«CD-uppsats i sociologi, 30 hp Autonomy, asceticism, agonism – Max Weber’s scientific objectivity as idea, practice and politics Adam Netzén ...»
i sociologi, 30 hp
Autonomy, asceticism, agonism
– Max Weber’s scientific objectivity as idea,
practice and politics
Handledare: Mark Elam
Title: Autonomy, asceticism, agonism – Max Weber’s scientific objectivity as
idea, practice and politics
Author: Adam Netzén
Supervisor: Mark Elam
Examiner: Micael Björk
Type of work: CD essay
Time: September 2009
Purpose and research questions: The aim of this study is to investigate the
internal logic and the external context of Weber’s writings about objectivity.
This is done both through a theoretical investigation of the texts and through using Weber as a case study of the relation between scientific and cultural values. What is the internal logic and the historical specificity of Weber’s account of objectivity? What role does the external social, political and cultural context play in shaping the form that these standards of objectivity have?
How are questions of scientific methodology connected to wider cosmological issues?
Method and material: Drawing upon perspectives from contemporary science studies as well as from Weber studies, I will develop an analytical model of variants of objectivity. This model is used for explicating the details of Weber’s version of objectivity, as well as clarifying what type of subject that it posits. I perform a close reading of parts of Weber’s methodology, examining his attempts to co-produce social and scientific order. The primary empirical material consists of a selection of Weber’s texts on methodology, science and politics.
Main result: The historically specific form of Max Weber’s view of objectivity depends partly on his views of science, the self, politics and ethics. Some of the factors that take part in motivating and shaping his form of objectivity include Puritan asceticism, the German tradition of Bildung, and an agonistic understanding of politics. On multiple levels, objectivity is meant to safeguard autonomy.
Table of contents
1. Introduction 4 Background 4 Focus 6 Purpose 7 Research questions 7 Methodological approach: Science and other parts of society 8 Method 9 Disposition 10 Empirical material 11
2. Objectivity today 12
1. Introduction Background When doing science, we use methods. Methods are supposed to guarantee the validity of the results we attain. Underlying every set of methods is a wider methodology – whether this is acknowledged or not – against which the methods in question gain their meaning and validity.
The Oxford dictionary of sociology states the following:
The principal concern of methodology is wider philosophy of science issues […], and the study of how, in practice, [researchers] go about their work, how they conduct investigations and assess evidence, how they decide what is true and false. (Scott & Marshall (eds.) 2005) A methodology can be said to contain answers to the question of how to carry out proper science. Different varieties will prescribe different methods, and these methods can not be judged entirely independently of methodological views. There is no outside point without implicit methodological presuppositions from which to judge the validity of science. In most methodologies, the question of how to achieve objectivity is of high priority. Objectivity is seen as one of the distinguishing marks of science, so it is important that the researchers are objective. What does that mean? Despite the vast amount of literature that deals with the concept of objectivity, there seems to have emerged no consensus as to how the concept should be treated, or what it refers to. Several discussants agree that it is important to recognise that the concept refers to several areas, but then disagree about what these are. In theoretical discussions of objectivity, we may analytically distinguish three different approaches: Critique, reconstruction and diversification.
A) Critique of objectivity has been directed at such things as its objectifying tendencies, its instrumentality, its male bias, its disembodiment, the impossibility of a view from nowhere, the scientific attitude’s lack of emotion and concern for human values, etc. In the light of this criticism, some have concluded that belief in objectivity or parts thereof is naïve or harmful.
A few see it as a dysfunctional ideal that needs to be wholly rejected, even though that is an unusual standpoint. B) Reconstruction of objectivity combines a measure of criticism with the claim that there are still valuable components to retain. It has been conceded that the critique is valid against an orthodox (instrumental, positivistic or androcentric) view of objectivity, but that it is possible to reformulate the concept in a form which avoids this critique. Several commentators have also noted the ethical and practical relevance of retaining a functioning concept of objectivity, and to avoid what seems as relativistic consequences of an all-out rejection. 1 C) Diversification of the concept has followed from empirical studies of scientific The defence of ’strong objectivity’ in the works of Sandra Harding, is one of the more well-known attempts at reconstruction.
practice, as well as historical investigations. This type of research has made the image of scientific activity and reasoning more complex, and deepened our understanding of the multitude of factors that contribute to knowledge production. Among other things, the results have shown that it is far from obvious just what the common sense terms ‘science’ and ‘objectivity’ mean. 2 According to philosopher of science Ian Hacking, one important finding of some of this research is that ‘epistemological concepts are not constants, free-standing ideas that are just there, timelessly.’ They have histories, and histories are always social processes, involving institutions, power, language, practices and subjects. (Hacking 2002: 8) Therefore, a sociological perspective can enrich the understanding also of methodological and epistemological issues.
The diversification of objectivity is connected to an increased empirical interest generally in the guiding principles of scientific practice. Many acknowledge today that the aims found in methodologies are values. This discussion was opened up more generally by Thomas Kuhn, showing that criteria for theory choice are best understood as values. How do we judge the rationality or validity of a theory? We need some measure in order to judge the scientific merits of a theory or method. The criteria for doing this have to be weighed against each other, and there can be no method or formula to tell us precisely how to do that. New scientific values may emerge while some fall out of fashion, as e.g. utility has done. (Kuhn
1977) Ideals of good science change over time, including the criteria by which we judge scientific competence and proper research. (Nilsson 2009) Some scholars refer to these scientific values as virtues since, just like moral virtues, they stand as regulative ideals for action, fostering the individuals who adhere to them and may also stand in tension to each other. The values in the service of scientific reason are also referred to as epistemic, cognitive, theoretical or intellectual values. Scientific values include (among others) empirical adequacy, simplicity, complexity, scope, accuracy, fruitfulness, certainty, internal coherence, external consistency with accepted theories, replicability, precision, utility, quantification and objectivity. Some have then wanted to make a distinction between the values present on the inside of science, which are intrinsic to scientific practice, and those on the outside. The outside values are then labelled cultural, contextual or noncognitive values. The nature and validity of the distinction between scientific and cultural values is currently debated. Some argue that cultural values affect how scientific values rise to prominence, and how they are weighed against each other. In different ways, Lorraine Daston, Stephen Toulmin and Helen Longino all hold that the distinction is not clear-cut and unambiguous. Others wish to strictly demarcate the two types of values from each other, in I here have in mind sociologists such as Robert Proctor, Harry Collins, Trevor Pinch, and Bruno Latour, and historians such as Lorraine Daston, Peter Dear, Stephen Toulmin, Peter Galison, Theodore M. Porter, Simon Schaffer, Steven Shapin and Julie Robin Solomon. Also philosophers such as Ian Hacking and Hilary Putnam have produced useful works to this effect.
order to keep culture and society outside of science. (Daston 1991, 1994, 1995, Daston & Galison 1992, 2007, Dear 1992, Kincaid, Dupré & Wylie (eds.) 2007, Lacey 1999, Longino 1990, 1995, Porter 1994, Potter 1995) If we follow the insights developed by Toulmin, Daston, Galison, Longino and others, methodological debates appear as struggles over scientific values. Scientific values are stressed differently in different contexts, and always have to be weighed against each other.
With this in mind, it would be interesting to see if other factors could be found that affect how the choice between scientific values is performed. Do cultural values play a part in this? If so, is this directly or indirectly? What is the relation between scientific and cultural values? The inside of science is normally seen as being free from cultural values and politics. We could well ask: Do methodologies have politics?
Daston & Galison argue that epistemologies are motivated by fear of what improper knowledge might lead to. (Daston & Galison 2007: 49) Richard Bernstein introduced the term Cartesian anxiety to describe the concern for certainty that Descartes in the 17th century established as central for modern philosophy. Descartes was seriously worried about the consequences of not achieving certain knowledge. (Bernstein 1983: 16-19) Stephen Toulmin analyses this anxiety and the existential and political concerns that underlie it, to show how Descartes’ epistemology arises out of its socio-political context. To understand Descartes epistemology and the standards of scientific validity that it proposes, one must understand the cultural currents and political struggles at the time. (Toulmin 1990, see also 2001 and 1961) In a similar case, Julie Robin Solomon shows how Francis Bacon’s political concerns are present in his methodology. His conceptions of the royal and the real are closely linked. The authority of the monarch is transferred unto nature, or matter. His defence of good science is at the same time an advocacy of royal power. (Solomon 1998) Focus Against this background, it becomes interesting to turn to a classic theoretician of both scientific objectivity and the relation between science and values: Max Weber. If there are different varieties of objectivity, the question arises how Weber’s account fit in with others.
What is specific about it, and how does it fare in the light of critical discussions? Weber’s objectivity focuses much on the relation between science, values and politics. How do the current debate and Weber’s account illuminate each other? Bernstein talks of a Cartesian anxiety for certainty. In a similar vein, we may talk of a Weberian anxiety for objectivity.
When reading Weber it is clear that these are matters of grave importance for him. He argues passionately against erroneous methodologies and appears to be deeply concerned about objectivity. What are the anxieties and concerns behind his methodological writings?
Weber provides an interesting case since he is not the simple-minded positivist or objectivist that some believe, but shows instead how culture, concepts, imagination and passions are always present in science. Weber is seen by many as a landmark in the history of science, one of the very first to articulate an ideal that since then has gained widespread acceptance. It has been commonplace to hold up value-freedom as an ideal worth following in science.
(Eliaeson 2002) The renowned Weber scholar Wilhelm Hennis claims that Weber’s ideal should be followed the way it is. (Hennis 1994) Sverker Gustavsson takes Weber to have provided the best solution so far of how to organise the relation between science and politics.
(Gustavsson 1971) Gustavsson has had a large influence upon the last decades of Swedish science policy. (Elam & Glimell 2004) However, even if Weber’s account of scientific objectivity is sophisticated and complex, it still holds problems and tensions. Some of these become more clearly visible in the light of recent scholarship. Weber studies normally do not refer to the large body of research on objectivity and the relation between science and culture, even though it has direct relevance for the issues that Weber discussed. The questions of the relation between science and politics, and between rational knowledge seeking and cultural values, are as pertinent as ever. Recent developments in science studies have perhaps made them even more pressing. Weber is in focus in this study, but the findings should be relevant for contemporary issues of science and politics.
Purpose The aim of this study is to investigate both the internal logic and the external context of Weber’s objectivity. My aim is to reconstruct Weber’s theoretical arguments and the presuppositions they rest upon to see how his account analytically fits together, while at the same time tracing some of the empirical causal connections, social interests and cultural influences that contributed to making his methodology of objectivity into what it is. Weber’s methodological writings are examined both to see what Weber theoretically says on the
matter and what the case empirically shows us. The study thus has a twofold aim:
• To re-examine Weber’s theoretical contribution, with the help of recent scholarship on objectivity and other scientific values and explicate its internal logic. This may expand our understanding of Weber’s concept of objectivity, showing its historical specificity and its strengths and weaknesses.
• To situate Weber in his historical context and use this as a case study of the relation between cultural values and scientific values. This will clarify the relation between scientific text and social-historical context. This may illuminate the present debate, through investigating the relation between inside and outside of science.