Although sometimes described as a 'personal idealist', Webb was an eclectic philosopher, responding to and drawing on a wide range of ancient and modern writers. He took from his teacher, Cook Wilson, a realism 'for which spirit is no less real than matter'. None the less he was closer to the absolute idealists than his friend Hastings Rashdall. He took up the controversy about individuality and personality in the first of his series of Gifford Lectures. He maintained (in God and Personality, 1919) that God cannot be finite but He is none the less personal. Webb was a prolific writer and capable of prodigious scholarship (as he proved with his editions of the writings of John of Salisbury). His skill and care in attending to the thoughts of others was valued by his pupils, including W.D.Ross. But his written work has been less influential.
Sources: DNB 1951-60; CBP II.
German, b: 21 April 1864, Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany, d: 14 June 1920, Munich. Cat: Neo-Kantian; sociologist; social philosopher; philosopher of the social sciences. Ints: Philosophy of social science. Educ: Heidelberg, Berlin and Göttingen. Infls: Literary influences include Kant, Hegel and Dilthey; main personal influence, Wilhelm Rickert. Appts: Professor of Economics, Freiburg, 1894-6, Heidelberg, 1896-7; prolonged ill health prevented a full academic career; made 'Honorarprofessor' at Heidelberg, 1903; associate editor ofArchivfür Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, from 1903; Professor of Sociology, Vienna, 1918; Professor of Economics, Munich, 1919-20.
Weber was not primarily a philosopher. The most philosophically interesting part of Weber's work is found in his reflections on the methods of the social sciences. He wanted the social sciences to be relevant to political and social issues, but thought it an ethical duty of the social scientist (as a scientist) to be 'value-free'. Science could tell us the most effective means to a given end but could not settle for us which ends we should choose. Choice of ends was a matter for a personal commitment, which a serious person must necessarily make, but there was a wide range of possible internally consistent value-systems between which to choose.
The distinctive feature of the social sciences was that they dealt with human behaviour to the extent that it is seen by the agent as having a meaning involving relations to others. The task of social science is to understand this meaning, with a view to formulating general laws of social behaviour (verstehende Soziologie or interpretative sociology). Explanations in social science must be adequate both at the level of meaning and at the causal level. To grasp the meaning of an action is not necessarily to share the agent's values; nor does the possibility of such 'understanding' (Verstehen) imply that the action is rational. It is possible, however, to construct 'ideal types' of perfectly rational behaviour,