Max Weber's definition of social action. Definition of social action

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In Max Weber's view, the sociologist's function is to understand the meaning of the calls social actions, and to do so is to find the causal links that determine them. It is understood that imitative actions, in which there is no meaning for the action, are not called social actions. But the object of sociology is an infinite reality and to analyze it it is necessary to build ideal types, which do not actually exist, but which guide the aforementioned analysis.

The ideal types serve as models and from them the aforementioned infinity can be summarized in four fundamental actions, namely:

1. rational social action towards ends, in which the action is strictly rational. An end is taken and it is then rationally pursued. There is the choice of the best means to an end;

2. Rational social action regarding values, in which it is not the end that guides the action, but the value, be it ethical, religious, political or aesthetic;

3. affective social action, in which the conduct is driven by feelings, such as pride, revenge, madness, passion, envy, fear, etc., and

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4. traditional social action, whose motivating source is deep-rooted customs or habits. (Note that the last two are irrational).

For Weber, social action is one that is oriented towards the other. However, there are some collective attitudes that cannot be considered social. With regard to the sociological method, Weber differs from Durkheim (who uses observation and experimentation as a method. it gives from the comparative analysis, that is, it makes the analysis of the different societies which must be compared with each other posteriorly). When treating the social facts as things, Durkheim wanted to show that the scientist needs to break with any pre-notion, that is, it is necessary, from the beginning of research on society, to abandon of the value judgments that are proper to the sociologist (neutrality), a total separation between the subject who studies and the object studied, which the sciences also intend natural. However, for Weber, insofar as reality is infinite, and whoever studies it makes only a cut in order to explain it, the cut made is proof of someone's choice to study this or that in this or that time. In this sense, there is not, as Durkheim wanted, complete objectivity. Value judgments appear when defining the study topic.

So it was his living with the Protestant doctrine that influenced Weber in the writing of “Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism”. For this theorist, it is only after the definition of the theme, when one goes to the research itself, that it becomes possible to be objective and impartial.

Compare Durkheim and Weber, now from the point of view of the object of sociological study. The first will say that sociology must study the social facts, which need to be: general, exterior and coercive, as well as objective, for this to be correctly called “science”. While the second will choose to study the social action which, as described above, is divided into typologies. Furthermore, unlike Durkheim, Weber does not rely on the natural sciences in order to build his methods. of analyzes and does not even believe that it is possible to find general laws that explain the entire world Social. Its interest is not, therefore, to discover universal rules for social phenomena. But when he rejects research that boils down to a mere description of the facts, he, in turn, walks in search of causal laws, which are susceptible to understanding based on rationality scientific.

By João Francisco P. Cabral
Brazil School Collaborator
Graduated in Philosophy from the Federal University of Uberlândia - UFU
Master's student in Philosophy at the State University of Campinas - UNICAMP

Source: Brazil School -

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