One hint that begins to shed light on Weber's view on the fact-value question is a characteristic that recurs in several of Weber's essays and speeches: Weber announces, often at the beginning of a speech or essay, the standpoint from which he plans to evaluate a given situation or set of facts. Likewise, if he changes his focus during a presentation, he often declares the new standpoint. In his opening remarks of "The Nation State and Economic Policy," one of Weber's early speeches, he sets a precedent for this pattern while unveiling a justification for his perspective. The "inaugural lecture is an opportunity," Weber says, "to present and justify openly the personal and, in this sense, `subjective' standpoint from which one judges economic phenomena," revealing that he maintained that even the examination of such seemingly hard data as economic facts were subject to the influence of a perspective determined by values. When Weber shifts course later in the speech to prescribing what should be done to deal with the problems on Germany's eastern frontier, he discloses his new perspective: "the standpoint of the German people." The solution would obviously be quite different if it were made, say, from the standpoint of the Polish workers. Similarly, in one of his later lectures, "The Profession and Vocation of Politics," Weber tells his audience near the beginning of his remarks that he will expose "the political deficiency of this system ... from the standpoint of success."
Weber also criticizes those scientists who often "unconsciously allow the starting point for our analyses and explanations of economic events to determine our judgements of these events," demonstrating that he separates the subjectivity of value-orientation from the objective evaluation that is carried out after the value orientation has been established. In other words, Weber is chastising those scientists who allow the subjectivity of their perspective to determine their analysis of the facts. As examples of the economic scientists who have made this mistake, Weber points to the historical apologists and to the Marxists.
But first, just what is Weber's own standpoint, as determined by his ultimate values? It is, no doubt, influenced by one of his key concerns: "the quality of human being in any given economic and social order." Sometimes, however, his standpoint is nationalistic. And in yet other essays, it champions individual liberty. Indeed, Weber's perspective changes, and it is likely to be driven not by one value but by levels of them, ranging from humanism to a concrete objective. But the fact that Weber had a perspective lends little support to the two-tiered interpretation, other than to show that he believed it was permissible for a social scientist to possess a value-determined standpoint. His treatment of perspective is another matter, however.
What matters even more to Weber is whether one adheres unflinchingly to his values. In "The Profession and Vocation of Politics," Weber explicitly articulates how one must look at life from a chosen value: "What matters is not age but the trained ability to look at realities of life with an unsparing gaze, to bear these realities and be a match for them inwardly." The comment exposes the inherent relationship, for Weber, between value-free analysis and value-driven moral action, a dichotomy that resurfaces in Weber's discussion of an ethics of commitment and an ethics of responsibility. To be "a match for them inwardly" is to cling to one's values even in the face of the inevitable "polar night of icy darkness." "For truly, although politics is something done with the head, it is certainly not done with the head alone." Values are linked to the heart -- to subjectivity -- as much as they are linked to the head.
The answer, as will be shown, is both yes and no -- because, this essay will argue, Weber maintained a two-tiered approach to value-free social science. On the one hand, he believed that ultimate values could not be justified "scientifically," that is, through value-free analysis. Thus, in comparing different religious, political or social systems, one system could not be chosen over another without taking a value or end into consideration; the choice would necessarily be dictated by the analyst's values. On the other hand, Weber believed that once a value, end, purpose, or perspective had been established, then a social scientist could conduct a value-free investigation into the most effective means within a system of bringing about the established end. Similarly, Weber believed that objective comparisons among systems could also be made once a particular end had been established, acknowledged, and agreed upon, a position that allowed Weber to make what he considered objective comparisons among such economic systems as and socialism. Thus, even though Weber maintained that ultimate values could not be evaluated objectively, this belief did not keep him from believing that social problems could be scientifically resolved -- once a particular end or value had been established.
The argument by extension notwithstanding, there is other evidence that Weber held the social scientist's values to be a subjective matter. Portis, for instance, says Weber "believed it impossible to justify ultimate values scientifically. He presumed they were derived from the metaphysical commitments that define one's general outlook." Rogers Brubaker, in The Limits of Rationality, also acknowledges that Weber's discussion of value orientations amplifies those of a long line of ethical relativists. Weber believed that "value orientations are essentially subjective, and that conflict among them cannot be rationally resolved."
Weber's own writings support Lassman and Speirs' conclusion that Weber considered ultimate values and their subsequent political values to be subjectively determined. For instance, in "Between Two Laws" Weber writes that certain communities are able to provide the conditions for not only such "bourgeois" values as citizenship and true democracy, "but also much more intimate and yet eternal values, including artistic ones." The language that Weber uses to characterize these two types of values leads to the interpretation that he held them to be a subjective matter. Regarding the first set of values, labeling them "bourgeois" brings to light their contingent nature: They are the product of a class, a strata. Regarding the second set, the labels "intimate" and "eternal" clearly set them apart from any objective foundation. An "intimate" value is by definition personal, an opinion. Further: It carries the connotation of emotion, of mystification. Likewise with "eternal."
How can Weber's arguments for his ultimate values be reconciled with the view that value-free analysis can be conducted only after a value or purpose has been established? Lassman and Speirs, in their introduction to Weber: Political Writings, provide the answer. "Although Weber believed that values could not be given any form of `ultimate' foundation, it was possible and indeed necessary" to argue for them because "the tensions between competing values are essential in order to prevent cultural stagnation." Even though Lassman and Speirs do not explain precisely how it is possible to put forth objective arguments supporting subjective values while maintaining a commitment to truth, they do allude to one solution: Weber's "scholarly investigations and political essays have the purpose of making clear, in an objective manner as possible, the realities and possibilities given in any particular situation."
Lassman and Speirs supply another piece of evidence for the view that Weber believed a subjective end had to be established before objective analysis could proceed. They write: "The `disenchantment' that Weber described did not stop with liberalism. The traditional philosophical foundations of all political ideologies and doctrines were threatened by a relentless undermining of their own presuppositions." This extract reveals that Weber, at least in Lassman and Speirs' view, was interested in analyzing from an objective viewpoint the makeup of various political systems -- but it also shows that the objective analysis could only be carried out once the purpose of the system, i.e., the ultimate value upon which it is based, is identified and acknowledged.
This essay has more humble ambitions. Although it takes issue in the final section with part of the exhaustive view laid out by Portis, this essay does not purport to set forth yet another definitive interpretation of Weber's views on objectivity. Rather it seeks to shed light on Weber's view of the applicability of objectivity by attempting to answer the overarching question that sits at the foundation of those posed above: Was Weber an advocate of value-free social science?
Max Weber thought that "statements of fact are one thing, statements of value another, and any confusing of the two is impermissible," Ralf Dahrendorf writes in his essay "Max Weber and Modern Social Science," acknowledging that Weber clarified the difference between pronouncements of fact and of value. Although Dahrendorf goes on to note the ambiguities in Weber's writings between factual analysis and value-influenced pronouncements, he stops short of offering an explanation for them other than to say that Weber, being human, could not always live with his own demands for objectivity. Indeed, Dahrendorf leaves unclear exactly what Weber's view of objectivity was. More specifically, Dahrendorf does not venture to lay out a detailed explanation of whether Weber believed that the social scientist could eliminate the influence of values from the analysis of facts.