Self-Help Quotes: Max Weber on Scientific Personality
Who Is Max Weber?
A German sociologist – regarded as one of its three founders – and political economist. He surfaced in 1864, and departed in 1920. In his time, he argued that capitalism developed out of a Protestant ethic, which regarded work as a religious calling. As the religion became peripheral, capitalism decoupled from its roots and established itself as the dominant force in society. This yields what Weber (or his translator Parsons) called the “iron cage” of rationalization in social life.
Exercising the Self-Help Imagination
How bold of me to label a Max Weber quote as self-help! How can this intellectual of impersonal sentences have anything to do with the shallow flamboyance of the modern self-help fad?!
But theory can be practical. And self-help can be serious too.
Despite being a classical social theorist (read: highly abstract), Max Weber was also concerned with science as a vocation (read: somewhat practical). If you have taught or been taught in any field, think about Weber’s quote.
“Personality” makes little sense in its modern usage here. Weber makes this clearer later in the paragraph: If you step onto the stage, seek to infuse personal experience and be different, you are no “personality.” Which is curious, because that is precisely what we understand by “personality” today.
Personality is, instead, marked by “an inner devotion to the subject and only to the subject” which raises one “to the height and dignity of the subject.” In Weber’s sense, you gain personality within a field only by stepping out of your own self. Teach the subject, not your interpretation of the subject.
The corollary is that we should make students interested in the subject itself, rather than in the person teaching it.
I am conflicted. Many might disagree with Weber. While I appreciate teachers who make classes interesting, I learn most from unfiltered engagement with primary texts. Yet that takes inner motivation. A purist approach is unlikely to convert sceptical students. A more populist approach, conversely, makes one prone to distortion or obscuring. What Weber fears. He’s not wrong.
But what if the goal isn’t science itself? The teacher may ideally strive “to the height and dignity of [their chosen] subject.” But the student is still exploring his/her vocation in life.
Whichever our roles, we should never confuse the means and ends. We just need to ask which is which.