Key Problems of Sociological Theory

By John Rex | Go to book overview

IX
OBJECTIVITY AND PROOF IN SOCIOLOGY

M AX WEBER held that the sociologist was required to give 'explanations which were adequate on the level of meaning' and also 'causally adequate' explanations.1 In this chapter we shall be concerned to discover what could be meant by these two sorts of explanation and in so doing we shall see how far it is possible for sociology to employ the complex theoretical constructs suggested here and yet at the same time live up to the requirements of empirical science.


WEBER'S CONCEPTION OF 'UNDERSTANDING'

Weber himself had to deal with a tradition in which it was held that the two sorts of explanation mentioned are incompatible with one another, and it will help us to see what he meant by them if we consider the way in which he dealt with the arguments of his predecessors. In particular it is necessary to begin by considering the approach to the social sciences expounded by Wilhelm Dilthey.2

Dilthey's approach is in the idealist tradition and he might be said to hold an idealist theory of action and culture in the precise sense in which Parsons uses the term. In such a theory, to quote Parsons again: -- 'Spatiotemporal phenomena become related

____________________
1
Weber, Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Chapter 1.
2
See Hodges, Wilhelm Dilthey, An Introduction ( 1949), and The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey ( 1952).

-156-

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