction" (prcdiction made retrospectively), namely, that events that happencd should not bc taken for granted as necessary in view of some metaphysical genetic deternlinism or a functional one, but rather should be proved to have happencd out of several other probable alternatives, due to several well-specified conditions." We shall later have an opportunity to comment on the ideal type, but a closcr view of Weber's conception of probability seems now in order. Being fully aware of the possibility that certain causes could be affirmed in a stronger way than others, Weber wrote:
The judgment of "objective" possibility admits gradations of degree and one can form an idea of the logical relationship which is involved by lool<ing for help in
30. Weber, Methodology, 174-175. 3 1. Cf. Ernst Nagel, The Structure of Science (New Yo1k, 1965), 555-556.

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principles which applied in the analysis of the "calculus of probability." . . . One then asks, how the entire complex of all those conditions with the addition of which those isolatedly conceived components were "calculated" to bring about the "possible" effect standing in relation to the complex of all those conditions the addition of which could not have "foreseeably" led to the effect.32 Now, what is asserted here by Weber, if read carefully, is that the idea of the logical relationship applied by the calculus of probability is relevant to the causal analysis. It is indeed disappointing to read further that "one naturally cannot in any way arrive by this operation at an estimate of the relationship between these two possibilities which will be in any sense numerical," but the reason for that is not that the human sciences do not yield themselves to the scientific methods of the natural ones. The [numerical estimate] would be attainable only in the sphere of "absolute chance" . . i.e. in cases where . . . given a very large number of cases, certain simple and unambiguous conditions remain absolutely the same. We can express numerically the degree of this "favorable chance" of this "objective possibility," by sufficiently frequent repetition of the toss.33


So what we are clearly faced with is a technical difficulty viewed by a social scientist who is involved in questions of analyzing major historical events, when information in the form of interviews or attitude samples - such as was used by him when studying contemporary problems of Germany -seemed at that time unavailable. This of course becomes obvious with his closing remarks: Despite the familiar and fully justified notice which warns against the transference of the principles of calculus of probabilities into other domains, it is clear that the latter case of favorable chance or an "objective probability" determined from general empirical propositions, or from empirical frequencies has its analogies in the sphere of concrete causality including the historical. The alleged conflict that has been recently suggested by Lazarsfeld and Oberschall to have existed within Weber's empirical studies in contemporary German society and his "non-empirical" historical studies, and their subsequent psychological explanation of seems, according to what had been mentioned above, a creation of their own minds. Weber might have, as they showed, some reservations as to the role of psychology within his social research, but it had little relation to either the notion of empirical research or to its application in the probability theory. Like Nagel fifty years later, he was fully aware of the permanent gap between the logic of scientific inquiry and the state of the present knowledge as well as its needs.35
32. Weber, Methodology, 181-182. 33. Ibid., 183. 34. P . Lazarsfeld and A. Oberschall, "Max Weber and Empirical Social Research," American Sociological Review 30 (1965), 185-198. 35. On the limitations of the present level of knowledge, note Weber's remark, "But it

So far I have tried to clarify what appears to me Weber's major contribution to the theory of explanation, his conception of causality. It has been done through a logical derivation of his causal analysis from his philosophical argument about the infinite nature of empirical reality. Any reference to the notion of ideal type has been carefully avoided because it appears to pertain not so much to the theory of explanation as to the important question of "what we are about to explain." A clarification of this issue must now be attem~ted.~" It is obvious that the concept of ideal type can be derived by two simple logical steps from Weber's basic contention that empisical reality is infinite. The first one has already been presented. Since empirical reality or history is infinite, any discussion of meaningful events in it becomes possible only through a selection of events that seem relevant to the historical consciousness of the person involved. By the same token, a selection is made also between events that should be explained and events that form the explaining conditions. This is, as we remember, an artificial operation made on empirical reality in order to account for it causally, and this is what Weber has in mind when speaking about the "decomposition" of the given. ("This means that we so dec jmpose the 'given' into 'components' that every one of them is fitted into an 'empirical ~ule'.")~T Now, in the case of single events, like the Battle of Marathon, there is no need to go further. It is pretty well defined in our consciousness in terms of time, place, and significance. But if we trace a cultural phenomenon like capitalism, Judaism, or liberalism, a definable conception becomes more difficult. Not only are time and place hard to determine, but so are a variety of other facets, institutional and attitudinal. Since we want to keep it as a cultural unit, and to be able to operate the causal analysis though this time on a large scale - a further "decomposition" of the "given" is called f0r.38 This second decomposition gives birth to the ideal type. The best and most concise account of the conception has been given by Weber himself. An ideal type is formed by a one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct. In must not be forgotten that every individual causal complex, even the apparently 'simple'
can be infinitely subdivided and analyzed. The point at which we halt in this process is
determined only by our causal interests of the time." Weber, Metl~odology,178. For a
similar view, see Nagel, 507.
36. Much of what shall be said below has been influenced by Aron's interpretation of
Weber. Cf. Aron, 7 1.
37. Weber, Methodology, 173. 38. Freund, 53.



its conceptual purity this mental construct cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality. It is a utopia. Historical research faces the task of determining in each individual case, the extent to which this ideal construct approxin~ates or diverges to from reality. . . . This procedure can be indispensable for heuristic as well as expository purposes. The ideal typical concept will help to develop our skill in imputation in research. It is no "hypothesis" but it offers guidance to the construction of hypotheses. It is not a description of reality but it aims to give unambiguous means of expression to such a description.89 Without further interpretation of what is made clear by Weber, it is worth mentioning that the major feature of the ideal type is that it is an auxiliary construct that helps one to orient oneself to the proposed research. Its explicit building is therefore a desirable procedure that may, or may not, be useful for building a hypothesis (and not a proof). It is not an operational concept but arz orientatiorzal one. It is needed as a preliminary stage for a study of largescale and complex p h e n o m e n ~ n . ~ ~ It is sometimes argued against Weber that objective typology could not be obtained unless some verifiable operations (based on some sort of measurement) have been made. Weber's answer, one of the most delicate arguments ever made in the history of the social sciences, requires some length for full presentation. But its core is as simple as it is persuasive. No science could ever start without some non-scientific decisions as to its orientation. The scientific problem is not how to pick up its orienting questions or concepts, ideal types, symbols, or whatever one likes to call them, but how to operate with them in a justifiable way. The choice of conceptions is a cultural business and may be different for different people in different times or locations. The way one operates with them and, particularly, proves one's arguments is, however, metahistorical and metacultural. It is made according to logical rules which are deducible and may be tested by everyone who knows logic. The choice of the object of investigation and the extent or depth to which this investigation attempts to penetrate into the infinite causal web, are determined by the evaluative ideas which dominate the investigator and his age. In the method of investigation, the guiding "point of view" is of great importance for the construction of the conceptual scheme which will be used in the investigation. In the mode of their use, however, the investigator is obviously bound by the norms of our thought just as much here as elsewhere. For scientific truth is precisely what is valid for all those who seek the truth.41 This, I suggest, is why the notion of ideal type is not an important part of the explanatory scheme set up by Weber. While this scheme has to d o with the logical procedure by which the causal relationship is set and proved, the
39. Weber, Metlzoclology, 90. 40. Cf. Freund, 60-66. 41. Weber, Methodology, 84.


3 07

procedure of constructing the ideal type has to do with the question of how orienting concepts are picked up and the problem formed. The important point about the latter is not that ideal types are being formed -they have been formed all along -it is the question of how to form them in a relevant way that counts. In fact, Weber had well in mind the possibility of building orienting concepts in a statistical way. Those which he named "simple class concepts," were said by him to be "a matter of the simple classification of events which appear in reality as mass phenomena." These were not ideal types. The latter were to denote historical phenomena. The difference between them was clearly marked:
The greater the event to which we conceptualize complicated historical patterns with respect to those components in which their specific cultural significaizce is contained, the greater the extent to which the concept . . . will be ideal typical in character. The goal of ideal typical concept-construction is always to make explicit not the class or average character but rather the unique individual character of cultural phenomena.42

Here, I think, lies Weber's decisive answer to the abstract empirical approach in the name of which he is sometimes attacked. The essence of science is not its methods but its logic of inquiry. This logic of inquiry may help in making a good argument. But it is helpless insofar as the relevance of the phenomenon under consideration is concerned. What makes an orientatioilal framework relevant are not the methods by which it is picked up but the phenomena it tries to embrace. Cultural broad phenomena are historical. Being historical is not merely to be an aggregate of certain historical data, but mainly to have a unifying system of symbols that can be decided by one's understanding of history, which is a philosophical, metascientific question of meaning. By the same token, Weber argues that though nomological knowledge was important for the process of proof of one's argument, it was by no means the purpose of the cultural sciences - as distinguished from natural sciences -to provide laws. The argument deserves particular notice.
An "objective" analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to "laws," is meaningless. It is not meaningless, as is often maintained, because cultural or psychic events for instance are "objectively" less governed by laws. It is meaningless for a number of other reasons. Firstly, because the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end; secondly, because knowledge of cultural events is inconceivable except on a basis of the significance which the concrete constellations of reality have for us in certain individual concrete situations. In which sense and in which situations this is the case is not revealed to us by any law; it is decided according to the valueideas in the light of which we view "culture" in each individual case. "Culture" is
42. Ibid., 101.



a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance.43

Weber's argument about the uniqueness of historical events and consequently the distinction between the natural and cultural sciences should be read with care. It is not a contention that the logic of inquiry of them is different. As we saw, Weber denied this idea. It also does not come out of the proposition that the "given" (empirical reality) of both is different. Both are infinite by their nature. The difference is a result of the fact that concrete events or phenomena which are treated by the cultural sciences are different because they have an historical connotation which is necessarily cultural-valueladen, while the natural phenomena are devoid of that sense. The raison &&re of the natural sciences is the attempt to grasp regularities that occur Both repeatedly with no reference to historically meaningful e~ents.~4 sciences have common ground in their logic of inquiry since the causal understanding which is common to both requires the discovery of laws. But while this knowledge is the end of the natural sciences, the end of the cultural ones is to come back with this knowledge to the concrete events. The great danger for the cultural sciences is that, in view of the need of nornological knowledge, it will be forgotten for what it is sought and that we shall get good laws that are irrelevant to what is happening in the world. Since reality is infinite so is the number of possible laws. This distinction, I suggest, is of major importance. The fact that Weber was not read with care may explain the situation in which so many studies in social science may be skillfully performed but be, at the same time, devoid of relevance to the real world. It may help to explain the so-called new scientific "sub-cultures" that are created within certain disciplines and help to sustain so much intellectual whistling in the dark and to alienate social science from social life. This is exactly what Weber tried to prevent by coining the notion of ideal type as an orientational concept, a concept that by keeping a grasp on the concrete historical phenomenon would lead the search of knowledge toward that which is meaningful. The unfortunate fact that somehow it became involved with his logic of explanation led to some damaging effects. Weber's ideas regarding the ideal type may help to explain another pillar of his theory of the historical understanding, his conception of one-sided explanation in history. As was already shown, Weber, concluding the Protestant Ethic, mentioned that what he has tried to do was to trace the direction in which Protestantism has influenced the development of capitalism, namely to lay the grounds for a study of the influence of ideas on economic behavior. Subsequently he said:
43. Zbid., 80-81. 44. Cf. Aron, 68; Freund, 37-40.



But it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic, an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history. Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplishes equally little in the interest of historical truth.45 As is the case with abstract "scientism," so, too, in the case of one-sided "disciplinarism," historical and cultural phenomena cannot be reduced to and replaced by the partial views that intend to explain them. The materialistic as well as the spiritualistic conceptions of history are just one-sided tools of interpretation. As such, they serve as the preparation for the investigation, not as its conclusion, which is the causal complete explanation. In this spirit, he warned in the Methodology against the general tendency to see in new scientific disciplines new "Weltanschauungen" as well, each capable of replacing all the others by its breadth and explanatory capacity. Each of these (including functionalism!), he maintained, could provide a good one-sided ideal type and instead of trying to replace concrete history -by eliminating "every historical event which is not explicable" as "scientFfically insignificant accident"46- should add up to the knowledge of concrete reality. In retrospect and to sum up, we may perhaps maintain with Weber: The type of social science in which we are interested is an empirical science of concrete reality. Our aim is the understanding of the characteristic uniqueness of the reality in which we move.47

So far the attempt has been made to demonstrate how Weber conceived the desirable relationships between the domain of scientific inquiry and the domain of culture within which this inquiry was to become meaningful. But a word of caution must be added. Weber did not clarify many of the specific details of these relationships. He did not make clear the relationship that must exist between the logic of inquiry and the use of reliable methods for collection of information. He did not develop an explicit procedure of operationalism. The distinction that has been suggested to exist between orientational conceptions and operational ones was obtained only by inferential interpretation of what he said explicitly, - a way that, to some degree, is always arbitrary. These gaps and others that may hardly be satisfactory to the modern social scientist reveal themselves in his historically rich studies, and little benefit may be gained by concealing them. Since Weber, however, would be the first to agree that the interests of organized knowledge increase in time and with
45. Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 183. 46. Weber, Metlzodology, 70. 47. Ibid., 72.



them the logical sharpness of the theory of explanation as well as its methods, he should hardly be blamed for all that he could not foresee or foretell. But within the limits of his orientational approach, his empirical studies of history remain as relevant as his theory of explanation. Since Weber's explicit methodology has not been developed apart from his empirical studies but in a close relation with them, it is not diflicult to discover within it the roots of the arguments that have been presented formerly in abstract fashion. As most of his students noted, his initial focus was, and remained, his interest in modern Western rationalism. This historical phenomenon and its concrete manifestations -the most important being the modern legal system, modern bureaucracy, and modern capitalism - occupied Weber all his life. Deeply influenced by Marx, who tried to do the same thing (though leaning heavily toward capitalism as the key factor), Weber, however, became fully aware of the one-sidedness of this approach and its selective interpretation. As Bendix has shown, Weber's first methodological confrontation with the materialist interpretation of history took place in his early studies of farm labor in Eastern Germany and the stock exchange. I t was within the scope of these studies that he first developed the concept of status group as distinguished from class group. What he discovered was that the formation and existence of social groups could not be explained according to economic objective experiences only, but had to be traced back to at least one more category, the shared beliefs and ideas of the group regarding honor and social position.4s Conceiving ideas, then, as a possible source of group formation, it was natural for him to turn to the historical institution of religion, the most obvious example of a concrete phenomenon whose origins could be dealt with in terms of ideas. Since he was aware of the remarks made by generations of observers regarding the affinity between economic success and ascetic Protestants -remarks that seemed to him fully confirmed by studies done by one of his students4hnd by other contemporary observations -Weber soon thought of the possibility of a new causal explanation of modern capitalism, namely what he referred to as the "spiritual" interpretation. Convinced, as he always was, that Marxism never succeeded in deriving the colzterzt of religious ideas from economic situations, but equally convinced that once groups have been formed their existence had to do with economic experiences, Weber was swift to conclude that the conzplex relationships o f ideas am?ecoizonlic interests that could have led to the fornzatiorz of nzoderrz capitalisnz had to be differentiated. Only such factorial differentiation into mutually exclusive variables, as artificial as it might be, could have later been integrated into a
48. R. Bendix, A4ax W r b e r , Ail I~ztellccflrrrlPorfraif ( N e w York, 1962), 85-87. 49. Weber, The Ptofesfant Ethic,Ch. I.


31 1

satisfactory causal analysis of the modern phenomenon. It was about that time that he arrived theoretically at the formulation of his theory of causality as well as that of the historical ideal type. The first, as we saw, was to help him in the search for the right types of knowledge in view of which valid arguments were to be made. The second, as we also saw, was to help him orient that search so that the end he had in mind - the analysis of the concrete cultural phenomenon of modern capitalism -would not be lost. It was indeed here, in the formulation of strict methodology, that Weber transcended Marx as a scholar. Without losing Marx's ingenious vision of history, he could now avoid what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness made by the former. But Weber did not intend to eliminate the Marxian contribution. On the contrary, he was fully aware of its fruitfulness, provided it was properly limited. The task that he assigned to himself was to work out his complementary approach. According to the original causal scheme, a proof could be gained if it were possible to provide evidence that, in view of certain laws of social behavior (nomological knowledge) and certain events (ontological knowledge), other events or phenomena did not just happen, but had to happen (postdiction). But since Weber renounced from the beginning the claim for unicausal analysis, he never did try to prove that capitalism had to be the result of ascetic Protestantism. Instead, he tried to advance the hypothesis that ascetic Protestantism had to contribute much to the creation of modern capitalism. Such a proposition, it should be stressed again, m ~ ~be tby definition an accentuated s one-sided argument, excluding political, ecoaomic, legal, and other important factors in order to demonstrate the relevance of the spiritual factor. But how was he to accomplish that job, gigantic as it was? Had he immersed himself in the infinite mountain of facts, he would have lost sight of the forest wandering somewhere around in the bushes. The only possibility was to work, like Marx, within the framework of powerful ideal types and hypothetical plausible arguments, but this time to nzake lzis liinitatiorzs explicit. It was this conviction that led Weber, through the use of Franklin's dairy, to his most famous ideal type, the spirit of capitalism. Weber, like Marx and Sombart before, never argued that capitalism as a distinctive phenomenon came into being only in the modern era. For he was well aware that certain modes of capitalist activity had always been in existence and could be traced back to some human basic traits such as pcrsonal greed and a desire to accumulate wealth and to enjoy what it could buy. The question that he, like his predecessors, faced was, however, to explain the process through which capitalism became the donzinant feature of the socio-economic culture of the West. The Marxian contribution to the understanding of this modern complex has been the analysis of the social and economic transformations that took place in the passage from the Middle Ages to the modern



era. It has contributed to the understanding of the breakdown of the feudal closed society and the growth of urban centers, a process that has created free labor and that, when coupled with the new technological breakthroughs and with the discovery of the rich overseas territories, has produced favorable conditions for a capitalist economy on a large scale. But Sombart, and particularly Weber, argued that these transformations, as important as they might be, could not explain the typical capitalist mentality that emerged as a dominant characteristic of the bourgeoisie as the class sustaining the new activity. For a mentality of devoted and morally purposive hard work, wealthproducing for the sake of economic aggrandizement and perpetual reinvestment could not be explained as a natural outcome of either traditional greedy capitalism or of new economic developments, reflected, as vulgar Marxism would maintain, in the minds of the pe0ple.~0The traditional dominant orientation toward work, according to Weber, has been characterized by the attempt by the very many to maintain constant standards of living, or by the very few to accumulate in order to spend luxuriously. Thus, he showed how di£Ecult it was in a traditional social atmosphere to stimulate in a time of need a motivation toward higher productivity by higher pay and piece rate system. For instead of aspiring to earn more, traditional workers tended to maintain the same standard of living. I that meant to work harder but for a shorter time, f they did exactly that, bothering very little about the possibility of earning more by maintaining the previous work schedule.51 On the whole, then, Weber argued that modern capitalism could be said to involve a spirit of capitalism, an ideal typical set of orientations, that gave to the capitalist activity moral purpose and that could be contrasted with that of traditionalism. That ideal type, in order to be explained, had first to be made clearer. Weber did this by using Franklin's dairy. Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it. Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again it is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding-sow, destroys all her offspring to the
50. lbid., 7 5 . 51. Ibid., 59-61.



thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds. Weber7s use of the term spirit of capitalisin should be underlined; for by using this term he made explicit his intention to exclude all the other direct economic and social factors that could be held responsible for the growth of capitalist mentality. His major theoretical problem became, consequently, to find out what was the historical mechanism through which traditionalism as a dominant feature gave way to the spirit of capitalism. Weber noticed that ever since the seventeenth century and in different modes it became common to associate Protestantism with capitalist growth and entrepreneurial activity. Many sets of data, composed both of authoritative historical observations and of contemporary studies, indicated the same fact. But rather than solving the historical enigma, they helped to complicate it. For the Protestant teaching, as Weber clearly saw, could in almost no sense be associated with a direct promotion of modern capitalism. It came out strongly against the moral laxity of the Catholic church of the time, and attacking its mundane character, it took clearly an ascetic moral direction. Thus Weber mentioned: It is not to be understood that we expect to find any of the founders or representatives of these religious movements considering the promotion of what we have called the spirit of capitalism as in any sense the end of his life-work. We cannot well maintain that the pursuit of worldly goods, conceived as an end in itself was to any of them of positive ethical value. Once and for all it must be remembered that programs of ethical reform never were of the centre of interest for any of the religious reformers. . . . They were not the founders of societies for ethical culture nor the proponents of humanitarian projects for social reform and cultural ideals. The salvation of the soul and that alone was the centre of their life and work.62 We can see now that the major theoretical problem for Weber became not to prove that Protestantism, in contrast to Catholicism, was expressly oriented toward capitalism, but to pick up those clues in an avowedly religious antimaterialistic and anti-capitalistic teaching that could eventually and in an unintentional way help to generate and sustain capitalist behavior.53 Catholicism, as Weber maintained, never objected in principle to hard work and to systematic ascetic behavior. But for it and in contrast to Calvinism "the concrete intentio of the single act determined its value. And the single good or bad action was credited to the doer determining his temporal and eternal
52. Zbid., 89-90. 53. Aware of the subtleties of his argument as well as of future criticism, Weber noted cautiously: "We shall thus have to admit that the cultural consequences of the Reformation were to a great extent, perhaps in the particular aspects with which we are dealing predominantly, unforeseen and even unwished for results of the labors of the reformers. They were often removed from or even in contradiction to all that they themselves

thought to attain." Zbid., 90.



fate."54 For Calvinism, however, it was the whole systematic behavior that counted. The God of Calvinism demanded of his believers not single good works, but a life of good works combined into a unified system. There was no place for the very human Catholic cycle of sin, repentance, atonement, release, followed by renewed sin.55 The Calvinist self-strife involved a profound commitment to strenuous life in which, due to the elimination of the mediatory function of the church -instrumental in Catholicism to attain atonement - one was psychologically left alone to face his destiny. Such elimination of the traditional magical functions and performances of the Church, coupled with the psychological isolation that was one of its by-products, produced a style of life which was highly individualistic (in a psychological, not social manner) and highly rational. Thus, Weber describes Sebastian Frank as striking "the central characteristic of this type of religion when he saw the significance of the Reformation in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life."" And as Hudson has maintained, this type of behavior, when applied to all the believers, created a dominant character who was bound to consunze less and to produce more. Such a personality, Weber argued, was therefore not acquisitive by nature but was eventually bound to develop an ethos, the ethos of capitalism, which combined at once a strong earthly activity with profound moral commitment to modest and productive life. Franklin's diary became in this respect not what the Protestant apostles aspired to but what was produced by their gospel in the process of time. In view of what was said above, it appears justified to argue that Weber's purpose in his study was to sort out those ideational elements in the Protestant teachings -particularly the Calvinist - that contributed to the emergence of ascetic self-disciplines and highly rational behavior as a dominant factor in the Western modern culture. Such an hypothesis had to be done mainly in terms of ideal types on the one hand and to be demonstrated by empirical illustrations on the other. Only in this way could a general line of argument be drawn along which some more systematic work could be initiated. And as was mentioned above, it was in no respect Weber's intention to present his approach as the exclusive way to the explanation of the emergence of capitalism. Nor was he, owing to the very methodological nature of his argument, in a position to say how much the spiritual factors contributed to the rise of capitalism or whether they were a necessary condition or not. We have no intention whatever of maintaining such a foolish and doctrinaire thesis as that the spirit of capitalism . . . could only have arisen as the result of certain
54. Ibid., 116. 55. Ibid., 117. 56. Ibicl., 121.



effectsof the Reformation, or even that capitalism as an economic system is a creation of the Reformation. In itself, the fact that certain important forms of capitalistic business organization are known to be considerably older than the Reformation is a sufficient refutation of such a claim. On the contrary, we only wish to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces have taken part in the qualitative formation and the quantitative expansion of that spirit over the

In view of what was argued so far, it becomes obvious that most of the arguments raised against Weber missed their target, for they fought a straw man. Weber did not mislocate capitalism. Not only was he aware of the existence of "important forms of capitalistic business organization (that) are known to be considerably older than the Reformation"" but also even regarding postReformation capitalism he was ready to talk only in terms of Protestant contributions. Weber did not nzisplace causality either. Having in mind not an impressionistic conception of causal analysis but a systematic one, he was fully aware of his one-sidedness and ideal typical approach. But rather than naively believing, as the historians did, that such shortcomings could be avoided by talking the language of gradations, he had sought to do that openly as a preliminary operation without concealing the apparent difficulties. Regarding the anti-Weberian arguments of misinterpreted Protestantisnz and misunderstood Catholicism, the task that Weber assigned to himself was not the one that his critics believed he misperformed, of analyzing the official intentional doctrines of early Protestantism, but a more subtle one. It was, k s t , to suggest what persovlality chnracter the teaching of ascetic Protestantism was bound to develop; and, second, to find clues in early Protestant teaching that could hint at eventual development of justification for capitalism. As for the first, by far the most important argument in the Weberian thesis, he has provided sufficient evidence for the contribution of ascetic Protestantism to "a systematic rational ordering of the moral life as a whole"5g and had argued convincingly that such behavior - once it was dominant - could be held responsible for economic prosperity. The existence of this rational, unmagical, and orderly behavior has long been recognized by Weberians and antiWeberians alike. As for the second, a more debatable question, Weber's arguments regarding the "clues" to capitalism and awareness of economic theory on behalf of the reformers were never refuted by his critics. What they did was to present other conceivable versions that, through a different selection of quotations, played down Weber's theme and emphasized other aspects that
57. Ibid., 91. 58. Loc. cit. 59. Ibid., 126.



he did not. Since Weber's intention was not to provide an official interpretation of the Protestant teaching on an intentional level, such interpretations, as valuable as they might be, could hardly harm his point. What becomes, thus, the characteristic feature of the historians' historical approach is not only a lack of sufficient awareness of the methodological questions of historical explanation but also an avoidance of the major theoretical problem of Weber's study, the question of how ideas could be shown to be influential in social life in a significant way. That such problems concerned Weber, not only as a special case of historical explanation but as a matter of social theory, could well be realized from the first chapter of The Prates? tant Ethic entitled "Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification." There he clearly approached the issue in a sociological way, using, as a comparative sociologist, empirical data obtained from various sources without paying great attention to either time or place. The historians may perhaps be said to have been aware of the problem, but by equating social behavior with official doctrine (or, at least, by deriving evidence regarding the one from the other), they have jeopardized the ability of history as a discipline to grasp the real impact of ideas not on a handful of intellectuals but on mass behavior on a large scale. Weber's contribution to the study of social history was in this respect to avoid two common types of historical reductionism, the idealist reducing history to the history of ideas - and the materialist -reducing history to non-behavioral elements, economic and technological factors. But the even greater damage of the historians' approach has been the fact that in the heat of the argument, Weber's major weakness has not been really challenged. Far beyond the importance of the textual interpretations or the selections of the most fitting illustrations for one's arguments, it remains a fact that Weber did not specify the psychological mechanisms through which ideas could be said and empirically demonstrated to have changed behavior. What he did so brilliantly was to bring an ideal typical argument to the growth of the spirit of capitalism without providing a measure to determine such growth independently of the growth of capitalism. Even regarding the assessment of the second, he did not go beyond some plausible ideas but vague operations. Thus he had failed many under-cautious students who hastened to examine the thesis by testing the first by the second. For it never occurred to them that such a test could have been legitimate only if a positive correlation between the growth of capitalism and the growth of the spirit of capitalism had first been established - and that it was not. For such a task to be accomplished, some major difficulties like excluding all the other political and economic intervening variables from the scheme should have been overcome. Proper time units in which the growth of the spirit of capitalism could be comparatively assessed should have also in this respect been selected, specified, and justified. For the lack of these criteria,



the whole thesis became, for those who did not understand it on both sides, a matter of contrary examples; and Weber's dclicate argument was subjected over and again to arbitrary interpretations and vulgar refutations. Judging from most of what was written on and around the thesis, it can justifiably be argued that for more than half a century, the real theoretical problem regarding it remained concealed. For once the argument has been made by Weber in the subtle way that it was, the question stopped being one of proper interpretations or illustration and became one of operationability and testability.60 Only recently has the great potential of Weber's thesis been recognized and a proper operational and testable formulation of this theory devised. For behavioral psychology has discovered that his great achievement was that he differentiated the theoretical equation of the growth of capitalism to three factors standing in a consequential line: influencing ideas (Protestantism) + orientations and motivations toward certain types of life (a combination of rational systematic behavior and a strong sense of ethical calling in one's life) + social action (entrepreneurial and productive behavior) leading to economic growth. Such differentiation could well fit the basic stimulus + motivation + action model according to which the three variables could be justifiably separated and measured for the sake of potential correlation establishment. Moreover, for some years, behavioral psychology has sought to formulate in its own terms a psychological theory of economic growth. Especially under Parsons' impact, it has arrived at the same conclusion that Weber reached: that there was some room to explain economic growth by non-economic variables and that it was possible to do that not in terms of the direct impact of a potential capitalist ideology or a sheer interest theory but by a set of orientations that could be called achievement. David McClelland, the leader of this effort, has noticed that the argument that could sustain all that has been provided by Weber.61 For Weber defined the new capitalist character as a man who "gets nothing out of his wealth for himself, except the irrational sense of having done his job It was exactly in this way that the achievement motive has been understood by the psychologists. The diEculty that became apparent was, however, how to pull all the strings together into a testable theory that would relate the achievement motive to economic success
60. An exception to the somewhat nontestable arguments raised by Weber is the use that he made of the data analyzed by Offenbacher, a student of his. Offenbacher related attendance of "modern language" schools as contrasted with "classical language" ones with religion, and found a significant Protestant preference for the first category. (See Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 188-189.) It was, however, recently shown by Samuelsson that Offenbacher's figures failed to take base rates into account [see S. M. Lipset, R. Bendix, Social Mobility in Industrial Society (Berkeley, 1959), 54-55]. 61. David McClelland, The Achieving Society (Princeton, 1961), 47-50. 62. Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 71.



and both to religious affiliation. It could easily be shown that, in general, Protestant countries scored higher than Catholic ones in economic developr n e ~ ~But~such a demonstration could hardly be considered satisfactory in t. ~ terms of psychological theory, the central interest of both Weber and McClelland. A pioneering study by Winterbottom of the achievement motive in children opened the way to such a theory, for it showed that mothers of children who scored high on McClelland's scale (of n Achievement) tended to implant in their children very early in their life a sense of strong independence, hard work, competitiveness, and achievement.G4 Further tests of the impact of the mother's religion on such behavior have confirmed that Protestant mothers differed significantly from Catholic ones in their early insistence on independence and achievement. Thus - despite some theoretical daculties regarding the tests that cannot be specified here -these findings provided initial support and clarification to Weber's argument. For the root of the achievement need detected in Protestants and Calvinists could be said to have centered in the family and early practices taught and implanted by the parents and particularly the mothers. Imaginative tests to examine the need for achievement through the study of fantasy in literary forms were further devised and in this way it became possible to approach the historical question in a more systematic way than before. The major hypothesis of McClelland's Achieving Society was not limited to Weber's argument only, for he tried to develop a general psychological theory of economic growth, sustained by the achievement motive which was itself stimulated by various factors, not only the religious one. But it lent itself to the examination of Weber's contention in that it made it possible to measure n Achievement independently of Protestant teaching in such a way that literary forms of Protestant origins could be matched with similar forms emerging from other religions. In the same way it became possible to examine periods of religious upheavals with an eye to entrepreneurial effort and economic growth. An attempt of this nature has been made by some of McClelland's associates regarding the British economy between 1600 and 1800. Though facing some difficultpractical problems regarding the literary samples (one way of approach was to match Anglican sermons with sermons delivered by Non-conformists), Bradburn and Berlew showed that a rise in n Achievement in the sixteenth century preceded the first wave of economic growth in the seventeenth century and that a fall in n Achievement in the years 1650-1700 preceded the economic stagnation of the early eighteenth ~entury.~5 decisive rise in n Achievement beginning around the A middle of the eighteenth century preceded the economic growth of the industrial revolution. Both the sixteenth- and eighteenth-century increases in n Achieve63. McClelland, 50-53. 64. For a short summary see McClelland, 46-47. 65. McClelland, 145-149.



ment level were accompanied by strong popular Protestant movements within the church, and the falls in the n Achievement corresponded to a time when Protestantism in England was not very active but was becoming respectable. In a study conducted by Hagen of the origins of the entrepreneurial innovators of the industrial revolution, it was found that out of six to eight percent of the British population belonging to Non-conformist Protestant groups (Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians) came more than one-third of the known innovators of the time. It should be noted that an establishment of a positive correlation is not a causal analysis, and McClelland did well to mention that such examination in itself could not prove whether it was Protestantism that was responsible in this case for the high ~z Achievement within certain influential groups, or whether it was their need for achievement that induced them to become Protestants. But insofar as a proof of such historical occurrence could be obtained at all, McClelland's team has shown that there were grounds for such a contention. For in a classic study of two similar Mexican villages that were fortunately discovered to have been converted at the same time to Catholicism and Protestantism respectively, it was demonstrated that residents of the Protestant village scored much higher on the n Achievement scale and that the village as a whole was more prosperous than the other.'jK There is little doubt that, despite the high degree of sophistication, skill, and imagination of McClelland's project, it still leaves many questions unanswered, and it does not exhaust the subject. But what is perhaps of greater importance - at least regarding the controversy on the origins of capitalism -is that it brought the Weber thesis up to date, in the sense of improving on it according to the present capabilities of organized knowledge. As such it has contributed not only to the reinvigoration of the old thesis itself but also to the creation of an outstanding example of llistorical explanation and its complexities. Weber's profound scholarship had uniquely brought together a study of concrete historical problems with fruitful reasoning as to how such a study could satisfy the requirements of an understanding of history. Weber's contribution in this respect has been that he freed historical and social analysis from some of the greatest competing fetishes of modern social theoryidealism, reductionist materialism, and abstract scientism - without losing the positive contributions of these approaches to a healthy modern social science. For the old idealist approach, according to which social. history could be conceived in terms of ideas developed by authoritative observers and philosophers, had led to the materialist critique according to which history was not moved by abstract ideas but by somewhat extra-behavioral factors like technological and economic changes, causing by themselves breakdowns of old social structures and creating thereby new styles of thinking and be66. Zbid., 406-411.



having. And both were criticized by positivist scientism which maintained that meaningful knowledge could not be obtained by either, but had to do with the application of certain reliable methods of gathering information. Weber did not accept totally any of these: but rather than rejecting them all, he sought to modify them. As for the first, he showed that the problem was not to demonstrate a direct link between ideas and consequent intentional action, but between ideas and patterns of social behavior interrelated in an unintentional way. Regarding the second, materialism, he showed that under certain circumstances it became an important contribution to any historical explanation, but that it could not replace all the others and has to be conceived as a limited explanation. As for scientism, following the neo-Kantian philosophy, Weber argued that scientific method was conditioned neither by the subject matter of the research nor by the methods of its operations but by the basic fact that understanding meant human operation of a choice of meaningful variables in an infinite reality and its ordering in a causal relationship according to certain demonstrable rules. Thus he could argue that science gets its meanings for our understanding not from the logic of argument that it develops (though it gets its validity from it) but from cultural orientation of the milieu in which it acts - a milieu that could conceivably differ from generation to generation. Carefully applying these postulates, Weber has tried to work out the line of argument that could open the way to a systematic non-materialist explanation of the rise of modern capitalism. McClelland, fully aware of Weber's delicate specifications, followed his direction and demonstrated how a proper use of modern techniques could transfer an argument of great cultural interest into a useful theoretical framework. Such a framework made it possible to go beyond the traditional way of proof by illustration or by authoritative quotation so that the theory could be empirically testable.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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You have printed the following article: Weber's Thesis as an Historical Explanation Ehud Sprinzak History and Theory, Vol. 11, No. 3. (1972), pp. 294-320.
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Puritanism and the Spirit of Capitalism Winthrop S. Hudson Church History, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Mar., 1949), pp. 3-17.
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Max Weber and Empirical Social Research Paul F. Lazarsfeld; Anthony R. Oberschall American Sociological Review, Vol. 30, No. 2. (Apr., 1965), pp. 185-199.
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