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INTRODUCTORY REMARKS In Max Webers case, the crisis referred to in the overall title of the Conference can be subdivided into three parts. First, the methodological crisis of the social sciences which manifested itself at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Weber dealt extensively with this in his methodological writings from 1903 until 1917. Second, the ethical aspect. This is closely linked to the methodological one, and Webers discussions of it are interwoven with his methodological arguments, so that the methodological crisis shades over into an ethical one. Finally, the political crisis which Germany faced after her defeat in World War I. Weber wrote extensively on political matters, particularly after 1914; but in the present context, I shall conne myself to certain points where a treatment of what one might call the Kantian legacy seems particularly relevant. It is widely, but not invariably, accepted that Webers methodology owes much to the inuence of neo-Kantian thought, in particular that of his friend Heinrich Rickert,1 and many scholars go so far as to classify Weber himself as a neo-Kantian, and sometimes try to systematize his methodological views along Rickertian lines.2

Among the few exceptions are Eugne Fleischmann, De Weber Nietzsche, Archives Europennes de Sociologie V (1964): 190238 and, following him, W. G. Runciman, A Critique of Max Webers Philosophy of Social Science (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1972). Fleischmanns position is not well documented, however, and partly based on regular misunderstandings. Among more recent commentators, Thomas Burger, Max Webers Theory of Concept Formation (Durham: Duke University Press 1987 [1976]), Karl-Heinz Nusser, Kausale Prozesse und sinnerfassende Vernunft (Freiburg/Mnchen, Germany: Karl Alber, 1976), and Peter-Ulrich Merz, Max Weber und Heinrich Rickert. Die erkenntniskritischen Grundlagen der verstehenden Soziologie (Wrzburg, Germany: Knigshausen & Neumann, 1990) are among those who go farthest in



Much less attention has been paid to Webers position vis--vis Kant himself. But some authors do go into the question in some detail,3 and in particular, the eminent Weberologist Wolfgang Schluchter has claimed to nd a unitary theory of ethics or values within Webers writings, a theory which he claims has strong links to Kant.4 I do not nd the Kantianizing or neo-Kantianizing interpretations wholly convincing. My own thesis, which I shall try to substantiate later, is the following: Although Weber certainly saw himself as standing within the Kantian tradition in a general sense, the most distinctive elements of his contribution to the methodology of the social sciences and his ethical thinking owe less than is usually supposed to Kant and neo-Kantianism,5 and on central points, his thought seems to be in direct opposition to the Kantian legacy. The same, I believe, is true of Webers political thought. The main distinctive elements to which I refer in this connection are, rst, Webers thesis of the incompatibility of valuesin other words, that there is a fundamental conict between different value spheres; and, second, his strong emphasis on the importance of the consequences of action, separately from the intentions behind it. I shall try to argue my thesis in detail on a number of specic points within the three critical areas referred to. Whenever possible, I shall consider the original

identifying Webers views with Rickerts; Horst Baier, Von der Erkenntnistheorie zur Wirklichkeitswissenschaft, Doctoral thesis, mimeographed, Mnster, Germany, 1969; Gerhard Wagner, Geltung und normativer Zwang (Freiburg/Mnchen, Germany: Karl Alber, 1987); Bjarne Jacobsen, Max Weber und Friedrich Albert Lange. Rezeption und Innovation (Wiesbaden, Germany: DUV, 1999); and Sven Eliaeson, Max Webers Methodologies (Cambridge: Polity, 2002) are less Rickertian in their conclusions. Martin Albrow, Max Webers Construction of Social Theory (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990) is one fairly recent example. See in particular Wolfgang Schluchter, Paradoxes of Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986). On this point, Schluchter to a signicant extent builds on the doctoral thesis of Dieter Henrich, Die Einheit der Wissenschaftslehre Max Webers (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr/Siebeck, 1952). This thesis, which is not often met with in its full scope, embracing both Kant and the neo-Kantians, is also sustained by Milos Havelka, Bis zu welchem Punkt kann man Max Weber neukantianisch lesen?, Neukantianismus. Perspektiven und Probleme, eds. Ernst Wolfgang Orth and Helmut Holzhey (Wrzburg, Germany: Knigshausen & Neumann, 1994) 28695. On the other hand, doubts have quite frequently been voiced by important scholars as to Webers dependence on Kant himself: see for instance Wilhelm Hennis, Max Weber. Essays in Reconstruction (London: Allen&Unwin, 1988) 175 (with a note quoting Karl Jaspers statement in a letter to Hannah Arendt that Weber knew hardly anything of Kantian ideas). Other insightful commentators (for instance Johannes Weiss, Ist eine Kantische Begrndung der Soziologie mglich? Kant oder Hegel?, ed. Dieter Henrich (Stuttgart, Germany: Klett-Cotta, 1983) 53146 and Wagner (1987) raise the question whether Rickerts ideas concerning the basis of historical knowledge can, strictly speaking, be said to be Kantian at all; but this is a wider philosophical issue, which I shall not address here.



texts; on the other hand, references to the arguments of other authors have, for reasons of space, been kept to a minimum. I am sorry if this lends a somewhat too apodictic air to some of my arguments. At least, it may provoke more debate than would a more gentle and balanced approach. A few words on Webers relationship to the eld of philosophy in general may be useful. Weber did not claim to be a philosopher, nor did he in fact elaborate philosophical systems or theories. References to his philosophy of social science, his theory of concept formation, his system of values, and so on, are therefore in my opinion misguided. He himself stressed that the philosophical tools that he wielded were borrowed ones, furnished above all by the neo-Kantians, Rickert in particular. But this did not mean that he was a purely passive recipient of philosophical ideas. He had some formal philosophical training at university; he kept abreast of philosophical literature; and in his letters and articles, he obviously feels quite competent to comment on and criticize the philosophical points of view of others, including his friend Rickert.6 But his basic interest is empirical, not abstract. If he wrote so extensively on methodology, it was not for its own sake, but in order to help an empirical science heading down what he believed were the wrong tracks.7 When he writes on ethics, his points of reference are also largely empirical, astonishingly so, considering the fundamental character of his conclusions in that area. And his theory of politics is not speculative but realistic, both in its empirical basis and its understanding of the dilemmas of acting politicians. THE METHODOLOGICAL CRISIS Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a growing belief that the question of the objectivity of scientic knowledge had been solved. The enormous advances of natural science, whose objectivity seemed beyond doubt, led its disciples to claim that it held a methodological monopoly in all scientic disciplines, and the

See for instance Webers letters to Rickert of July 25, 1909, Max Weber Gesamtausgabe (MWG) II/6 (where he voices dissent concerning Rickerts reading of Kant) and at the end of 1913 (MWG II/8). Max Weber, in his essay from 1906 on The Logic of the Cultural Sciences, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, eds. and trans. Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch (New York: The Free Press, 1959) (henceforth MSS) 114 / Gesammelte Aufstze zur Wissenschaftslehre, 3rd ed., ed. Johannes Winckelmann (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1968 [1922]) (henceforth GAW) 21516), Weber emphasizes the limitations of the contribution that methodology can make to the development of a discipline. Evidence of Webers relatively cool estimation of the value of theory can be found quite early on. In a letter from 1887 (he was 23 years old) to his friend Emmy Baumgarten, Weber says that years ago, I struggled valiantly with all those impossible concepts (Begriffsunwesen); they dont yield very much, as I now know [. . .] from Jugendbriefe, ed. Marianne Weber (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr/Siebeck, 1936) (henceforth JB) 262.



cultural sciences, with their strong historicist tradition, were therefore on a constant defensive. Dilthey made an attempt to dene the non-natural sciences by means of their spiritual material, as Geisteswissenschaften, but this only redened, but did not solve, the methodological problem, and the development of a psychologya science of the spiritwhich sought to formulate laws of the kind found in the natural sciences, struck at the very heart of this line of reasoning. Instead, Windelband tried to dene the differences between the two groups of sciences in terms of their method: the natural sciences were nomotheticlaw formulatingwhile the non-natural sciences were idiographicconcerned with the individuality of phenomena. This looked more promising, but the problem of the objectivity of the idiographic sciences remained. In his book The Limits of the Concept Formation of Natural Science,8 Heinrich Rickert tried to address this problem systematically. His central thesis was that the historical or cultural sciences9 form the objects of their scientic interest by means of a Wertbeziehung, a value relation. The values to which the relevant elements of reality are related are purely theoretical, and logically situated on a higher plane than any ordinary subjective and practical value or valuation: they are not subjectively empirically or normativelybut objectively and absolutely valid for a given community. This distinction between theoretical (objective, absolute) and practical (subjective) values was central to Rickerts construction. While there might be conicts between lower values or between the corresponding valuations, there could be none at the level of absolute values. The relation of a given concept to an absolute value was a theoretical value relation; any concept formed by theoretical value relation was therefore objective; and any proposition (judgment) formed by means of such concepts was consequently objectively true. When Weber read the second and most important part of Rickerts work just after its publication in 1902, he was deeply impressed. But he was not uncritical. He had terminological doubts, and in particular, these doubts were directed at the term value.10 In fact, we know from manuscript notes of Webers made a little later11 that in fact he regarded Rickerts values as being simply the embodiment of a theoretical interest in a particular object.

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Heinrich Rickert, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr/Siebeck, 1896/1902). The fth edition of the book was partly translated as The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science, trans. Guy Oakes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986 [1929]). Rickertand Weberuse both designations. See H. H. Bruun, Science, Values and Politics in Max Webers Methodology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) 27. Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hauptabteilung I, Berlin, Rep. 92, No 31/6. For a transcript of and full commentary on these notes, see H. H. Bruun, Weber on Rickert: From Value Relation to Ideal Type, Max Weber Studies 1, 2 (2001): 13860.



From Rickerts point of view, this was a serious comment indeed. Without values, his whole construction supporting the objectivity of the cultural sciences would collapse. But, interestingly, this does not seem to have worried Weber himself. The reason for this apparent indifference may have been that Webers methodological purpose was different from Rickerts. He was deeply worried not only by the positivist methodological imperialism which claimed that the nding of laws was the only purpose of true science, but also, more generally, by the tendency to believe that the necessary criteria of relevance or importance for social science were somehow inherent in the material itself. Webers ght against this broad current of thought runs through most of his methodological work. In this ght, Rickerts stringent analysis of the principles of concept formation of the historical sciences, along the hallowed lines of Kantian reasoning, provided Weber with a highly useful weapon. But he mainly employed it for the polemical purpose of demonstrating effectively the errors of objectivism in all its various forms. In his methodological writings, he never refers to Rickerts nal anchoring of scientic objectivity in absolute values. In fact, he fundamentally disagreed with Rickert on this point. However, he formulates his divergent position not in direct opposition to Rickert, but as an independent postulate, that of a fundamental value conict. I shall come back to this postulate in greater detail in my discussion of the ethical crisis. The second of the instruments with which Weber indefatigably sought to confound his methodological opponents was the principle of the value freedom of science. In its general form, this principle demands a strict distinction between empirical knowledge and value judgments: practical values should not intrude into the process of scientic inquiry, and on the other hand, empirical science [. . .] can tell us nothing about how things ought to be.12 Weber was apparently so convinced of the logical correctness of this principle that he never went into a substantial argument to underpin it. Nor did he give concrete references to indicate where he had found it. So where should we look for its source? Of course, we nd the basic elements of it in Kants distinction between the realms of nature and freedom. But in the nal analysis, Kant wanted to construct a bridge between these two spheres,13 while Weber steadfastly denies that any bridge can be found leading from one sphere to the other. Webers distance from Kant in these matters is clearly brought out in his discussion, in an article from 1905, of Kants causality through freedom. Weber pays due reverence to the grandeur of Kants idea, and above all, characteristically, to its


Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufstze zur Soziologie und Sozialpolitik (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1988[1924]) (henceforth GASS) 417. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. Kants gesammelte Schriften. Akademie-Ausgabe (henceforth KGS) 5: 17576.



frank and undisguised logical nature; but he qualies it as inconsistent and as the philosophical archetype of all metaphysical theories of culture and personality. The degenerate latter-day versions of such theories, with their fatal conception of a creative and valuational causality, distinct from ordinary, value-neutral causality, were precisely among the prime objects of his methodological attacks14 because they ignored the ethical irrationality of the world. Nor can Webers usual supplier of methodological arguments, Rickert, be the source of his demand for value freedom; Rickert does distinguish between theoretical value relation and practical valuation, but this distinction is not identical with the principle of value freedom, as Weber propounds it.15 The best candidate16 is probably another neo-Kantian philosopher, Fr. Albert Lange, who preached the absolute incompatibility of the world of values with the world of the existent in his inuential History of Materialism, which we know that Weber read with great interest in his student years.17 The principle of value freedom, which Weber afrms and applies with vigor and consistency from the Objectivity essay in 1904 until the end of his life, is often interpreted as a defense of value-free, and in that sense objective, science.18 That aspect is obviously present in Webers discussion, but in my opinion, it is not nearly as prominent as his other concern: that of defending the sphere of values against the illegitimate encroachment of science. Again and again he tells his readers that science cannot prove any value right or wrong. Maybe this asymmetry in Webers formulations can be seen as a reection of his general Kantian backgroundsince Kants assertion of the gulf between nature and reason19 is most absolute in the direction from nature to reason. But the asymmetry must also



16 17 18


Max Weber Roscher and Knies. The Logical Problems of Historical Economics, trans. and intr. Guy Oakes (New York: The Free Press, 1975) (henceforth ORK) 11819/GAW, 62. In an illuminating comment Max Weber und seine Stellung zur Wissenschaft, Logos 15 (1926): 23031article translated in Max Webers Science as a Vocation, eds. Peter Lassman, Irving Velody, and Herminio Martins (London: Unwin Hyman, 1986) 7686Rickert says that, as a specialized scholar (Spezialforscher), Weber saw it as self-evident that there was no way in which theoretical research could deal with the question of the validity of values, but that he did not ask himself whether this was the last word in every respecta gentle hint indicating Rickerts own, divergent position. See Jacobsen (1999): 910. JB, 65. In a paradigmatic discussion of Webers signicance, Talcott Parsons makes a statement to this effect: The concept of value-freedom may be said to be the foundation of [Webers methodological] position. Its negative complement is formulated by Herbert Marcuse in the course of the same discussion: [Webers] theory of the internal value-freedom of science is [. . .] in practice: the freeing of science for the acceptance of evaluations imposed from outsideOtto Stammer (ed.), Max Weber and Sociology Today (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971) 33, 133. See footnote 13 above.



be interpreted as evidence of Webers preponderant interest in defending the value sphere, and in this context, his dissatisfaction with Rickerts use of the term value acquires a new dimension. Why does Weber have terminological doubts regarding Rickerts term value? In my opinion, this is because he feels that the concept of theoretical valuewhat we might call value with a small vtends to devalue the dignity of the sphere of active valuesvalues with a capital V. Indeed, this committed attitude on Webers part seems to spill over into the version that he gives of Rickerts theory of value relation. This is noticeable in Webersunusually programmatic statement: The transcendental precondition of any cultural science is not that we nd a particular, or indeed any, culture valuable, but that we are cultural beings, endowed with the capacity and the will to take up deliberate positions to the world, and to bestow meaning on it.20 While Weber is still careful here to distinguish between valuation and value relation, he formulates the transcendental precondition in very active terms (will, take up positions, bestow). The same tendency is found in many other passages where Weber describes the process of value relation.21 Similarly, he more or less consistently replaces the bloodless transcendental Ought of the neo-Kantians with a will, a claim, or a necessity. These expressions are much more highly charged than those employed by Rickert; indeed, one may ask if Webers formulations are always consistent with orthodox neo-Kantian phraseology.22 Another aspect of Webers concept of culture, and one which is highly signicant in the present context, is his discussion of the nature of cultural values. Rickert takes up a markedly staticone might say, conservativeposition in this respect: The only values to which the scholar can legitimately relate a given culture are those to which the persons living in the culture itself related it. This approach serves Rickerts methodological purposes because it anchors the historical analysis in the material itself. Weber, however, refuses to go down that path; instead, he emphasizes the advantages of applying new analytical criteria to a given cultural material (what he calls value interpretation). Webers emphasis on the independent dignity of values as a main aspect of the demand for value freedom is not inconsistent with his rejection of the idea of objective values. In fact, it can be shown that Webers theory of a fundamental value conict coincides, both positively and negatively, with the demand for value freedom.23
20 21 22


MSS, 81/GAW, 180. See for examples Bruun (2007): 13134. Herbert Schndelbach, Philosophy in Germany 18311933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 164. See Bruun (2007): 20103.



Webers especial concern with the value aspect of the principle of value freedom is reected in his much more cursory treatment of the basis of scientic truth and of its objectivity. He is not much concerned with the objectivity of the cultural sciences at all. In fact, he obviously does not like the concept of objectivity: The word occurs only seven times in his whole production, and he invariably, evensignicantlyin the title of his famous programmatic essay on the objectivity of knowledge in social science, provides the word with inverted commas indicating distancing and doubt. He does now and then afrm that the results of the cultural sciences are objective (usually with that word in quotation marks!), but he does not discuss the question thoroughly, neither in theoretical nor in empirical terms. Occasionally, we nd an unargued reference to the norms (again, sometimes in quotation marks!) of our thought or to intellectual ordering of reality. And when, in one passage (GAW, 610), he does directly refer to the point of departure of Kants epistemology (scientic truth exists; it has validity; how is that possible?), he does so in a different context, as part of a discussion of the urge to give meaning to life and the world. One gets the feeling that, from Webers point of view, while Rickerts theoretical valuesor even the Kantian normsare too weak as values, they are at the same time almost too intrusive to function as the necessary basis for actual historical research. In this respect, it is interesting to compare Rickerts delicate, but empirically not very useful, statement A fact is what I ought to think with Webers heavily underlined references to facts as they are.24 To sum up, in broad terms, on this point: Weber takes over the general logic of Rickerts value relation, but he is hesitant about the concept of value in this connection, not terribly interested in discussing the basis of objectivity, and quite denitely opposed to the idea of objective values. THE ETHICAL ASPECT The main discussion of the possible Kantian dimension in Webers ethical thought is provided by Wolfgang Schluchter. He constructs a whole system of ethics based on what he calls Webers theory of values, which in turn, according to Schluchter, has strong links to Kant. However, Schluchter admits that, in elaborating his thesis, he is going beyond what Weber himself was aware of.25 In my opinion, there is indeed a problem of over-systematization here. In Webers writings, we nd scattered discussionsmany of them characteristically polemicalof ethical problems, but there is nothing that merits the label of a


Heinrich Rickert, Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1928[1892]) 216; MSS, 19/GAW, 509; GASS, 482. Wolfgang Schluchter, Religion und Lebensfhrung (Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1991) 297 and Paradoxes of Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996) 101.



system or theory of values, nor is there any indication that Weber had the ambition of constructing such a theory or system.26 What do we nd, then, about values in Webers work? Above all, his famous Intermediate Reection from 1917. Here, Weber demonstrates that as religion retreated as the overarching frame of reference of peoples lives, it increasingly found itself in conict with a number of other value spheres; among these values, he discusses the family, economics, politics, aesthetics, erotic love, and truth. This account is basically empirical. Weber clearly has no desire to rank or order these value spheres; in fact, in other works from the same period, Weber quotes with approval the remark by John Stuart Mill that, from a purely empirical point of view,27 polytheism is the only appropriate metaphysics. We do nd some discussions in Webers work of a more theoretical nature,28 and here, Weber seems to reason on the basis of what we might call the traditional triad: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. But he regularly expands the group of relevant values to include, for instance, religion and erotic love, without apparently reecting on the systematic implications of this expansionsuch as whether the traditional values should hold a special place. Altogether, one can only agree with Oakes when he says that Webers analysis is surprisingly casual.29 However, there is nothing casual about the conclusions of principle that Weber proceeds to draw: He afrms that there is a fundamental conict between all the spheres mentioned (and possibly others). Each of them can be chosen or rejected by the individual on the basis of purely subjective commitment, but at the same time, each of them has its own set of intrinsic laws (Eigengesetzlichkeiten) which the individual is caught up in and has to follow once he has embraced that value sphere. This is the postulate of the value conict referred to previously. As I interpret it, Webers reasoning weakens but at the same time generalizes the Kantian ethics, as represented by the categorical imperative. His insistence that one must choose a value sphere seems to imply that the Kantian ethical imperative is not categorical but only hypothetical, that is to say, only binding on those who have freely chosen to be bound by ethics.30 But at the same time, each of the value
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For a more thorough discussion of this point, see Bruun (2007): 3334. This part of Mills dictum is often forgotten. He is not talking about the absolute theoretical value conict, but about a much more relativistic, empirical view of values. Particularly in the essay on Value Freedom (MSS, 1219/GAW, 50108) and the lecture on Politics as a Vocation, From Max Weber, eds., trans., and intr. H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills (London: Routledge, 1948) (henceforth FMW) 14749/GAW, 60305). Guy Oakes, Weber on Value Rationality and Value Spheres, Journal of Classical Sociology 3 (2003): 29. One might have supposed that the traditional value spheres had a special status which protected them from this subjectivity. Rickert (1892): 77, for instance, argues that anyone taking part in an argument will ipso facto have recognized the value of truth. But Weber is intransigent in this respect:



spheres will make its own absolute demands on those that embrace them; the value sphere has its own categorical imperative, so to speak.31 This seems to be the sense of Webers remarks in a letter to Fr. Tnnies:
Certainly, I am of the opinion that if someone accepts the general necessity, as far as his own actions are concerned, of letting oneself be guided by values, value judgments or whatever you want to call them, then it is possible to demonstrate in a compelling way that he is bound by all the consequences of the Kantian imperative (no matter in what more or less modernized formthe substance remains the same as before).32

However, Weber goes on to say, this is only a demonstration of the formal characteristics of a moral attitude. That is to say that the formalism of the Kantian categorical imperative has now been generalized to cover the ethic of any value sphere. But nothing permits us to stipulate that the choice for or against any such value is obligatory. That holds even for the value of truth, as Weber explicitly says, apparently without bothering about the inherent logical contradiction in this position. In his article on Value Freedom, Weber returns to the formalism of the Kantian categorical imperative, in its means-end version. Using an example from the sphere of erotic love, he argues that this formalism does not imply that one cannot make substantive deductions from the Kantian principle.33 These deductions, he claims, support the position previously outlined: There are other value spheres besides that of ethics; the supreme value of one such value sphere might even be action which only treats another person as a means, and which therefore, in Kantian terms, would be profoundly anti-ethical; nevertheless, no science can demonstrate that this attitude should be rejected.34



33 34

he explicitly says that nothing can compel anyone to accept the value of truth (cf. Bruun [2007]: 7172, with references). The same holds for ethics: this is implicit in the argument in the letter from Weber to Fr. Tnnies quoted immediately below). Interestingly, Rickert, in a work written after Webers death, comes close to a similar interpretation, including the concept of inherent laws; but he only seems to advance it with respect to the traditional value spheres of science, politics and religion (Heinrich Rickert, Kant als Philosoph der modernen Kultur [Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1924] 12225). Letter dated 19 February, 1909 (MWG II/6). Schluchter (1996) 90 interprets this passage differently, as dealing only with the ethical sphere. The letter is certainly not crystal clear, and it is understandable that Hans Albert, Weltauffassung, Wissenschaft und Praxis. Bemerkungen zur Wissenschaftsund Wertlehre Max Webers, Das Weber-Paradigma, eds. Gert Albert et al. (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr/Siebeck, 2003) 90 nds the passage mysterious. His reason for introducing this argument is polemical and of less importance in our context. MSS, 1617/GAW, 50607. We nd a similar line of reasoning in a Fragment on Normative Ethics published by Eduard Baumgarten, Max Weber. Werk und Person (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1964) 399401.



Even within the sphere of ethics in the traditional sense of the term, Weber claims that there are conicts which cannot be resolved on purely ethical grounds. This is the point at which he introduces his famous distinction between the ethic of conviction and the ethic of responsibility. According to the ethic of conviction, the purity of intention is enough to justify an action, while the ethic of responsibility in addition prescribes a responsibility for the consequences of ones action. This distinction, Weber says, is necessary because reality is ethically irrational. The axiological system and the system of causality are not congruent. The purity of ones intentions cannot guarantee that the consequences of ones action are acceptable. There is no doubt that Weber has much sympathy with the ethic of responsibility. His profoundly anti-naturalist bent predisposes him to acknowledge the ethical irrationality of the world, with all the burdens that this may entail. But he insists that there is no binding way of deciding in favor of one of the two ethics. How does this discussion look in a Kantian perspective? At rst glance, one might suppose that Webers claim that the conict between the ethic of conviction and the ethic of responsibility was ethically irresolvable would by itself place him in fundamental opposition to Kant, whose conception of ethics is usually regarded as non-consequentialist. However, the discussion must be taken a little further, in two directions, before we can come to a rm conclusion on this point. On the one hand, although the ethic of conviction only operates on the basis of the purity of intention, it is not necessarily in accordance with Kants moral teachings. For instance, Kant argues that we have a perfect duty not to commit suicide,35 while the ethic of conviction may, to take an example mentioned by Weber himself, motivate an ofcer to blow himself up to avoid surrendering.36 And on the other hand, Kants categorical imperative is not so completely non-consequentialist that this would by itself rule out that the ethic of responsibility could be in accordance with it. As Paul Guyer argues, Kants ethical theory may not give intrinsic value to consequences simply because they are desired, but
35 36

Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, KGS 4:42122. MSS, 25/GAW, 515. Paul Guyer, Kant (London/New York: Routledge, 2006) 196 notes that, in his Lectures on Ethics, Kant moved some distance towards an acceptance of suicide in cases like that of Cato, who chose to take his own life in order to encourage the Romans to continued resistance. Guyer suggests that this is a consideration which introduces quantitative considerations into moral evaluations (since the death of a few more Romans might save the lives of many more Roman citizens). Whether or not this interpretation is plausible, Kants modication is not entirely irrelevant to the examples quoted. But Weber explicitly, when discussing the example of the ofcer, says that his action may well be totally useless in terms of its possible consequences for others. The same would hold, for instance, for a captain who goes down with his ship. Here again, a sense of honour is the only motivating force, and one which would, I think, always fail Kants test.



it greatly values the realization of our freely chosen ends as an expression of our respect for the value of our capacity of free choice itself.37 Well and good, and in a sense perhaps not so far removed from Webers great respect for values with a capital V. But the problem still persists: Guyers nal formulation on this point is that, in Kants view, we must act so that not just human beings but also their freely chosen ends can become a systematic union. The harmony of the realm of ends is what holds all this together. And the idea of such a harmony is quite incompatible with Webers thesis of the value conict.38 In this connection, Webers discussions of personality, in particular in its relation to guilt, are illuminating. Because of the fundamental value conict, he says, there will always be a possibility that acting in pursuit of one value will lead to the violation of another one. To be aware of this, and of the guilt that must necessarily ensue, and being able to live with it, is in Webers eyes an essential part of a mature personality.39 In a letter to the young philosopher Emil Lask, who had just broken into the marriage of a senior colleague (Gustav Radbruch), Weber writes (MWG II/8), with an astonishing lack of traditional moralism:
[. . .] guilt can become a source of strength, or not, depending on how one deals with it. It would be a terrible thing if only the integer vitae, and not its opposite (properly dealt with), could make us into complete human beings. In that case, I at least would have had to forego such full humanity.

We may conclude that the ethic of responsibility is at the core of the Weberian concept of a true and full personality, based on a triple acknowledgement: of the value conict, of the necessity of choice forand by implication, againstcertain values; and of the valuational irrationality of the consequences of action in the service of the values that one has chosen. I cannot help feeling that, leaving aside details of interpretation, the general inherent tension in this conception runs directly counter to the harmonizing character of Kants approach to ethics.40
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Guyer (2006): 205. For a similar conclusion, see Wolfgang Schluchter, Rationalism, Religion and Domination. A Weberian Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) 32. In the Fragment on Normative Ethics referred to above (n. 34), Weber contemptuously dismisses the procedure by which guilt is dened in such a way that a conict of duties is logically impossible and therefore cannot ariseprobably a slightly roundabout way of describing the ethic of conviction. Schluchter (and Henrich) are much more Kantianizing in their conclusions (Schluchter [1989]: 3132; Henrich [1952]: 135ff). Among other things, these authors ascribe to Weber a theory of original reason (ursprngliche Vernnftigkeit). I have strong doubts concerning this line of interpretation. There is little evidence to support it in Webers writings. He only uses the term Vernnftigkeit once, paraphrasing the ideas of others; and even Vernunft is rarely found, and never in arguments of Webers own. Joachim Radkau, Max Weber. Die Leidenschaft des Denkens, (Munich, Germany: Hanser, 2005) 577 directly denies that Weber believed in inherent natural reason, and backs up his denial with a quotation from a letter from Weber to Mina Tobler from 1915, in which



THE POLITICAL CRISIS Webers considerations with respect to the ethics of conviction and of responsibility are particularly relevant when applied to the sphere of politics. Although he rst formulated them as early as 1905, in comments on the political situation in Russia, they only gained their full conceptual rigor, and at the same time their full historical relevance, during and, especially, after World War I, when Germany was faced with a political crisis of the rst magnitude. In this area, when looking for the Kantian legacy, it seems natural to bypass the neo-Kantians and to go back to Kant himself, and particularly to his treatise on Eternal Peace. I shall conne my discussion of Webers and Kants positions to a few points: rst, their view of the nature of politics as such; second, and arising out of this, their evaluation of the possibility of achieving eternal peace; and third, Webers discussion of the political ethic, compared to Kants distinction between the political moralist and the moral politician. Webers denition of the political sphere is focused not on the goals pursued by politiciansany goal, he says, can be pursued by a political organizationbut by the means that they must necessarily employ to attain these goals.41 The politician must try to realize his goals in the real world, and therefore, he must be ready to use power (Macht), dened as the ability to make ones will prevail, even against resistance. This certainly does not mean that the use of power always implies actual physical coercion, but coercionpsychological, economic, or physical must always be the politicians last resort.42 Weber certainly does not sweeten the politicians pill in this respect: as he puts it,43 politics, dened in this way, means making a pact with the Devil. In his political endeavors, the politician must at all times take due account of facts, including the expected behavior of others, and try to calculate their consequences. But causality, in Schopenhauers words, which Weber quotes with approval,44 is
Weber speaks of the completely innocent and childish belief in the power of reason. In its context, this phrase may owe something to the intimate, erotic character of Webers relationship to Mina Tobler; but we nd similar sceptical reections from his pen much earlier, for instance in a letter to Emmy Baumgarten from 1887, in which he speaks of the very limited bounds of reason, compared with the heart and moral judgment (JB, 261). Max Weber, Weber. Political Writings, eds. and intr. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs, trans. Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) (henceforth LSPW) 16/Max Weber, Gesammelte politische Schriften, 3rd edition, ed. Johannes Winckelmann (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1971[1921]) (henceforth GPS) 14. Max Weber, Economy and Society, eds. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York: Bedminster Press, 1968) 53, 54/Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie, 5th ed., ed. Johannes Winckelmann (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1976 (1921) 28, 29. LSPW, 352, 365, 366/GPS, 554, 557, 558. ORK, 135/GAW, 77.



43 44



not a cab that can be stopped at will. The consequences of political action are incalculable. They go beyond the politicians control and his span of prediction. And, because of the essential irrationality of the causal system via--vis any realm of values, the consequences of political action may even possibly45 be contrary to the original intention behind it. Kant, as I read him, takes almost the opposite position. He does acknowledge that the common will to bring civil society into being is based [. . .] on the compulsion [. . .] of force;46 but what interests him are the ends of politicsin The Eternal Peace, that of peaceand the spirit in which they are pursued. Judged by his standard, one would suppose that politics, as described by Weber, would by denition be a-moral, since it necessarily implies looking at other persons, their actions and reactions, as means. The basic opposition between Kant and Weber in this area takes on almost paradigmatic form when we look at their views on the possibility of achieving peace as a lasting goaleternal peace, in Kants words. In Kants treatise with this title, he proposes two kinds of assurance in this respect.47 One is the argument that the goal of eternal peace is required by pure practical reason, and that there are (consequently) means available within nature to enable us to achieve it.48 This abstract argument is supplemented by another, more empirical one which asserts that there are forces within nature itself which push us in the direction of peace. The achievement of this goal may take a very long time, but it is not a pipe dream: We can approach it ever more closely. Webers position, which is closely linked to his thesis of the insoluble value conict, is in complete opposition to Kants: Conict cannot be eradicated from cultural life, he states, and continues a little later with the formidably apodictic statement that: Peace means new forms of conict, or new opponents, or new objects of conict or nally new chances of selectionand nothing else.49 Admittedly, when we analyze his statements carefully, we come to realize that, in a sense, he is simply widening the scope of the concept of conict. Nevertheless,


47 48 49

Weber is usually careful to argue in terms of risk and tendencies, not from any conception of the intrinsic badness of political means. However, he does seem to depart from this position of principle when he says that according to an inescapable pragma that attaches to all action, force and the threat of force unavoidably breed more violence (FMW, 334/Gesammelte Aufstze zur Religionssoziologie I [Tbingen, Germany: Mohr/Siebeck, 1920/21] 547). However, while this may be regarded as a sort of law of nature of politics, it does not in Webers mind detract from the ethical irrationality of the world. Immanuel Kant, Principles of Lawful Politics. Immanuel Kants Philosophic Draft: Toward Eternal Peace, trans., intr. and comm. Wolfgang Schwarz (Aalen, Germany: Scientia Verlag, 1988) (henceforth EP) 10809/Immanuel Kant, Zum Ewigen Frieden (henceforth EF), KGS 8: 371. See Guyer (2006): 30001. It is a general premise of Kants that a moral ought presupposes a can. MSS, 27/GAW, 517.



his view is fundamentally incompatible with Kants: Empirically, forces of nature may push developments in all sorts of directions; but even if some of these may seem conducive to peace, they will in fact always conceal a new kind of conict. So much for the empirical prong of Kants reasoning. As for the theoretical prong, it is defeated on its own terms: If conict is ineradicable, then eternal peace is unobtainable; consequently, it cannot be a moral requirement. Given his distinction between the ethic of conviction and the ethic of responsibility, one would expect Weber to declare clearly in favor of the ethic of responsibility as being the proper political ethic: If, by denition, politics implies acting to achieve certain goals in the real world, the ethic of conviction, which expressly refuses to take into account the actual consequences of such action, would seem obviously inappropriate as a guideline for politicians. Weber, in a characteristically obstinate defense of the principle of value freedom, expressly states that it is impossible to demonstrate scientically that a politician should follow one or the other of the two ethics;50 but his actual discussion makes it quite clear that the ethic of responsibility will in principle be the most appropriate one for the sphere of politics, provided the responsibility extend not only to the practical consequences, but also to the maintenance of the goal. If there is anything that Weber loathes even more than purely convictional politics, with its disregard for facts, it is Realpolitik, where the end is made completely subservient to the means. Where do we nd Kant in this discussion? Interestingly, he makes a distinction which at rst glance seems relevant to the comparison with Webers position: that between the moral politician and the political moralist. The moral politician, Kant says will so take the principles of state prudence that they can coexist with moral doctrine; the political moralist, on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms (cannot be thought) since he so moulds a moral doctrine for himself as ts the statesmans advantageand a moralist cannot, by Kants denition, subordinate morality to advantage.51 But this unthinkable creature, the political moralist, proves to be a hardy perennial: shortly afterward,52 he seems to be back in business as a sort of straw man, with the confusing new designation of a moralizing politician, who sees the question of attainment of political ends, including the supreme one of eternal peace, as a purely technical one, while the moral politician will see it as a moral task. Kant tries to show that the various realist tricks of the moralizing politician/political moralist (like do it and make excuses; once you have done it, deny it; and create division and retain

51 52

LSPW, 367/GPS, 546. The precise interpretation of this passage is discussed in Bruun (2007): 271n156. EP, 372/PP, 110. EP, 373/PP, 112.



command) will defeat their aim because they ignore the necessary moral dimension of the ends of politics.53 When one tries to compare these two guresone of them rather fuzzyto their Weberian counterparts, what is striking is the apparent symmetry which we can nd, at least up to a point. Kants political moralist in his unthinkable form looks much like Webers politician acting on the basis of the ethic of conviction. Kants political moralist is a pure moralist and therefore cannot, logically speaking, be a politician. Webers convictional politician explicitly refuses to enter the proper eld of politics, that of actual consequences, in order to keep his conviction pure; in this sense, he, too, is not a proper politician at all. Weber does not, like the rigorous Kant, pronounce such a person unthinkableindeed, he discusses him at length. But in essence, the two types are alike. When we come to Kants apparent second incarnation of the political moralist, the one who pursues his political ends with all sorts of political tricks, but without regard for the fact that political ends need to be in accordance with the moral law, we seem to be confronted with some prototype of the Realpolitiker whom Weber despised. To be sure, the Kantian type still strives for political goals, which the Realpolitiker would perhaps have given up entirely in order to concentrate only on retaining power. But the thrust of Kants comments goes in the real-political direction, not least when he castigates this type for busying itself not with the practice of politics but with the practices of politics.54 We should not push the parallel too far, though: one of the political tricks that Kant comments unfavorably on is that of denying a thing, but nevertheless doing it. But Weber himself advocates precisely that course in a letter during World War I:
During the Boer War, Lord Salisbury said: We dont want any diamond or gold mines. This statement had a very positive effect. When eventually the military and diplomatic situation put him in possession of them, and he could keep them, he kept them. So far, we have done exactly the opposite. We believe that to be the honest way. But surely, it must be possible to make clear [. . .] that Lord Salisburys method was cleverer than ours.55

Finally, Kants third (or second?) type: the moral politician. Here, the symmetry with Webers categories seems to break down: The moral politician regards the counsels of state prudence as compatible with the demands of moral doctrine, and tempers his action to respect and uphold this compatibility. This position, from
53 54 55

EP, 37476/PP, 11316. EP, 373/PP, 112. Max Weber, Gesammelte politische Schriften, 1st ed., ed. Marianne Weber (Tbingen, Germany: Mohr, 1921) 47172.



Webers point of view, rests on the fundamental deluded belief that this compatibility is generally possible. To be sure, a politician may try in his political action to act both politically and in consonance with the demands of morality. For some time, this may even be possible. But in the end, the value conict will erupt and present the politician with a choice between the demands of state and the demands of conscience. And he will also realize, if he reects on the consequences of his actions, that he may already have violated the demands of conscience without knowing it since Schopenhauers causal cab rolls on and on, out of sight and down unimagined roads. This existential tension is the polar opposite of Kants denitional harmony. But Weber takes a nal step in his consideration of the political ethic. Yes, the ethic of responsibility may normally be the adequate political ethic. But when this breaking point appears, as it must, to a mature politician who reects on what he is doing, he may in the last resort choose to renounce the responsibility and to take refuge in pure conviction, like Luther: Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.56 So, while Kant sees the moral conscience as a necessary precondition of political action in the proper sense of the word, the corresponding attitude, the ethic of conviction, is in Webers view the last resort of the politician who can no longer carry the moral burden of his ofce, and who, in this, chooses to respect values above consequences, while giving them both their full due and accepting the ensuing guilt. To conclude, in highly condensed form: Where Kant and his disciples looked for order and harmony, Weber saw multiplicity and conictthe incompatibility of values. Weber, like Kant, conceived duty to be a central anchor of personality; but where the Kantian duty pushes the individual along a path towards the dictates of reason, the Weberian duty forces the individual to acknowledge that confrontation with harsh realities which his free choice of values and aims necessarily entailsthe importance of consequences. Commentators57 have pointed out that the development of a specically responsibility-oriented ethic is historically linked with paradigmatic situations of crisis. As Weber formulated it, this ethic seems to me to be particularly appropriate in an age of crisis. Department of Sociology University of Copenhagen

56 57

LSPW, 36768/GPS, 559. Christian Mller, quoted by Martin Endress, Max Weber zwischen Immanuel Kant und Jrgen Habermas Verantwortliches Handeln in gesellschaftlichen Ordnungen, eds. Agathe Bienfait & Gerhard Wagner (Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1998) 57.