Objectivity and Partisanship in Science

by Aant Elzinga
University of Gothenburg


This article makes an attempt to penetrate the issue of partisanship in research. There is no immediate reference to the field of social anthropology. However, the relevance of the issue should be obvious, in the light of present day social and political developments in the world.

There is a trend in the world today for countries to be striving for independence. Nations are moving towards liberation and peoples strive for revolution.

This historical trend of our times is most evident in the Third World, where its spearhead is directed against all forms of reaction, but particularly against the hegemonism of the two superpowers. In this situation, the social scientist is called upon to consider the nature of the work he is doing. Which side are you on? This is a question one hears more and more frequently. It is especially relevant for the field of social anthropology, parts of which traditionally grew up in the context of open colonialism and imperialism.

The open partisanship of some of the traditional efforts is no longer tolerable. But what about the ideal of science and the ethics of science which grew up along with traditional approaches? Are the very methods and procedures not affected if one accepts the fact that the researcher is not a neutral observer who stands outside and beyond social and political realities? Such rethinking necessarily involves rethinking the whole problem of "objectivity".

The classical ideal of science from the 19th century has been one

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of "value-neutrality". In positivist thought this doctrine is legitimated by a theory of knowledge.1

Now, if we dismiss relativism, is it possible to achieve some kind of objective stand that does not obscure the social relations of science? This is the question the article attempts to answer.

One way of approaching the question would be to attach to the writings of radical scholars in the field of social anthropology. This might be done by making an analysis of the debate on relevant issues. Material for this is not lacking. Wertheim, for example, maintains that relativism denied the relevance of the October revolution and the Chinese revolution. In his view functionalism expresses a reactionary standpoint.2 Hamza Alawi and others have also focussed on the kind of commitment involved in the traditional schools of thought and their methods.3 In the debate on the role of social anthropology, some writers have also pointed to several aspects of political and ideological significance.

I have not chosen to analyse the debate or attach to any of the radical contemporary scholars� works. This is partly because I lack the competence of first hand familiarity with the field. But also I think a look at some historical and social roots of the classical doctrine of value-neutrality which came to be assumed by functionalists is useful. It may help to bring some theoretical clarity onto the subject, as well as encourage historical conscinusness in regard to the present-day discussion.

The relativists absolutize norms of the establishment. But this is done in such a way that it seems as if norms are absent, and that the science is "value-free". The norms are tacitly projected into social studies and assumed as the height of "rationality". "Objectivity" is made to coincide with this "rationality". That which does not coincide is not "objective", not "scientific".

Basically the operation rests upon a form of subjectivism. It is a systematic subjectivism.

The most typical form is found in modem day empiricism. There the problem of objectivity is defined in terms of a relationship between theory and empirical data, instead of referring to a relationship between theory and objective reality. We can say that the theory is related to its empirical referent (sense data, observation statements, etc.), but not to its real referent (i.e. to objective reality outside our heads).4 This is a


non-realist view. In Marxist philosophy of science, it is called an idealist view.

The empiricist finds it natural to define "objectivity" as some kind of "value-neutrality". Among observation statements and data, he distinguishes facts and evaluations. Research is supposed to involve only the reference to facts and not involve values or value-judgements. These latter are rejected as metaphysics.

But the empiricist, because he does not penetrate beyond the world of phenomena, does not see that his own research work implies a social orientation and participation in regard to different forces at work in society.

The alternative, assuming research as socially partisan activity, leads to a reformulation of the problem of objeètivity in "realist" terms. In Marxist philosophy this "realist" view is called "materialist". The point of departure for research is assumed to lie in an objective world, of which the researcher is a part. Theories are held to mirror this reality (in the sense of giving an epistemological map). Instead of assuming "objectivity" to be synonymous with "impartiality, neutrality and freedom of values", a distinction is introduced. It is the distinction between objectivity and partisanship.

Partisanship is an objective factor. It must not be confused with partiality, which is a subjective and psychological factor. Partisanship relates to the social orientation and direction of the scientific activity. In Marxist literature it is also referred to as class-standpoint.

Objectivity, on the other hand, relates to the epistemic mapping (i.e. mirroring) quality of a piece of knowledge.

From this point of view it is seen that the "objectivity" of modern day empiricism in fact is a species of subjectivism. It is systematic subjectivism that hides its own class-standpoint or partisanship, and claims to give "neutral" scientific results. In fact, it is a partisanship that thus passes off the standpoint and view of the ruling classes as being most rational and universal, as the scientific view. Any other view, e.g. that of the oppressed classes, is by definition "unscientific" and not "rational".

The contradiction between the two points of view may be summarized as follows: on the one hand, we have a bourgeois liberal ideal of science where objectivity is defined as "value-neutrality"; on the other hand, we have the Marxist ideal of science with its distinction between objectivity


and partisanship. According to the first ideal, as it is formulated within the positivist traditions, a scientist must seperate fact and value. According to the second ideal, he must "seek truth from facts and serve people" (Mao Tsetung).

In order to explore the differences in the two theories of "objectivity" and ideals of science, I shall look at the classical formulation of the doctrine of "value-neutrality" in the work of the sociologist Max Weber. There one can still see clearly the polemical situation in which this doctrine was formed. It will make it easier to understand how it was possible for the partisanship of the doctrine of "non-partisanship" to become obscured later on in the works of the functionalists. Another reason for concentrating on Weber is that he is usually reckoned as the classical defender of value-neutrality in the social sciences.5

In my view, the way to objectivity lies in overcoming subjectivist tendencies, including subjectivity which may arise from unbridled enthusiasm of commitment. This does not get rid of partisanship. It places it under the same critical eye with which one should constantly review the history of one�s own field.6

The Historical and Social Context of Weber�s Thought

At the turn of the century the theories and views of Marx were of considerable significance in the history of Germany. By the 1880�s and 1890�s the German labour movement had become a formidable political force which was a serious competitor of the bourgeoisie in its quest to take over the reigns of power from the decadent Prussian aristocracy.7 Since the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie had rapidly expanded its economic domination, while feudalism in the realm of agriculture was also losing ground. However, the feudal Junkers still retained some political powers up to the time that the Hohenzollern dynasty was toppled and the Weimar Republic founded� the bourgeoisie gained political power in a compromise with the landed aristocracy and against the growing proletariat.

Weber saw these events quite clearly and participated in them. His sympathies lay with the position of compromise between aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Throughout his lifetime Weber remained a passionate


hanger-on of German nationalism.8 When the First World War came, he at first thought it a "great and wonderful war", but a year later he turned against some of its aspects which he thought should be checked. He denounced the "gamble of munition makers and agrarian capitalists", who were growing fat on the war.9 His criticism was directed against the symptoms as such. Weber became a republican only in the year 1918.

Weber was well aware of the development of the socialist movement in Germany and in Russia. In particular, he seems to have understood a basic theoretical point at issue in the split of this movement. This is exemplified by his comments on the dispute between Lenin and Plechanov, which became a dispute between revolutionary Marxism and revisionism.10 Furthermore, he was interested in how, within the Social Democratic Party in Germany, there developed a leadership clique, some of them coming from the labour aristocratic stratum of the working class, who could be summoned upon to betray the interests of the German workers and support German nationalism and chauvinism under the bourgeois regime. Weber explained it as a bureaucratization of the party leadership, which developed interests of its own and tended to harmonize with the interests of the ruling class.11 He regarded bureaucracy as inevitable in a modern industrialized and highly complex society. The only way he saw of overcoming rationalized domination (bureaucracy) was by reverting to more primitive forms of organization and relinquishing the technologocial advances of capitalism. Welfare (as increase in economic abundance), he thought, presupposed the maintenance of this form of rationalized domination based on knowledge. Consequently, even under socialism, bureaucratic domination would still be a problem to be lived with. He could not conceive of the possibility of its Aufhebung as Marx had.12

In an inaugural address at the University of Freiburg in 1895, Weber touched upon the question whether the working class was ripe for political power over the German nation. His answer was a definite no. He maintained that it was "infinitely less ripe" than the "clique of journalists" that "want to monopolize its leadership".13 Here he is referring to some of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party who were on their way to leave revolutionary Marxism and incline towards the kind of standpoint Weber himself embraced.


Weber�s own class bias is well expressed by himself in his Freiburg speech:

"Ich bin em Mitglied der bürgerlichen Klassen, fühle mich als solches und bin erzogen in ihren Anschauungen und Idealen. Allein es ut der Beruf gerade unserer Wissenschaft, zu sagen, was ungern gehört wird � nach ohm, nach unten, und auch der eigenen Klasse, � und wenn ich mich frage, ob das Burgertum Deutschlands brute reif ist, die politische leitende Klasse der Nation zu sein, so vermag ich heute nicht diese Frage zu bejahen. Nicht aus eigener Kraft des Bürgertums ist der deutsche Staat geschaffen worden, und als er geschaffen war, stand an der Spitze der Nation jmne Cäsarengestalt aus anderem als bürgerlichen Holze." 14

Here is the key to Weber�s own partisanship, which is later covered up by talk of "neutrality". He advocates a compromise stand between the bourgeoisie and the Prussian Junkers, and wishes for a containment of the working class movement within the bounds of the existing order. For this particular defence of German expansionism and the royal Hohenzollern family Weber was rewarded with a Chair of Economics at Freiburg. In this way he formally joined the ranks of the many professors who formed the spiritual bodyguard of the class compromise. It is in this light one should look at Weber�s intellectual production. As Oskar Lange points out in his book Political Economy, "The historical trend in political economy involved apologetics on two sides. On the one hand it defended the capitalist mode of production against critical analysis by Marxism, on the other it defended the position of the feudal and bureaucratic elements against criticism based on classical political economy. This was achieved by denying the existence of economic laws and by substituting economic history for political economy or by idealistic historical constructions like those of Werner Sombart and Max Weber."15

Weber�s Anti-Marxism16

Weber�s opposition to Marxism was defined theoretically on at least two central issues of sociology: the one is the relationship between objectivity and partisanship, where he demanded a separation of "fact" and value"; the other is in his denial that human history can be explained by reference to historical laws. The latter claim is against the Marxist one of the existence of such laws and how knowledge of them should be


used to change the world in accordance with the interests of a specific class.

Weber dismissed any structural interpretation of collectivities. This was partly under the influence of the neo-Kantian concept of history as a purely individualizing science. He also made a nomsnalist reduction of social phenomena to individual actions.17

Marxism, on the other hand, was concerned with the collective actions of groups and classes of people, and to see these in relation to definite historical laws of social developments. And to do this was not just an academic task free of value commitment. According to Marx, the very laws of historical development, revealing the class of the expropriated to be the bearers of the future society, necessitated a commitment on the part of the scientific investigator. In his work the student of society necessarily takes a stand either for or against this class and its historical aspirations. No third position is possible.

Thus Marx insisted that objectivity, in the sense of ridding oneself of false consciousness, is intimately bound up with and facilitated by the social scientist�s alignment with the revolutionary class in society. Lenin spoke of the example of Marx as uniting "a strict and most scientific spirit with a revolutionary spirit . . ." so that these become inseparable in theory; "indeed the very task of theory is, as the goal of science, to support the oppressed class in economic struggle".18 And according to Marx, the task of the social scientist is, on the basis of his investigations, to formulate the struggle-slogans (Kampfparolle) which will guide the oppressed class to victory in the contest for state power. This implies quite another view of the relationship between science and values than the one Weber tried to develop. Lenin, for example, approvingly cited an author who had written: "in Marxism there is not a gram of ethics from beginning to end"; for in as far as theory is concerned, Marxism subordinates the �ethical standpoint� to the �principle of causality�, and as far as praxis is concerned, Marxism reduces it to class struggle".19

This gives some indication of the viewpoint in opposition to which Weber developed his "third standpoint" philosophy.

Weber�s standpoint on two of the central issues of sociology�his assumption of a subjectivist ideal of value-neutrality, and his denial of historical laws�are intimately connected with basic components of his world picture. On the first, his position flows from his acceptance of


this (capitalist) world as the most rational of all possible worlds. It involves capitulation to, and acceptance of the rationalized world as it appears. Objectivity in the field of science is equated with formal rationality in society. This presupposes a fundamentally contemplative relation between theory and reality. The active subjectivity whereby the scientific investigator changes the world is denied, because the researcher is at most conceived of as constituting the meaning of a segment of reality, not the reality itself."20

On the second-named central issue of sociology, Weber�s subjectivism is more evident. He subscribes to the subjective method he calls "methodological individualism", as against "methodological holism". This implies that he conceives of the historical subject always as the individual and not the group, the class, or the community. Reality presents itself to the individual in modern society as fragmented, and for Weber it remains so. The meaning of social action, according to him, must always be understood from the standpoint of the abstract individual actor.21

Weber�s classical essay on Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism, which appeared in the Arkiv 1904-5, reflects his partisanship.22 So do his studies of modem bureaucracy. He substituted "status" and "strata" as key terms to replace the Marxist class concept, which he only retained as a secondary concept.

Consider Weber�s famous work on Protestantism and the spirit of Capitalism.

Like Marx, Weber was confronted with the questions of the origins and development of capitalism. But unlike Marx before him, he bases himself on an idealist interpretation of history and economic development, and not on the historical materialist view of man and society. The key to the understanding of economic development for him was to be found, not in the mode of production, but in the "spirit" of a historical epoch. For example, the "spirit" of capitalism, as the driving force of capitalist development, is defined in terms of the psychological attitudes forming the economic mentality associated with gainful activity in a money-economy. The source of this new economic ethic, which took hold of men�s minds and changed their life style, Weber claims, lay in the Protestant Reformation. The value-system of the Catholic ascetic ideal of the monk in his cell gave way to the value-system and work


ethic of Protestantism�the ideal of hard work, frugality and moderation. Capitalism, conceived in this way, is the result of a change in values (Reformation) effecting a revolution in economic mentality. This is how Weber saw the causal connection between capitalism and puritanism. It was this idealist alternative he put forward against the historical materialism of Marx.

According to Weber�s theory, economic development is determined not, as historical materialists maintain, by mutual interaction of the productive forces with the base and superstructure, and the concomitant class struggle within a social formation, but by the internal development of value-systems and the spirit of particular economic systems. Weber also seems to have meant that together with capitalism (and militarism) there develops the most advanced form of means-ends rationality, namely the bureaucracies of the bourgeois state machine.

The historical data unearthed by Weber in connection with his case-study on Protestantism and Capitalism fit in with the historical materialist conception without difficulty. The values and mentality Weber spoke of as the "spirit of capitalism" are a product of particular socioeconomic conditions. "It is a part of the historic substratum which facilitated the growth of capitalism; in early capitalist development these ethico-economic attitudes (values), strengthened and popularized by religion, became part of the superstructure of the emerging new social formation."23

What Weber does in his theory of capitalism is to separate the valuesystem or ethic from the socio-economic conditions which contributed to its formation as part of the superstructure of society. Having thus analytically divorced capitalist mentality from its social roots in the previous social formation, feudal society, he then projects the fiction of the ideal typical "economic man" which later economists came to see in total isolation from society. For later economists and sociologists using the subjective method, it became a question of studying actual and fictitious values, preferences, and goals in relation to an ideal "rational" actor. Sociology and economics became wholly subjectivist, with the result that political economy as a discipline has become liquidated in many countries in the West, being replaced by subjectivist studies of rational action and the logic of rational choice.24 The Marxist class concepts referring to actual modes of social production, which Weber at

least still borrowed in eclectical fashion, have been rejected as "unscientific" or "speculative". And when the demand for a more holistic approach appears anew, as it does today, cybernetic or systems theoretical models have to be used to rediscover things that Marxist sociology has assumed as elementary principles all along. This does not mean to say that those who are applying general systems theory in the study of business enterprises will be led�by reality�to a Marxist conception of man and society. On the contrary, their partisan world picture often restricts the holistic approach to the one developed in the study of servomachines. Onto this may be grafted a theory of values based upon a subjectivist view of society that hardly goes beyond the "spirit" of Weber. One obtains at best an eclectical combination of a theory of machines (socio-technical systems) with a theory of values (axiology).

At this stage we no longer have just the liquidation of political economy, but arrive at a liquidation of sociology. In their place is substituted the theory of human engineering in which the human being is reckoned as the appendage of a technical system. One arrives at a complete reification of social phenomena, based on a tacit assumption of the rationality of the present order.

But as the motive force of social development is still sought after in the psychology of individual "decision-makers", their world pictures and conflicting "value"-systems, rather than in the laws of production, classes and class struggle in the social formation of capitalism, the question of goal determination becomes highly problematic. One way out of the impasse is to attempt the construction of an idealistic concept of "telos" corresponding to the steering and control functions associated with machine-systems, but with a more "human" content.

Such subjectivist theories are doomed to remain at the level of Weber�s theory of capitalism. At best they can provide a diagnosis of the ills of contemporary society, but they never show a way out. They remain, at their best, guides for piece-meal engineering (Popper), and at their worst, poor mystifications.

At the other pole we have Marxist sociology with its implicit demand that the researcher must go beyond piece-meal diagnoses and provide Kampfparolle to lead the majority of mankind onto a road out of the structural ills of contemporary society. As a discipline it is a sociology within the framework of a political economy.


Value-Neutrality, Formal Rationality in the Sphere of Science

 I have shown how Weber took "formal rationality" as the primary category for understanding social action. He distinguished between the rationality of the ends (substantive rationality) which must be judged on the basis of a value system, and means-ends rationality. The latter is formal rationality, and need not be judged on the basis of values, but rather on the basis of some measure of efficiency.

Where Marx began with ownership and production of wealth, Weber concentrates on distribution of wealth. Where Marx on the basis of a materialist theory of ownership and production uses "class" and "class struggle" as key concepts in his sociology, Weber on the basis of an idealist theory of distribution of wealth and power substitutes the concepts "status" and "rationality".

In economic anthropology one may compare the substantivists who have built up their whole economic theory in opposition to formalists, but with emphasis on the function of distribution. In pre-capitalist society the economy is embedded in society and the mode of production is of central interest for grasping the character of society.25

In the Marxist world picture, conflict and process are central components. In Weber�s world picture, the focus is on harmony and the regulation of balance between a plurality of separate (autonomous) spheres of activity in modern society. Each of them is governed by a mode of rationality. Modern bureaucracy is for Weber the embodiment of the highest form of formal rationality. Its ethos is encoded in the rules and regulations of the ideal Prussian civil servant.

Now Weber�s attempts to demonstrate the emergence of capitalism from Calvinism may ultimately rest on the notion that "rationalism" of the one sphere (economy�business ethos) springs from that of the other (religion�puritan ethos).26

Similarly, value-neutrality in science may be understood as a codex for formal rationality in a specific sphere of human endeavour. As such, it would be a codex regulating the relationship between that sphere and others, like industry, private life, etc., but in particular the relationship between science and the state. This is an interpretation that fits in with Weber�s basic world picture components. The value-neutrality doctrine would thus correspond to the conscious operation of the basic mode of


formal rationality which Weber made the subject of many of his investigations in other spheres, like religion, economy, law. Let us call "value-neutrality" the scientific modality of formal rationality, corresponding to the other modalities of rationalism in other spheres�puritanism in religion, capitalism in economy, bureaucracy in administration and organization Conceived in this way, "value-neutrality" as a part of an ideal of science provides a starting point for a series of case-studies within the framework of a Weberean program of research in the sociology of knowledge. And this would be a basically anti-Marxist program of research, since it rests on fundamental categories which have been formulated in opposition to the basic Marxist categories.27

Weber considered the Marxist approach to social studies with its specific "value-relevance" presuppositions as heuristically very fruitful, and he says it should be encouraged. But when it comes to the partisanship being expressed in the results, Weber objects. He states that the materialist conception of history "as a Weltanschauung or as a formula for the causal explanation of historical reality is to be rejected emphatically".

Weber�s objection here is twofold:

1) he is against the Marxist thesis of partisanship in science which is diametrically opposed to his own doctrine of value-neutrality. According to Marx, the materialist theory of history contains in it, so to speak, a Partisanship which makes the investigator duty-bound to place himself on the standpoint of a definite social group.28

2) and even more, Weber is against the presupposition on which Marx bases his partisan stance�viz., the claim that there exist objective laws of historical development, and furthermore that a grasp of these by the working and oppressed populace will enable man to emancipate himself from the various social prisons which Weber assumed as inevitable expressions of modern "rationalism" in its various modalities.29

Weber might characterize "modern industrial society", like many critical bourgeois sociologists do today, as a military-ndustrial complex of capitalism, militarism and corporative state bureaucracy, whereas Marx would first of all underline its class character.


Value-Neutrality and Bourgeois Nationalism

The issue of objectivity and partisanship is for Weber intimately linked to his interest in German national unity at a time of social upheaval and threat of revolutionary civil war. This is evident from a reading of his speech "Science as a Vocation" (1918). Here the value-neutrality doctrine may be seen as an effort to establish a practical modus vivendi among academic persons who subscribed to violently opposite political points of view. The doctrine prescribes limits to discussions in order to safeguard the universities from breakdown under ideological chaos. Weber essentially makes a plea for self-censorship to avoid state-censorship at the universities. He also warns that if the lecture hall is made into a forum for value affirmation, students may become subject to indoctrination. But the real fear is that if the revolutionary ideas of the time are not kept out of the universities, the state authorities may step in with drastic measures. Autonomy of academic life would be jeopardized. It was obviously not so much aesthetic or even religious values Weber found objectionable, but rather political ones. This is evident in his speech, in which he argues for the safeguarding of the autonomy of the University by observing a strict dichotomy of "fact" and "value". This separation corresponds to the dividing line between ��citizen" and "private" person.

Weber�s ideal of the expert may well be influenced by his conception of bureaucracy. His idea of a professional code of honour which should regulate a given sphere of activities can already be found in his earliest writings. In connection with his studies of anarchy on the stock markets, he entertained the ideal of a court of honour to the jurisdiction of which individuals playing the market should be subject. A good business ethic was to assist in establishing an autonomous sphere of commercial activity. At the time, the period of monopolization of capital during the 1880�s and 1890�s, ruthless speculation had been shown to have such a disquieting effect on the market that there were many attempts to introduce legal control over stock and commodity exchanges to prevent the periodic breakdowns in crises.

In the same way Weber�s idea, expressed in the value-neutrality doctrine, is nothing short of the demand that scientists observe a sort of tacit social contract with the state. The scientist binds himself not to


voice opposition to the ruling social policies, and the state in return will allow him his "freedom" and "autonomy" within his special sphere of activity. Engels once observed that the whole German state and its authority rested on this principle: "But do not forget that the German Empire, like all small states and generally all modern states, is a product of contract . . . If one side breaks the contract, the whole contract falls to the ground; the other side then is no longer bound . . ." .30

Engels also noted how, in the face of the advance of Prussian militarism and national chauvinism on the one hand, and a strong labour movement on the other, the bourgeois intellectual tended to turn away from the real world and create a mythology at the same time as his fortunes increasingly came to depend on the real world of power and state politics. The following general observation (1886) is not unfitting as a retort to Weber�s speech of 1918: "But to the same degree that speculation abandoned the philosopher�s study in order to set up its temple in the Stock Exchange, educated Germany lost the great aptitude for theory which had been the glory of Germany in the days of its deepest humiliation�the aptitude for purely scientific investigation, irrespective of whether the result obtained was particularly applicable or not, whether likely to offend the police or not. Official German natural science, it is true, maintained its position in the front rank . . ." And further, "in the sphere of historical sciences, philosophy included, the old fearless zeal for theory has now disappeared completely, along with classical philsophy. Inane eclecticism and anxious concern for career and income, descending to the most vulgar job-hunting, occupy its place. The official representatives of these scientists have become undistinguished ideologists of the bourgeoisie and the existing state�but at a time when both stand in open antagonism to the working class".31

A Summing up of the Case-Study Material

In this sketch of a case-study I have tried to reveal the ideological content of Weber�s value-neutrality doctrine. The relevant "steering" factors that have been taken into consideration are of two kinds, "external" and "internal". The "external" factors comprise material and ideological conditions which it is reasonable to suppose "influenced" and contributed to the formation of Weber�s world picture. The "internal" factors


comprise social, ideological and methodological determinants in the production of ideas within the field of sociology at the turn of the century. The different types of factors I have mentioned (there may be more I have not mentioned) may be summed up as follows:

a. External Factors

1). the level of development of the productive forces, and the situation in the class struggle in Germany towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

2) the world outlook of the class ruling Germany at the time, and Weber�s adherence to this reigning ideology, which was in sharp conflict with the ideology of the working class and its leading international and national spokesmen.

b. Internal Factors

1) the reflection in social science of the ideological battles between the standpoints and viewpoints of the two major classes in Germany at the time: this reflection as expressed in standpoint, viewpoint and method in Weber�s sociology as opposed to the standpoint, world view and basic categorizations, as well as methodology in Marx�s social studies. Weber�s work formulates a bourgeois sociology conceived in opposition to Marxism. This has definite implications in Weber�s work, as to the construction of concepts and the very idea of what is "scientific" and "objective". In this context, Weber�s value-neutrality doctrine is a class biased view of "objectivity" which favours ruling class interests while it puts up a methodological barrier against any partisanship in the production of ideas radically opposed to these interests.

2) there may be a spontaneous growth of a positivist ideal of science in the context of explorative studies in a given field.

3) to this is added the far-reaching specialization within science towards the end of the 19th century. In this context, one may obtain spontaneously an attitude of narrow professionalism. One gets the "positivist" view of the expert who only cares for his own specialty and ignores its connections to other fields of investigation, on the one hand, and its connections to society as a whole, on the other.


4) these tendencies to a spontaneous "positivist" view may have become strengthened by the reigning idea of the academic as a servant of the state who was bound by a tacit social contract to curb criticism directed against that authority. Thus the traditional corporate freedom of the university vis à vis the state was already absent in the newly created University of Berlin (1810). Towards the end of the 19th century, ruling class ideology laid a strong emphasis on this sort of contractual compromise, since the power of the ruling classes in fact rested on a compromise between the economically strong bourgeoisie and thc militarily strong Prussian Junkers. As one of the spiritual bodyguards of the House of Hohenzollern, Weber became an intellectual defender of German imperialism, and as such used the means available to him to combat forces and intellectual trends that tended to undermine national unity. In this context, his value-neutrality doctrine may be seen as a methodological legitimation of the tacit contract between science and state, which was in the direct interest of German national unity and expansionism.

5) A factor internal to Weber�s intellectual development was his fascination with bureaucratic systems which became the subject of many of his studies. In these studies he rejected Marx�s basic categories and developed an alternative to the Marxist theory of capitalism. A basic category was "rationality". In this context his value-neutrality doctrine may be understood as a codex to facilitate the correct operation of formal rationality in the sphere of (social) science. Such an interpretation would provide his doctrine with an "internal" rationale based only on his own conceptual constructions.

Further work in this direction was done by the functionalists, whose formulations and defence of the value-neutrality doctrine have been very influential for a whole generation of social scientists, especially in North America.

Weber�s ideal of science may be understood as the expression of an anti-Marxist conceptualization of scientific activity. Therefore, in practice, it serves to exclude Marxist social science from the realm of what is considered the legitimate "framework of scientific discussion". Value-neutrality as a doctrine belongs to a paradigm which as a rule relegates the scientific socialism of Marx to the "unscientific".

The same tendency may be found in modern day positivist literature


which does not immediately acknowledge Weber as one of the founding fathers.

The interesting point is how this literature tacitly assumes the standpoint and viewpoint of the establishment.

Typically, one assumes that there exists some form of "raw" data. In actual fact the theoretical framework and the set of values influence the researcher in his very idea of what is unadulterated data. The standpoint and viewpoint of the establishment may be assumed, but since the abstraction involves the ideal of the "neutral" observer standing beyond and above classes and conflicts in society, the researcher will hold the ideal "rational" viewpoint to be value-free. But it is this abstract standpoint of the "neutral" observer which is in itself a projection of norms and values into the data obtained. This bias seems to be absent since it presents itself as the standpoint of a universal observer. The bias, which in the last resort is a partisan class-bias, lies in the very criteria of "objectivity" and "rationality".32 This becomes evident in cases where the school of thought or research-tradition is confronted with Marxist research which embodies a diametrically opposite partisan stand.

One of the tasks of our own field, the theory of science and research, is to reveal partisanship in scientific work by throwing in relief arguments and debates between different schools.


1. Håkan Törnebohm, Perspectives on Inquiring Systems, report no. 53 (Oct. 1973) of the Department of Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg. It is this work of Tornebohm�s which originally inspired a part of the formulation of the problem treated in this article. See, e.g., Aant Elzinga, Objectivity and Partisanship in Science, report no. 55 (Nov. 1973), Department of Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg. [-> main text]

2. W. F. Wertheim, Evolution and Revolution. [-> main text]

3. Talal Asad, ed. Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. [-> main text]

4. For a discussion of "real referents", see Mario Bunge, Philosophy of Physics (Dordrecht-Holland, 1973), Ch. 4. [-> main text]

5. Sverker Gustavsson, Debatten am forskningen och SamMillet (Stockholm, 1971) contains a study of this. Gustavsson describes Weber�s view as the "classical doctrine".


Weber outlined his ideal of objectivity in a speech at the University of Munich. The speech was entitled "Science as a Vocation". This was in the year 1918. On an earlier occasion Weber developed his standpoint in an editorial article when he took over the editorship of the journal Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (1904). [-> main text]

6. "Natural scientists believe that they free themselves from philosophy by ignoring it or abusing it. They cannot, however, make any headway without thought, and for thought they need thought determinations. But they take these categories unreflectingly from the common consciousness of so-called educated persons, which is dominated by the relics of long obsolete philosophies, or from the little bit of philosophy compulsory listened to at the University (which is not only fragmentary, but also a medley of views of people belonging to the most varied and usually the worst schools), or from uncritical and unsystematic reading of philosophical writings of all kinds. Hence they are no less in bondage to philosophy, but unfortunately in most cases to the worst philosophy, and those who abuse philosophy most are slaves to precisely the worst vulgarised relics of the worst philosophies. Natural scientists may adopt whatever attitude they please, they are still under the domination of philosophy. It is only a question whether they want to be dominated by a bad, fashionable philosophy or by a form of theoretical thought which rests on acquaintance with the history of thought and its achievements." Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature (3rd edn., Moscow, 1964), p. 213. See further Aant Elzinga, The Growth of Knowledge, Some Notes on possible historiographical Models; Report no. 35, Department of Theory of Science (1 June 1972) University of Gothenburg. [-> main text]

7. In 1890 the Social Democratic Party in Germany, which was still essentially a revolutionary party, received 1,787,000 votes at the national elections. This was one quarter of all the votes cast. [-> main text]

8. ". . . he combined an ideology of passionate nationalism with a profound disdain for all other ideologists, including nationalists". W. G. Runciman, A Critique of Max Weber�s Philosophy of Social Science (Cambridge, 1972), p. 50. [-> main text]

9. H. Frankel, Capitalist Society and Modern Sociology (London, 1970), pp. 30-37. [-> main text]

10. Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (London, 1964), p. 216. [-> main text]

11. "Parteiwesen und Parteiorganisation", Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (5th edn. Tübingen, 1972), p. 850. [-> main text]

12. Jean Cohen, "Max Weber and the dynamics of rationalized domination", Telos, nr 12 (Winter, 1972), pp. 62-86. [-> main text]

13. "Der Nationalstaat und die Volkswirtschaftspolitik", Max Weber Gesammelte Politischen Schriften (red. Johannes Winckelmann � Tubingen, 1971), p. 22. [-> main text]

14. Ibid., p. 20. See also the statement of Marianne Weber: "His scholarship


simply depended upon capital rent. Furthermore, he remained personally an �individualist� ". H. H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills ed. From Max Weber (London, 1948), p. 41. [-> main text]

15. Oskar Lange, op. cit., pp. 302-303. Lange also writes: "After the unsuccessful revolution of 1848 the bourgeoisie reached a compromise with the feudal landowners and the state bureaucracy connected with them. The compromise was a result of the weakness of the bourgeoisie in the face of the fear aroused by the rapidly growing and strengthening labour movement. The military bureaucratic apparatus of the monarchy which had its social base in the landowners, especially the Prussian Junkers, was supposed to protect it against the revolutionary pressure of the working class . . .", ibid. [-> main text]

16. Serious students of Weber�s works generally admit that he carried on a crusade against Marxism. W. G. Runciman writes: "It is true that Weber wrote much of his work as a conscious qualification or rejoinder to Marx, and remains best known for his discussion of the role of ideas in history which he put forward as a direct counter claim against dialectical materialism." Social Science and Political Theory (2nd edn. Cambridge, 1969), p. 43.

Karl Löwith speaks of the fact that in dealing with sociology one has to deal with, not one but two disciplines: "bourgeois sociology and Marxism". Löwith in "Max Weber und Karl Marx", Gesammelte Abhandlungen (Stuttgart, 1960), p. 1.

Weber could not entirely reject Marx, however. Instead he watered down some of Marx�s ideas and made an eclectic mixture of them with idealistic notions from Nietsche, Kant, and the German Historical School. [-> main text]

17. Wertheim, Evolution och revolution (Stockholm, 1972), 80-81. [-> main text]

18. Lenin, What are the Friends of the People and how they Fight the Social Democrats [Samlade Skrifter i urval, 20 (Stockholm, 1942)] appendix III. [-> main text]

19. Ibid., p. 289. [-> main text]

20. This has been pointed out by Jean Cohen, following Löwith�s study, "Rationalization and Freedom", in Dennis Wrong ed. Max Weber (New Jersey, 1970). See Cohen, op. cit., p. 69, where he presents this analysis, and points out: "Marx presents us with a radically different relation between theory and practice. Because the historical world is basically conceived of as man�s product, reason and knowledge have a part in the historical process itself. Reason comprehends the active social relations of man in society (totality) and this comprehension (theory) serves to develop practice. Only successful practice can demonstrate truth of theory. Thus reason is not reduced to formal rationality." [-> main text]

21. See further Cohen, ibid., p. 70 f. [-> main text]

22. "Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus". Weber was not the only one to develop an idealist theory of capitalism to set up against Marxist sociology. W. Sombart, Die Bourgeoisie (München, 1913), pp. 441- 556 is another example. [-> main text]


23. Oskar Lange, Political Economy, vol. I (Warszawa, 1963), p. 274. [-> main text]

24. Ibid., p. 347 f. [-> main text]

25. Karl Polanyi, Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economics. Essays of Karl Polanyi, ed. by Georg Dalton (New York, 1968). [-> main text]

26. Such an interpretation of Weber is given by e.g. Otto Neurath; see his "Sociology and Physicalism", in A. J. Ayer ed., Logical Positivism (New York, 1959), pp. 310-311. [-> main text]

27. One task in such a program of research would be to investigate the interaction between puritanism, capitalism and science in the period of the scientific revolution. This has actually been done by Merton who tried to find a connection between the Puritan ethos and scientific method (scientific ethos), and between science and the socio-economic structure of society. Merton has carried out his investigation with the help of eclectical conceptual loans from Marx, but with the same anti-Marxist bias as Weber; he has no use for the materialist categories.

Merton has also gone on to study the rules of the scientific modality of formal rationality, which he says comprise the "ethos of science", and claims these are an embodiment of the ideal "democratic ethos" of society. The rules he lists are: universalism, "communism", disinterestedness, and organized scepticism.

See Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill., 1957); e.g. "Puritanism, Pietism and Science", pp. 574-606; and "Science and Economy of 17th century England", pp. 607-627.

"Science and Democratic Social Structure", ibid., pp. 550-561. Universalism demands that truth claims, whatever their source, should be subject to preestablished impersonal criteria. "Communism" demands that the intellectual goods of science be the common property of all; they develop as a product of social collaboration. Disinterestedness is a demand related to that of objectivity and implies, among other things, a demand of "value-neutrality". Organized scepticism is the concentrated expression of rationality in its critical form, and may be institutionalized in rules governing criticism and self-criticism within the scientific community. It seems to me that these demands of the "ethos of science" involve two types of rules (criteria):

1) "internal" rules to govern intellectual intercourse within the scientific community; and

2) "external" rules to govern the relationship between the sphere of science and other spheres of social activity.

Weber�s doctrine of value-neutrality has two sides, corresponding to these two types of rules. Internally, it curbs antagonism between scientists professing different religious or political "values", and externally, it sets a limit to the interference of scientists into other spheres. In regard to the second point it demands that scientists, if they are to intervene in the affairs of another sphere of activity, must do so on the basis of the mode of formal rationality or ethos governing that sphere. In other words, the scientist should not criticize


the ultimate goals of that sphere, where the "results" of his research are applied.

If one focusses on formal rationality in science in this way, research certainly appears harmonious and aimed at universality. However, it becomes difficult to explain conflicts between different schools of thought that contend in one and the same field; and how such conflicts may be a motive force in the growth of science. One needs some way of differentiating different paradigmatic bases or "traditions" in scientific work. Because in the real life of science the scientific ethos may be set out of play when it comes to discussion between advocates of different paradigms. The only way open to a Weberean research program is to have recourse to psychological factors, perhaps corresponding to the "charisma" of great leaders in other spheres.

In contemporary theory of science there has been a shift of interest towards problems of growth of knowledge. But since the point of departure has been a subjective one, one gets the same sort of problem as one would following a Weberean train of thought. This may be exemplified by the current situation where one has two types of models of science proposed and debated. The one stemming from the philosophy of Karl Popper fixes on the formal rationality of criticism in science�and science becomes a process of evolutionary growth in a disembodied rational world. The other stems from the socio-historical investigations of Thomas Kuhn and fixes on paradigmatic contents differentiated according to basic perspectives and world picture components�and science becomes a process where routine periods are separated by discontinuities (revolutions in science). For Kuhn the transition from the regime of one paradigm to the next becomes problematic because of his subjectivism. In the last resort, he fixes on socio-psychological factors in the community of investigators in order to explain commitment to perspectives. Continuity between paradigms becomes problematic. [-> main text]

28. See e.g. V. I. Lenin, What are the Friends of the People and How They Fight the Social Democrats [Samlade skrifter i urval, 20 (Stockholm, 1942), p. 264]. [-> main text]

29. Löwith writes: "Weber combats Marxism as a scientific �socialism� not because it is based upon ideas and ideals which are altogether undemonstrable scientifically, but because it presents the subjectivity of its fundamental presuppositions under the guise of their �objective� universal validity, without distancing itself from them. Moreover it confuses the two aspects and is scientifically �biased� in favour of its own value judgements and prejudices". This is a good summary of how Weber�s critique of Marxism runs on the points considered.

Löwith, "Rationalism and Freedom", op. cit., p. 104. See also Gerth & Mills ed. op. cit., "Marx and Weber". pp. 46-50. [-> main text]

30. Introduction to Marx�s �The Class Struggle in France�, Marx-Engels Selected Works (Moscow, 1968), p. 667. [-> main text]


31. Feurbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in Marx-Engels Selected Works (Moscow, 1968), p. 631-632. [-> main text]

32. The Frankfurt school of sociology has recognized three types of research motivating interests: viz., the technical, the hermeneutic, and the emancipatory. These are only indirectly linked to class interests, if at all, according to adherents of this school. See e.g., Gerard Radnitzky, Contemporary Schools of Metascience vol. II, (Lund, 1968).

Lenin goes further and maintains we must make a class-analysis of the "bias".

"The subjective sociologist . . . begins with attributing [living] personalities such �thoughts and feelings� as he considers rational (because, having isolated his �personalities� from the concrete social environment, he deprives himself of the possibility of investigating their real thoughts and feelings), . . . and since his own conceptions of what is rational reflects (without his being aware of it) the given social environment, the conclusions he draws from his arguments, which to him appear to be a �pure� product of �modern science and modem ethical ideas�, actually reflect the standpoint and interests of a certain class]." Lenin, "The Economic Content of the Populist Movement and the Critique of it in Mr. Struve�s Book", op. cit., pp. 269-270. [-> main text]

SOURCE: Elzinga, Aant. "Objectivity and Partisanship in Science", Ethnos [The Ethnological Museum of Sweden, Stockholm], 1975: 1-4, pp. 406-427.

©1975, 2001 Aant Elzinga. All rights reserved. Re-published with permission of author.

Aant Elzinga, Professor, Department of History of Ideas and Theory of Science,
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