Weber Study Questions
“Basic Sociological Concepts”
What does Weber mean by the term “sociology”? by “interpretative understanding”? by
“action”? by “social action”?
Sociology = a science which seeks interpretive understanding of social action,
explain its course and effects
Action = human behavior linked to a subjective meaning on part of actor
Social action = meaning intended by actor is related to the behavior of others
What does Weber mean by “meaning”? What for Weber is the difference between “the
empirical sciences of action” like sociology and “dogmatic sciences” like ethics or
Meaning = an actual intended meaning or subjective meaning conceived as a
pure, conceptual type ascribed to the behavior of one or several hypothetical
Unlike the empirical sciences of action, dogmatic sciences seek true and valid
meanings in their objects of study
What is the difference between meaningful action and reactive behavior?
Meaningful action is action that can be understood while reactive behavior is
unrelated to subjectively intended meaning
What kinds of evidence does Weber believe can be offered in support of an interpretation
of a piece of behavior as an action? Why is “rationally oriented instrumental behavior”
easiest to interpret as action? Give an example. Why are “ultimate aims” and “values”
Evidence of understanding can be either of a rational character or founded upon
an empathetic reexperiencing, or artistically appreciative in character
“Rationally oriented instrumental behavior” is easiest to interpret as action
The greater the divergence of ultimate aims and values from our own, the more
difficult it difficult to understand them through imaginative reexperiencing.
Why does Weber believe we should treat all “irrational, emotional” behavior as
deviations from purely instrumentally rational action? Give an example of this method
and explain how it helps to understand a piece of action. An explanation of a stock exchange panic would first establish what would
happen if action had not been influenced by irrational emotions
This manner of looking at action allows for the ability to attribute active influence
to the irregularities which determine deviations from this construct
A type/ideal type is presented from a scenario in which real action is influenced
by all manner of irrationalities (emotions/errors) and can be presented as a
deviation from processes directed by purely rational thought
Does Weber’s approach assume that people really act rationally all the time? Why or
No. his theory suggests absolutely nothing about the extent to which actual action
might or might not be determined by a rational evaluation of ends
What does Weber mean by “understanding”? What is the difference between “direct and
immediate” vs. “explanatory” understanding?
It can mean:
o Direct and immediate understanding of the intended meaning of an action
o Explanatory understanding refers to understanding the motivational
meaning attached by the person expressing or writing the proposition 2 x 2
= 4. It acquires a contextual meaning.
What does Weber mean by “ideal type”?
A pure type constructed scientifically out of frequently recurring phenomenon
An ideal type of an intended meaning/context
What are some limitations on the interpretative method of explaining action through
people’s intended meanings?
Supposed motives and repressed factors often conceal from the actor himself the
real context forming his action to such a degree that only limited value can be
attached to their motivation
External properties of action which appear to be similar can have very different
Humans often find themselves in situations driven by contradictory imperatives
that we understand
What is “social action”? What are some examples of nonsocial action?
Social action includes refraining from action or acquiescing to a situation
It can be oriented to the past, present or future anticipated behavior of others p. 329
What are the four type of action? How do they differ?
Social action can be determined by:
Instrumental rationality = through the expectations of behavior of external
objects/people coupled with the employment of this expectation as a condition or
means for the realization of one’s intended premeditated aims/purposes
Value rationality = through conscious belief in the unconditional and intrinsic
value of the action whether this can be understood as ethical, aesthetic, religious
or anything else of a specific form of personal behavior for itself unrelated to its
Affect = (emotion) through action and feeling
Tradition = through ingrained habits
“The ‘objectivity’ of knowledge in social science and social
What is the question Weber poses in this essay?
The same question posed to new social science journals, its tendency
How, according to Weber, did social science arise?
In the pursuit of the enlargement of our knowledge of social circumstances of all
countries, the facts of social life, the training of judgment in respect of practical
problems arising from these social circumstance
What does it mean to say, as Weber does, that a science can never determine binding
norms and ideals?
It does not mean that value judgments should be kept entirely out of scientific
discussions because of its dependence on particular ideals
It cannot determine guidelines from which practical applications may be derived
What are for Weber the prime questions available to social scientific consideration?
What is the meaning and purpose of scientific criticism of ideals and value
Question of suitability of means to given ends
What does the attainment of the desired cost in context of foreseeable injury to
p. 363 What is for Weber the distinctive feature of social and political problems? What is the
difference between disputes based in “class interest” vs. “world views”?
Social and political problems are distinguished by the fact that they cannot be
resolved by the application of mere technical considerations to fixed ends,
argument can and must arise over regulating standards of value
The worldview an individual adheres to tends to be increasingly decisive while
class interest is a concept whose lack of ambiguity is superficial
What special significance does Weber ascribe to “positive religions”?
Only positive religions (dogmatically, ordered sects) are capable of ending the
content of cultural values the dignity of unconditionally valid ethically
How does Weber propose to balance the perspectives of the “thoughtful researcher” and
the “needing human being”?
CLASS, STATUS, PARTY
What does Weber mean by “power”?
The chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a social
action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action
What is the difference between social honor, power, and economic power?
Quite generally, “mere economic” power, and especially “naked” money power, is
by no means a recognized basis of social honor. Nor is power the only basis of
social honor. Indeed, social honor, or prestige, may even be the basis of economic
power, and very frequently has been.
What is the “social order”? How is it different from the “economic order”?
The social order and the economic order are related in a similar manner to the
legal order. However, the economic order merely defines the way in which
economic goods and services are distributed and used. Of course the status order
is strongly influenced by it, and in turn reacts upon it.
What is a class?
not groups; they merely represent possible, and frequent, bases for social action. How are class situations further distinguished, in addition to “property” vs. “lack of
(1) a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life
(2) this component is represented exclusively by economic interests
in the possession of goods and opportunities for income
(3) is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labor markets.
Why is “class situation” ultimately “market situation”?
the kind of chance in the market is the decisive moment which presents a shared
condition for the individual’s fate
effect of naked possession per se, which among cattle breeders gives over the
nonowning slave or serf into the power of the cattle owner, is only a forerunner
of real “class” formation
What factors limit or promote the chances that communal actions will flow from shared
Economic interest creates class
Direction of interest can vary according to whether social action of apportion of
those affected by class situation has grown out of the class situation
Why are classes not necessarily communities?
"classes" are not communities; they merely represent possible, and frequent, bases
for communal action
"class" is when (1) a number of people have in common a specific causal
component of their life chances, in so far as (2) this component is represented
exclusivelyby economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities
for income, and (3) is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labor
What, according to Weber, are the main differences between ancient vs. modern class
Ancient class conflicts were based on the distribution of property while modern
class conflicts are based on the structure of the concrete economic order
What is a status group? Give an example of how status groups can cut across class.
Are normally groups that are often fluid. A status situation is determined by a
specific, positive or negative social estimation of honor
All classes can belong to the same status group for instance status among
American gentleman is expressed by the fact that outside the subordination
determined by the different functions of business, it would be considered offensive if even the richest boss, while playing billiards or cards in his club
would not treat his clerk justly.
How do common “styles of life” define insiders and outsider of status groups?
Restrictions on social intercourse – can confine marriage to within status circle
Must live on certain street in order to interact with President
Must dress in a certain manner
When does a status group become a closed caste? What is the difference between “caste”
vs. “ethnic” segregation?
Where the consequences have been realized to their full extent, the status group
evolves into a closed "caste."
ethnic coexistence, based on mutual repulsion and disdain, allows each ethnic
group to consider its own honor as the highest one; the caste structure brings
about a social subordination and an acknowledgement of “more honor” in favor of
the privileged caste and status groups
Why do status honor groups tend to not give high status to economic, market activities?
classes are stratified according to their relations to the production and acquisition
of goods; whereas status groups are stratified according to the principles of their
consumption of goods as represented by special “styles of life.
What is the most general economic effect of status groups? Can you give an example,
from your life, of how a status group removes certain objects from the market?
What are “parties” and how do they differ from classes and
“Parties” reside in the sphere of “power.” Their action is oriented toward the
acquisition of social “power,” that is to say, toward influencing social action no
matter what its content may be. In principle, parties may exist in a social club as
well as in a state.
Power And Authority: When And Why Do People Obey?
What does Weber mean by power? By “domination”? by “discipline”?
Power = implies the likelihood that one person in a social relationship will be
able, even despite resistance, to carry out his own will – regardless of the basis on
which this likelihood rests. Domination = the likelihood that a established command will find obedience
among a specific circle of persons
Discipline = likelihood that a command will find prompt, automatic, and blind
obedience among a specific group of people.
What does it mean for domination to be “legitimate”?
What are the three pure types of legitimate domination, and how do they differ?
1. Rational grounds – resting on a belief in the legality of enacted orders [e.g.,
civil service rules] and the right of those elevated to authority under such orders to
issue commands (legal authority).
2. Traditional grounds – resting on an established belief in the sanctity of
immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them
(traditional authority); or finally.
3. Charismatic grounds – resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism
or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the orders revealed or
ordained by him (charismatic authority).
Weber Study Questions (2)
THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF
What does “asceticism” mean?
is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often
with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals
How does the Franklin quote illustrate the spirit of capitalism?
Presents the idea that the duty of the individual to increase his wealth, which is
assumed to be a selfdefined interest in itself
Presents idea that:
o Time is money
o Credit is money
o Money begets money
What is the difference between modern and adventure capitalism?
Modern = strives systematically and rationally in a calling for legitimate profit
Adventure capitalism has always been around
o Wolf of wall street
o Greed, take the big gamble o Not ethically sanctioned
o Disapproved of
o Not just about rich people and big business
o Everyday normal people work day in and day out doing what they can to
earn just a little profit each day
o Gain profit through incrementally implementing plan systematically
How does Weber describe the Puritan attitude to culture? What is the connection
between this attitude and capitalistic standardization?
culture which had no direct relevance to religious matters was viewed with
suspicion and hostility though not a narrowminded scorn
they appreciated the sciences, humanism of the Renaissance and classical
antiquity, learning was held in high religious esteem
Disapproved of nonscientific literature and art that appealed to senses
Disapproved of theatre
Why, according to Weber, did Puritans avoid spending money on cultural goods? How is
this attitude significant to the development of capitalism?
Protestant asceticism fought with fury against the spontaneous enjoyment of
possessions and constricted consumption, especially of luxury goods.
In process shattered the psychological bonds restricting all striving for gain – not
only by legalizing profit but also by perceiving it as desired by God
God wanted a rational and utilitarian use of wealth on behalf of the basic needs of
the person and the community
What is the Puritan attitude toward the production of wealth? What does Weber mean by
“work in a calling”?
They believed it was God`s desire that they build an earthly kingdom of
abundance to serve Him
actual production of wealth by people for a community was a positive sign from
“work in a calling” refers to the fact that wealth and work acquired a positive
religious significance under Puritan attitude and became sanctified as a sign that
indicated one’s salvation
How does the Puritan ethic lead to productive investment of capital?
the continuous reinvestment of one’s wealth, rather than its squandering on
worldly pleasures, proved a further effective means to create God’s kingdom of
abundance – and hence great success, which must have come from God’s hand,
also became sanctified
How does the Puritan outlook encourage a “bourgeois, economically rational way of life? It encouraged under all circumstances the tendency towards a middleclass life
and organization of life
This rational organization of life stands at the source of the economic man
How does the intensity for the search for the Kingdom of God gradually pass over into
sober vocational virtue?
Through the fulfillment of the duty to work in a vocational calling and through
strict asceticism, which church discipline naturally imposed in particular upon the
propertyless classes – promoted the “productivity” of work in the capitalist sense
of the word
In what ways does the modern work ethic require renouncing “an age of full and
this basic component of asceticism in the middleclass style of life – if it wishes to
be a style at all – involves today an inescapable interaction in which the conduct
of “specialized activity,” on the one hand, and “renunciation,” on the other,
mutually condition each other
Why are we forced to work in a calling?
The life of work is the foundation of the modern economic order
RELIGIOUS REJECTIONS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR
How does constructing idealtypes of religious ethics contribute to “typology and
sociology of rationalism”?
proceeds from the most rational forms reality can assume and it attempts to find
out how far certain rational conclusions, which can be established theoretically,
have been drawn in reality
What is the difference, according to Weber, between asceticism and mysticism? Between
innerworldly and otherworldly forms of asceticism and mysticism?
Asceticism = reject the world, believe in Godwilled action of the devout who are
Mysticism = a state of 'possession,' not action, and the individual is not a tool but
a 'vessel' of the divine, creature must be silent so that God may speak
o Action in the world must appears to be endangering the absolutely
irrational and otherworldly religious state
Innerworldly asceticism = mastering the world, seeks to tame what is creatural
and wicked through work in a worldly 'vocation'
How does the acetic view the mystic and vice versa?
To the innerworldly ascetic the conduct of the mystic is an indolent enjoyment of
self; to the mystic the conduct of the (innerworldly active) ascetic is an entanglement in the godless ways of the world combined with complacent self
What is the practical consequence of a prophetic religion?
Prophet legitimizes themselves through the possession of a magical charisma thus
securing recognition and followers for the exemplary significance, the mission, or
the savior quality of their personalities
Why do salvation religions tend to be in tension with “the world and its orders”?
The tension has been the greater the more religion has been sublimated from
ritualism and towards 'religious absolutism.' Indeed, the further the rationalization
and sublimation of the external and internal possession ofin the widest
sense'things worldly' has progressed, the stronger has the tension on the part of
Why do prophetic religions tend to devalue sibling and other family relationships? What
sorts of ethical principles tend to develop within prophetic religious communities?
the more comprehensive and the more inward the aim of salvation has been, the
more it has been taken for granted that the faithful should ultimately stand closer
to the savior, the prophet, the priest, the father confessor, the brother in the faith
than to natural relations and to the matrimonial community.
These communities have known two elemental principles: first, the dualism of in
group and outgroup morality; second, for ingroup morality, simple reciprocity:
'As you do unto me I shall do unto you.'
Why, according to Weber, do salvation religions tend to come into opposition with the
The more the world of the modern capitalist economy follows its own immanent
laws, the less accessible it is to any imaginable relationship with a religious ethic
What are the two consistent avenues for escaping the tension between religion and the
economic world, according to Weber? Explain
First, the paradox of the Puritan ethic of 'vocation.' As a religion of virtuosos,
Puritanism renounced the universalism of love, and rationally routinized all work
in this world into serving God's will and testing one's state of grace.
In the last resort, this meant in principle to renounce salvation as a goal attainable
by man, that is, by everybody. It meant to renounce salvation in favor of the
groundless and always only particularized grace.
Why, according to Weber, do salvation religions tend to come into opposition with the
The problem of tensions with the political order emerged for redemption religions
out of the basic demand for brotherliness. And in politics, as in economics, the
more rational the political order became the sharper the problems of these
tensions became. In what ways are warrior communities and the brotherliness of war in tension? How do
Puritanism and mysticism propose to resolve this tension?
War on its own creates a sentiment of community resulting in a devoted and
sacrificial community consumed with compassion and love for those in need. Idea
of dying for something without meaning
Religions of salvations are concerned with the meaning of death and fighting for
the right cause. No longer a blind following of community.
What is the difference between locating the ethical value of an act in terms of success or
in terms of some intrinsic value of the act?
The question is whether and to what extent the responsibility of the actor for the
results sanctifies the means, or whether the value of the actor's intention justifies
him in rejecting the responsibility for the outcome, whether to pass on the results
of the act to God or to the wickedness and foolishness of the world which are
permitted by God.
Why, according to Weber, do “magical religiosity” and art stand in a “most intimate
Since its beginnings, religion has been a fountain of opportunities for artistic
creation through traditionalization
o in idols, icons, and other religious artifacts