Max Weber's science of reality. Types of human being and the possibility of life conduct in contemporary culture

  • Isabelle Darmon

Student thesis: Phd


Drawing critically on a line of interpretation opened by Wilhelm Hennis more than 20 years ago, this thesis is concerned with Max Weber's notion of 'human type' (Typus Mensch, Menschentum) and the way in which it enables to pose a philosophical question - what can leading a truly human life in the modern age mean? - from the perspective of social and cultural sciences. To that end, it brings out Weber's framework for the analysis of the inner and external shaping of the human type as well as for the consideration of the possibility of life conduct, examining the inner momentum of the life orders in which human beings deploy their actions, and not merely their 'external' arrangements. Weber's theoretical construct of the life orders and value spheres (especially in the 'Intermediate Reflection') and his analysis of the workings of the rationality of particular spheres of human action (as first and most completely exposed in the 'music study') are at the core of this framework. By suggesting that Weber was critical of - and went far beyond - analyses of the constraining of personality by 'external conditions', I seek to provide an account of his analysis of the manufacturing of adaptation. I show in particular that such fashioning, far from being only the result of the dynamics of rationality pervading all spheres of human action in different ways, rather arises in the interplay between such dynamics and the irrationalities it triggers, including in the rationalised life orders. The adapted human being is not only a carrier of needs or interests, but also of affects and even values: adaptation mobilises 'life'. To such external and inner 'forming' of life, Weber opposed another kind of modern inner vocational connection to specific worldly value spheres. Thus the analysis of the inner momentum of the life orders and value spheres also crucially served Weber's exploration of the possibility of 'life conduct' in opposition to letting life 'slip by' and merely be 'formed'. The thesis has an important comparative strand, at three different levels. First, it sets out Weber's notion of science of reality against the background of the epistemological debates at the turn of the 20th century. This highlights the divide between Weber's conception of the role of science in a disenchanted world and other conceptions, which tended to be captured by philosophies of life. Secondly, specific comparisons are carried out, e.g. between Weber's and Troeltsch's analysis of the coining of a new Menschentum at the time of the Reformation. Finally I provide a more systematic comparison between Weber's and Simmel's analysis of the fate of the modern human being, highlighting the contrast between Weber's affirmation of the possibility of a life conduct that confronts and transforms the world and Simmel's self-referential notion of personality. Drawing on existing encompassing interpretations and on more specialised scholarship, the thesis above all relies on my own textual analysis and interpretation across Weber's writings (including the music study, the methodological guidelines for the survey on industrial labour, the political writings and the writings on academia), Simmel's mature philosophical writings, as well as Troeltsch's Social doctrines of the Christian Churches. The analysis of Dilthey's and Rickert's philosophy of respectively the human and cultural sciences relies on a more selective reading of their major works and on existing scholarship.The thesis is divided into three parts. Part I contextualises the notion of 'science of reality' and exposes the main features of Weber's notion of human type. Part II addresses the deployment of Weber's approach in the modern life orders; whilst part III explores its prolongations on the plane of life conduct and vocation, which it compares with Simmel's notions of objectivation of 'lived experience' and personality.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Savage (Supervisor) & Alan Warde (Supervisor)


  • Simmel
  • human type
  • life conduct
  • life order
  • vocation
  • science of reality

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