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Weber in Translation

About the Series

This is a proposal for a series that will make Max Weber’s work available in English in contemporary accessible language. Over 70% of the material will be made available in English for the first time.

Key Issues:

1. Weber is pre-eminent among classical social theorists. His vision of the social and historical sciences is more relevant than ever before. Yet there exists no comprehensive and authoritative edition of his writings in English.

2. Existing English translations have failed to reproduce the breadth and unities of his writings. Many of them are faulty, incomplete, out of date, and have laid the basis for erroneous readings of his work.

3. Weber in Translation, edited by the world’s leading Weberian scholars and academics, will for the first time bring coherence to Weber’s works. It will coordinate Weber’s terminology offering an integrated approach to Weber’s work and will also provide an up to date scholarly apparatus.

4. Weber in Translation will be a prestige landmark in social science publishing and will be a spur to future work in the social, historical and cultural sciences.

5. As a complete series, it will become the central reference work in the social sciences and accordingly will become an obligatory purchase for university libraries worldwide.

6. This series would provide Routledge with a near monopoly on Weber’s writings, copyright on some books will be coming to an end shortly.

7. The sales span of the books is likely to exceed 25 years.

8. This will greatly enhance Routledge’s visibility as a leading publisher in the Social Sciences and will have significant intangible benefits.



Key Issues for the complete series:

1. It is not possible to have an incomplete series for this would undermine the legitimacy of the project. The series will offer all of the most important writings of Max Weber in one series of publications. Weber readers/anthologies have always suffered in not being able to reflect the sheer scale of Weber’s written output.

2. Libraries commit to purchase because a complete and authoritative series is being made available.

3. The series while not the complete works follows the tried and tested German model of Marianne Weber’s editions – which have sold in 100,000s in Germany over a long period.

4. The series will be able to claim a monopoly over competing translations, which will increasingly come to be seen as unreliable, incomplete and defective in scholarship.

5. It will establish a copyright at a time when some of Weber’s most popularly used texts are coming out of the copyright period.

6. The high quality and international reputation of the volume editors is possible because they are joining a premier social science project, which will reflect well on any publisher.

7. If we don’t do this project someone else will.



Cost considerations:

1. The reason no proper set of Weber translations exist relates to the initial investment in good translations. Weber is now sufficiently popular worldwide for this to be a viable outlay. Moreover, there is now sufficient scholarly knowledge to make it feasible.

2. It is proposed to divide the project up into two tranches. The first tranche (see First Tranche Volumes doc.) can be activated now and will establish the credentials and prestige of the series. The second tranche has to wait because volume editors still have to be identified, some scholarly arguments on provenance are in course of being resolved, and volumes nine and ten are dependent on Siebeck’s sale of permission rights.

3. Translations are costed at £40/1000 words. This rate will have to be paid for reliable professional translators. Some volume editors may charge less for their own translations if it were seen to aid the series as a whole. There may be some additional funding available via other organisations and some translators may be willing to work for a royalty.

4. The costs of production are obviously dependent on the length of the volumes. This is unavoidable and a condition of Weber’s stature. It does allow, however, that Weber can be marketed to a number of disciplines: sociology, history, politics, cultural studies, law, economics, and sub-disciplines within these areas.

5. The return on investment will deliver a near monopoly on Weber in English. Libraries will buy the entire series. Paperback sales to students and lecturers will be viable for over half of the volumes in the series. Given developments in web teaching and downloads, critical texts should be identified for sale over the Internet and for course book excerpting.


What the readers’ reports say:

"competing volumes with partially overlapping content exist in a few areas but are no substitutes for coverage proposed here"

" Max Weber is one of the most respected social science scholars and his books are widely used in the West today, mainly in English translations. With some very few exceptions, these translations are of secondary quality"

"there is nothing comparable [in other translations]"

"university libraries will order the entire series"

"prestige value attached to publishing the most nearly definitive version of a major thinker in any language"

"the listed editors have excellent and well deserved reputations"

"it could prove a landmark in Weber scholarship and a great spur to scholarly work in sociology"

"Weber’s work has sold in several hundred thousand copies, in English translation. If Routledge succeeds in getting out the message that these classic texts now exist in a superior translation, they should sell well."





Ignoring for a moment the state of existing translations, the situation of the German editions has to be examined. They exist in two formats: Max Weber Gesamtausgabe, and the Gesammelte Aufsätze as collected by Marianne Weber.

First Model

The Max Weber Gesamtausgabe was started in 1984 and when finished it will consist of 40 volumes in three sections: the writings (23 volumes), the letters (10 volumes), and lecture materials. To date 22 volumes have been published. Each section of MWG has to follow the principles laid down by the founding editors following historical-critical rules. The academic writings section have an editorial foreword, an editorial introduction to the volume as a whole, followed by the texts themselves, each of which has a small editorial introduction and is accompanied by footnotes that identify all references and names (including those alluded to and not explicitly mentioned by Weber). The volume concludes with a who’s who of all names, a list of all works mentioned by Weber, and a subject and a person index.

Second Model

Marianne Weber published a series of his collected works and essays in the early 1920s. She divided the work up into substantive areas: (in English) the collected essays in the sociology of religion (3 vols), collected methodological essays, Economy and Society (2 vols), collected political writings, collected essays in social and economic history, collected essays in sociology and social policy, and the letters of the young Weber. Within each volume, the material was laid out chronologically. Each volume has a short foreword and no other scholarly apparatus (though sometimes an index was included). Marianne Weber’s editions were not the complete works but they covered all the major works and many of the less important works.

Third Model

The collected works of Georg Simmel may be mentioned as a third model. The project has almost completed the publication of the entirety of Simmel’s output on chronological and substantive principles. The scholarly apparatus was kept to a minimum – mainly, an editorial introduction. The volumes were published in relatively rapid succession by Suhrkamp in non-expensive, serviceable editions. One of the main initial tasks for the Simmel works was compiling a complete bibliography (as was also the case for the MWG).

The Simmel model is mentioned because of its efficacy – it was following a well-established German publishing formula of getting all the work into print with the minimum of fuss. The Max Weber Gesamtausgabe after more than 20 years is still not in sight of the finishing post. It is not uncommon for individual editors of MWG to take 5-10 years to complete, and in notorious cases even more. In retrospect MWG was over-engineered and demanded time-robbing amounts of attention from its editors. Arguably, editorial attention should have been concentrated on the ten volumes of letters, which offered decisively new material and required a more extensive scholarly apparatus.

Weber in Translation will select on roughly the same principles as Marianne Weber in her collected essays series. That is, with ten main volumes the series will have secured all of Weber’s important writings. An initial division of material has been made by the series editor in consultation with the volume editors and other senior Weber scholars. The final selection will be agreed between the individual volume editors and series editor, taking into account the present knowledge of Weber’s bibliography, secondary literature, and MWG. There will be questions of overlap and volume editors will need to keep in close contact with the series editor on this. The selections in many of the volumes will depart from Marianne Weber’s own choice of texts. A number of volume editors will be including relevant letter material where appropriate.

Format of volumes

To date, two titles ("Economy and Society. The Final Version" and "The Methodology") have been submitted to Routledge. "The Methodological Writings" is attached as illustrative of the format to be adopted. It is a less elaborate version of MWG. Individual editors may wish to vary the format to a degree – for example, the essays in the sociology of religion may need to supply more commentary on textual sources.

Initial selection of volumes:

1. "Economy and Society. The Final Version" (edited S. Whimster and translated Keith Tribe).

2. "The Methodological Writings" (edited S. Whimster and Hans Henrik Bruun, translated Hans Henrik Bruun).

3. "Collected Political Writings" (John Breuilly proposed as editor/translator).

4. "Collected Essays in Social and Economic History" (Lutz Kaelber and Hinnerk Bruhns proposed as editor/translator).

5. "Collected Essays in Sociology and Social Policy" (Stephen Kalberg proposed as editor/translator).

6. "Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion"

vol 1 The Protestant Ethic Writings (Lawrence Scaff proposed)

vol 2 Confucianism and Taoism

vol 3 Hinduism and Buddhism

vol 4 Ancient Judaism.

7. "The Sociology of Music" (Ardal Powell proposed as editor and translator)

8. "Economy and Society. The Earlier Versions".

9. "Selected Letters" (dependent on permission from Siebeck).

10. "Lectures on national-economy" (dependent on permission from Siebeck).



The initial market will be libraries who will want to purchase a hardback set of the first authoritative, and coordinated, English translations. The secondary market will be students and lecturers buying the delayed paperback edition of individual volumes.

Competition: The state of existing translations/publications in English is ragged and very variable in standard.

Going through the above list, 1) Economy and Society (edited Roth and Wittich) was heroic in its day (1968) and something of a publishing sensation. But the grounds on which the separate versions and bits of ES fitted together is now open to much more scholarly dispute, and the edition was an amalgam of pre-existing translations. E&S is considered one of the most important works in the social sciences, and there is a premium in offering an authoritative edition that utilizes the latest scholarship and is attuned to nuances of translation and cross-reference.

2) Weber’s methodological essays are widely scattered. Two separate books offer part of Weber’s output, the rest are to found in journals which are not readily accessible. The widely used Shils and Finch collection is grievously out of date (1949), and its translation of concepts belongs to the era of systems theory. It frequently descends to the level of mere paraphrase rather than translating what Weber actually said. (Examples of this are given in the appendix.) Weber’s contribution to current methodological debate has been muted because the existing translations fail to convey the complexity of Weber’s language. A new set of translations restore Weber as a central reference point in the current and widespread re-assessment of social science – its attempts to be more relevant, to offer empirical validity, and not to close out major positions intrinsic to the nature of social science.

3) A selection of Weber’s political writings has been published by CUP fairly recently. Weber’s output of political writings was, however, enormous and no one has undertaken the task of making them all available in English. Weber was an acute commentator on German politics (indeed a participant in the ‘German problem’) and a complete set of his political writings will become a standard reference in history, politics, and political sociology.

4) Editing Weber’s writings in social and economic history is mainly a matter of bringing existing translations into one volume. One of the editorial tasks will be to outline the historiographical substratum of Weber’s writings, and to indicate Weber’s expertise in agrarian studies and national-economy. There is a renewed interest among classical historians in these writings, and the relation of law to economic activity requires competent analysis.

5) Weber’s writings in sociology and social policy hardly figure at all in English translation – as if everything sociological he wrote was contained in E&S. Some of his industrial sociology was published in the 1970s, how much of his voluminous agrarian writings to publish has always been a problem, and his writings on the Germany economy of his day are barely visible. His participation in and writing for the German Sociological Society has yet to be made available in English. This volume will have considerable appeal, pointing out that Weber was committed to policy and social issues as well as showing the kind of empirical methods he deployed and recommended.

6) Weber’s studies in the sociology of religion comprise some of the earliest translations of his work. However each ‘religion’ was done piecemeal and no publisher has respected the underlying entity of Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, which Weber himself prepared for publication. The most notorious issue is the separate publication of the prefatory and interlinking essays to the studies in the world religions. Weber’s own layout for these studies has to be restored. Editors will have to be chosen who are attuned to the cultural areas studied by Weber – SE Asia, S Asia, and the Middle East – and who can provide critical commentary on Weber’s knowledge of the history and religion of the world religions. Europocentrism and civilizational heritage are controversial issues today, and these volumes need to be edited with both sensitivity and scholarship.

7) The sociology of music was a study Weber wrote, and put to one side hoping to return to its study later as part of a sociology of culture. Because of its intellectual audacity and grasp of musicology, it caused a huge stir when first presented by Weber in the Eranos seminar. A previous translation exists, but it confused crucial terminology (harmony and melody, tone and scale) at a time when musicology in its technical aspects was grasped by few. A proper translation by a sociologically informed musicologist will attract significant attention in music departments, cultural studies and wider public.

8) The earlier versions of E&S remain a matter of heated scholarly dispute. MWG have yet to complete the task of publishing the writings in 5 sub-volumes, and their editorial decisions are open to dispute. At the moment it is not possible to proceed with editorial certainty and it will probably take a couple of years for the scholarly dust to subside before decisions are made. Their speedy translation remains a priority for they include his widely used and admired substantive sociologies: of power, religion, law, communities and the city.

9) The letter volumes will eventually be published in 10 volumes by MWG – over 3000 letters. Translation is dependent, in the first instance, on reaching an agreement with Siebeck’s. Any translation of Weber’s letters would be a major publishing event.

10) The lectures on national-economy will bring into the public domain previously unknown and unpublished material. The relevant volume in MWG will be published in 2007. Weber taught, lectured and published in the field of national-economy throughout his life, albeit intermittently on account of health problems. These early lectures provide the first outline of his academic footprint, and serve as a point of comparison to his later development of social-economics. They are an essential reference point for Weber’s interdisciplinary explorations into history, politics, sociology, and the study of religion.

Each of the volumes of Weber in Translation can be marketed on its own merits. Published as a series, which is highly desirable, library sales will be enhanced. Only volumes 9 and 10 are dependent on agreement over rights with Siebeck.

Translation issues

Weber wrote in a late nineteenth century academic style that is regarded as somewhat archaic and difficult compared to current German usage. Translators are faced with the dilemma of rendering his German in a ‘communicative’ translation attuned to contemporary standards and expectations or in a ‘semantic’ translation, faithful to Weber’s style and terminology. For the purposes of this series, translators should err towards the side of exact translation of the German texts. These editions will become a standard source of reference, and not only for English speakers. Translators should also bear in mind that Weber often wrote in an argumentative mode, contrasting one argument or point with another within the course of a long sentence. The translator is then faced with placing the emphases correctly, as Weber’s ‘speaking voice’ intends and conveys. Exact translation in this context does not mean wooden translations. (See additional material in appendix.) Weber’s terminology is often arcane: it repeats academic terms no longer used, and he makes up words and neologisms. A translator has to be attuned to contemporary debates and usage. Weber’s punctuation follows its own rules – often breath and stress points rather than strict grammatical rules.

There is an increasing recognition of these difficulties and open discussion of them. Weber has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, Japanese and so on, so there is considerable expertise and experience to be drawn on. It is proposed that host a discussion forum of bonafide Weber translators, as a place where difficulties of meaning, terminology and style can be discussed. For this series of translations, there will sometimes be a need to trace specific terms across different volumes. Weber’s works on CD (heptagon) makes this a feasible proposition. It will be the role of the series editor to ensure that no fundamental divergence occurs across the different translations.

Rights and payments

There is no reason why a volume editor should not use existing translations (if thought up to standard), and Routledge should facilitate this. Where new translations are commissioned or undertaken Routledge would reimburse editors at the standard rate. For more marginal books it is hoped that we can arrange a royalty based payment. This may however be difficult, as first class translators (essential for these projects) may be unwilling to accept this solution. In the case of genuinely new material being translated for the first time, volume editors would apply to Inter Nationes and the US National Endowment for the Humanities for grants, and to the VW Stiftung in Germany.

Volume 1: Economy and Society. Final Version (in progress)

Volume 2: Methodological Writings (see attached proposal)


Volume 3: Collected Political Writings

1. This volume will be a central reference point for political theory and philosophy, political history, and political sociology.

2. Weber’s political writings, presented here in their full range, give an indispensable commentary on the rise and fall of the Wilhelmine Empire including his wartime journalism.

3. Provides all the materials for Weber’s contribution to and analysis of the Weimar Republic.

4. Provides for first time Weber’s contemporary analysis of power and interests, democracy, political parties, nations and nationalism, politicians, bureaucracy, the state, revolutions and constitutions.

5. Will re-open the debate between scientific impartiality and political commitment.

Proposed editor: Dr John Breuilly, Professor of Modern History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Costs: Weber’s political writings are very extensive and about one third of them have been translated – mostly well, but without a scholarly introduction to the complex historical background. Half of the translations could be bought in through permissions (100,000 words), the other half would be first-time translations (100,000 words).

Overall length: 550 pages.


Volume 4: Social and Economic History

1. This volume brings together Weber’s writings as a professional specialist in the fields of economics, history and law that underwrote his claim as a universal historian.

2. New materials from early in his career will receive their first English translation and be placed in the context of comparative history writing.

3. These texts will re-ignite debates on the place of fact and theory in economic and political history and their applicability for ancient and medieval historians.

4. They will bring new material to the current debates on the axial age and multiple modernities.

5. Weber’s views on the ancient world, Greek, Roman, and Near East will stimulate current debates among classical historians on western versus eastern civilizations and the roots of developmental history. Ever since Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West and latterly Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations these arguments have attracted controversy.

Proposed editors: Dr Lutz Kaelber, Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, and editor and translator of Weber’s History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages. Dr Hinnerk Bruhns, Professor of Research at the Centre de la Recherche Scientifique and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

Costs: Weber’s first book translation on the changing legal forms of Roman property has never been translated into English, nor have his first encyclopaedia entries on the classical world. (20,000 + 75,000 = 95,000 words). The other texts can be bought in through permissions.

Overall length: 500 pages.




Volume 5: Collected Essays in Sociology and Social Policy

1. Weber is the world’s most famous sociologist (alongside Durkheim) but amazingly the majority of his empirical sociological studies have not been translated or translated only in part.

2. He was a founder member of the German Sociological Society and his contributions to their debates have not been translated in full.

3. He was a prominent radical in Germany’s premier social policy association and his contributions to its debates have not been translated.

4. This volume for first time will being together Weber’s writings on Germany’s move from an agrarian to an industrial society, his work on industrial sociology and industrial psychology, the sociology of the press, the stock exchanges, economic interest groups and government, the reform of city administration, economic cooperatives, technology and culture, race and nation, and economy and law.

5. The volume will lead to a fundamental assessment of Weber’s practice of value freedom in the light of his empirical and evidence-based studies and their policy implications.

Proposed editor: Dr Stephen Kalberg, Professor of Sociology at the University of Boston. He has translated extensive parts of Weber’s writings including The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Costs: Most of the materials have not been translated. 100,000 words of new translation.

Overall length: 450 pages.


Volume 6: Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion. Protestant Ethic Writings

1. These essays are the jewel in the crown and the reason why Weber is such a famous author. Weber revised these essays after 1918 for publication in three volumes (1920-1921). There exists no English edition of his German book publication with crucial explanatory essays separated from substantive studies. This will be the first time that the integrity of his project in the sociology of religion has been realized.

2. The volume on the Protestant ethic writings will include as additions material on natural and profane law (as yet untranslated) and his anti-critiques.

3. A new original, and better, version of Parsons’ (Routledge edited) translation will be used, replacing Routledge’s expired 1930 copyright on one of the most important texts in the social and historical sciences and a modern classic.

4. Weber’s essays on the world religions go to the heart of contemporary debates on religion and culture, multiculturalism, and the universal validity of western values.

5. These are the most important writings in the now very large literature of historical sociology, for they represent a master class in how ideas should be related to power and interests - a debate that shows no signs of slowing down.

Editor of Protestant Ethic Writings: Dr Larry Scaff, Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Wayne State University, Detroit. He is one of the world’s leading Weber scholars and is about to publish Weber in America.

Cost: little new material needs to be translated (10,000 words). Protestant Ethic Debates material will be bought in.

Overall length: 470 pages.

Volume 7: The Sociology of Music

1. The volume is Weber’s most important contribution to his proposed sociology of culture – a project he had hoped to pursue after 1920.

2. It has been translated once into English but before developments in musicology, and in Weber scholarship, had progressed sufficiently. The existing translation confuses crucial terminology in tonal theory.

3. This new translation will benefit from recent German scholarship and the more widespread interest in ethnomusicology.

4. Weber advanced one of his major arguments about the uniqueness of the West and the limits of rationality in this key, but little understood text.

5. The volume reflects Weber’s intimate relationship with the professional pianist Mina Tobler and new letter material will be appended to document Weber’s passionate turn to the sensuously expressive – a revealing contrast to the ascetic Weber.

Editor: Mr Ardal Powell. He is an acknowledged authority on flutes as well as flute maker. He has translated and edited Johann George Tromlitz’s works on the flute (Cambridge UP) and has recently published an award-winning book on the flute (Yale UP).

Costs: Translation 50,000 words.

Overall length: 250 pages.



Example of Old and New Translations

1. Title of essay:

Der Sinn der "Wertfreiheit" der soziologischen und ökonomischen Wissenschaften

The meaning of "ethical neutrality" in sociology and economics (Shils, 1949)

The meaning of "value-freedom" in the sociological and economic sciences (Bruun & Whimster, 2007)

Comment. ‘Ethical neutrality’ is a notorious mis-translation, with wide-ranging nefarious consequences. Shils also omits ‘sciences’.



2. Title of essay:

Die "Objektivität" sozialwissenschaftlicher u. sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis

"Objectivity" in social science and social policy (Shils, 1949)

The "objectivity" of knowledge in social science and social policy ( Bruun &Whimster, 2007)

Comment: ‘Erkenntnis’ means knowledge, Shils left it out. On this word depends whole expectation of what is achievable in social sciences and social policy.




3. Passage from Wertfreiheit essay:

Nicht diskutieren möchte ich ferner, ob die Scheidung von empirischer Feststellung und praktischer Wertung "schwierig" sei. Sie ist es. Wir alle, der unterzeichnete Vertreter dieser Forderung ebenso wie andere, verstossen immer wieder einmal dagegen. Aber wenigstens die Anhänger der sogenannten ethischen Nationalökonomie könnten wissen: dass auch das Sittengesetz unerfüllbar ist, dennoch aber als "aufgegeben" gilt.

(Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, p. 497)

Nor need I discuss ... whether the distinction between empirical statements of facts and value-judgments is "difficult" to make. It is. All of us, those of us who take this position as well as others, encounter the subject time and again. But the exponents of the so-called "ethical economics" particularly should be aware that even though the moral law is perfectly unfulfillable, it is nonetheless "imposed" as a duty.

(Shils&Finch,The Methodology of the Social Sciences p. 9)

I shall not discuss ... whether it is "difficult" to separate empirical statements of fact from value-judgments. It is difficult. All of us, the undersigned advocate of this demand as well as anyone else, offend against it time and again. But at least the adherents of so-called "ethical" economics should be aware that the moral law, too, is unrealisable, but that it is nevertheless regarded as "ineluctable".

(Bruun, p. 103, Science, Values and Politics in Max Weber’s Methodology, 2007, slightly modified).

Comment: Shils mis-translates "verstossen" as "encounter" instead of "offend against" and "aufgegeben" as "imposed" rather than "ineluctable". He also leaves out ‘undersigned advocates’, and the scare quotes in Weber refer only to ethical.



4. Passage from Wertfreiheit essay

... gerade durch die Stärke der Affektbetontheit wird der Hörer wenigstens in die Lage versetzt, seinerseits die Subjektivität der Wertung des Lehrers in ihrem Einfluss auf eine etwaige Trübung seiner Feststellungen abzuschätzen und also für sich das zu tun, was dem Temperament des Lehrers versagt blieb.

(Weber, GAW, p. 490)

As a result of their intensely emotional tone, their audiences were enabled to discount the influence of their evaluations in whatever distortion was introduced into their factual assertions. Thereby the audiences did for themselves what the lecturers were temperamentally prevented from doing.

(Shils&Finch, p. 2)

… precisely because of the intensity of [the lecturer’s] emotional tone, the student is at least put in a position where he is able to assess the extent to which the subjectivity of the lecturer’s value-judgment may have resulted in a possible distortion of his statements; thus, the student is enabled to do for himself what the lecturer was temperamentally incapable of doing.

(Bruun, p.107, slightly modified)

Comment: Shils uses "their" with two different references, which makes the sentence unintelligible. He mistranslates "abschätzen" as "discount" instead of "assess" and puts "did" instead of "is enabled to do". Good example of Shils’ simplification of German – not actually what Weber writes.




5. Passage from Wertfreiheit essay:

... die Grundfrage: ob der Eigenwert des ethischen Handelns – der "reine Wille" oder die "Gesinnung", pflegt man das auszudrücken – allein zu seiner Rechtfertigung genügen soll, nach der Maxime: "der Christ handelt recht und stellt den Erfolg Gott anheim", wie christliche Ethiker sie formuliert haben. Oder ob die Verantwortung für die als möglich oder wahrscheinlich vorauszusehenden Folgen des Handelns, wie sie dessen Verflochtenheit in die ethisch irrationale Welt bedingt, mit in Betracht zu ziehen ist.

(Weber, GAW, p. 505)


... the basic questions: (a) whether the intrinsic value of ethical conduct – the "pure will" or the "conscience" as it used to be called – is sufficient for its justification, following the maxim of the Christian moralists: "The Christian acts rightly and leaves the consequences of his action to God"; or (b) whether the responsibility for the predictable consequences of the action is to be taken into consideration.

(Shils & Finch, p. 16)


... [the fundamental question] is whether the intrinsic value of ethical conduct (usually referred to as the "pure will" or the "conviction") is in itself sufficient to justify this conduct, in accordance with the maxim "The Christian acts rightly and leaves the outcome to God", as it has been formulated by Christian moralists. Or, whether the responsibility for those consequences of the action which can be foreseen as possible or probable – a responsibility which flows from the fact that the action is enmeshed in the ethically irrational world – should also be taken into account.

(Bruun, p. 196, modified)

Comment: Shils is unaware of the pairing of ‘conviction’ with ‘responsibility’. He uses ‘conscience’, which is more moralistic than ‘conviction’. Behind this lies a Kantian vs. a Nietzschean reading of Weber. Shils has, lamentably, left out the half-sentence containing one of Weber’s key premises – the ethical irrationality of the world.



6. Passage from Objectivity essay:

Dieses Gedankenbild vereinigt bestimmte Beziehungen und Vorgänge des historischen Lebens zu einem in sich widerspruchslosen Kosmos gedachter Zusammenhänge. Inhaltlich trägt diese Konstruktion den Charakter einer Utopie an sich, die durch gedankliche Steigerung bestimmter Elemente der Wirklichkeit gewonnen ist.


[Der Idealtypus] wird gewonnen durch einseitige Steigerung eines oder einiger Gesichtspunkte und [der] Zusammenschluss einer Fülle von diffus und diskret, hier mehr, dort weniger, stellenweise gar nicht, vorhandenen Einzelerscheinungen, die sich jenen einseitig herausgehobenen Gesichtspunkten fügen, zu einem in sich einheitlichen Gedankenbilde.

(Weber, GAW, pp. 190, 191)


This conceptual pattern brings together certain relationships and events of historical life into a complex, which is conceived as an internally consistent system. Substantively, this construct in itself is like a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality.


An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and ... 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.

(Shils & Finch, p. 90)

This mental image brings together certain relationships and events of historical life to form an internally consistent cosmos of conceptual interrelations. In substance, this construct has the character of a utopia which is arrived at by the mental accentuation of certain elements of reality.


[The ideal type] is obtained by means of the one-sided accentuation of one or a number of viewpoints and ... the synthesis of a great many diffuse and discrete individual phenomena – more present in one place, less in another, and occasionally even completely absent -, which conform to those one-sided, accentuated perspectives, so that an internally consistent mental image is formed.

(Bruun, p. 208, modified)

Comment: Shils, in first sentence, chooses a translation which suggests that theory equals system analysis. This is a Parsonian assumption, whereas Weber was averse to systems. A very tricky second sentence, but there is a flow despite complex phrasing. Shils renders ‘gedanklich’ as ‘analytical’ and is unaware of the contructionism present in ‘conceptual’ and ‘mental’ (he also leaves out "conceptual interrelations").



7. Passage from Objectivity essay:

Dabei lassen wir es ein- für allemal unerörtert, ob die theoretischen Gebilde, welche wir als Beispiele heranziehen, oder auf die wir anspielen, so wie sie sind, dem Zwecke entsprechen, dem sie dienen wollen, ob sie also sachlich zweckmäßig gebildet sind. Die Frage, wie weit z. B. die heutige abstrakte Theorie noch ausgesponnen werden soll, ist schließlich auch eine Frage der Oekonomie der wissenschaftlichen Arbeit, deren doch auch andere Probleme harren. (GAW, p. 190)

Therewith we leave undiscussed, once and for all, whether the particular analytical concepts which we cite or to which we allude as illustrations, correspond to the purposes they are to serve, i.e., whether in fact they are well-adapted. The question as to how far, for example, contemporary "abstract theory" should be further elaborated, is ultimately also a question of the strategy of science, which must, however concern itself with other problems as well. (Shils and Finch, 1949, p. 89)

In so doing we will leave unexamined, once and for all, the question whether those theoretical constructions which we use as examples, or to which we allude, do actually serve their purpose ; that is, whether they are have been constructed in a way which is adequate for that substantive purpose. How much further, for example, present-day ‘abstract theory’ should be further elaborated is in the last resort also a question of the economy of scientific labour, and such labour has other problems to pursue as well.

(Bruun 2007)

Comment: a major difference between Shils’ ‘analytical concepts’ and ‘theoretical constructions’, which is much closer to the orginal German. Shils rudely paraphrases the last sentence, and thereby distorts its argument.

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Max Weber Collected Methodological Writings

Max Weber: Collected Methodological Writings

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December 20, 2013

Weber’s methodological writings form the bedrock of key ideas across the social sciences. His discussion of value freedom and value commitment, causality, understanding and explanation, theory building and ideal types have been of fundamental importance, and their impact remains undiminished today....

Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies

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This major new Handbook provides a cutting-edge and transdisciplinary overview of the main issues, debates, state-of-the-art methods, and key concepts in peace and conflict studies today. The fields of peace and conflict studies have grown exponentially since being initiated by Professor Johan ...

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