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2. Sociology and History

2. The Logical Character of History

In the meantime, completely apart from everything connected with the logical problems involved in the relation between sociology and history, an important advance had taken place in the logic of the moral sciences.

The demand had long since been made that history be at last raised to the status of a genuine science by adopting the methods of the natural—i.e., the nomothetic—sciences.7 Some declared this demand unrealizable because they saw no way by which one could discover historical laws. Imbued with the conviction that only nomothetic science can properly lay claim to the name of science, they regretfully admitted that history is not a science. (For this reason many wanted to call it an art.) Others again credited themselves with the power of formulating "laws of world history." Kurt Breysig proved the most prolific in this respect.

It should be noted that what was at issue was not the problem of a theoretical science of human action. What was sought were laws of historical development, laws of history, not laws of sociology. Breysig's thirty-first law, for example, reads: "Under the rule of the Kaiser and of the people, which developed concomitantly, the national economy had to advance to a hitherto unheard of boom in trade and industry."8

In France Bergson and in Germany Windelband, Rickert, and Max Weber combated the confusion of concepts that underlay this demand for a new science of history. They sought to define logically the character of history and historical investigation and to demonstrate the inapplicability of the concepts and procedures of physics to history. What the Southwest German School of New Criticism thereby accomplished, notwithstanding its shortcomings, deserves the highest recognition and must constitute the foundation and starting point of all further investigations concerning the logic of history. Yet in one respect this accomplishment is completely inadequate: it is not based on any acquaintance with the problem of a theoretical science of social phenomena and for that reason pays no heed to it. Windelband, Rickert, and Max Weber knew only the natural sciences and history; they were strangers to the existence of sociology as a nomothetic science.9

This statement, as far as it concerns Max Weber, requires further elaboration. Weber was, to be sure, a professor of economics at two universities and a professor of sociology at two others. Nevertheless, he was neither an economist nor a sociologist, but an historian10 He was not acquainted with the system of economic theory. In his view economics and sociology were historical sciences. He considered sociology a kind of more highly generalized and summarized history.

It needs scarcely to be emphasized that in pointing this out we do not mean to belittle Max Weber and his work. Weber was one of the most brilliant figures of German science of the twentieth century. He was a pioneer and trail blazer, and coming generations will have enough to do to make his heritage intellectually their own and to digest and elaborate it. That he was an historian and an investigator into the logical character of history does not mean that he failed with regard to the problems which the period presented and which he undertook to treat. His field was just that of history, and in this field he did far more than his share. And finally, if it is possible today to approach the logical problems of sociology with better conceptual tools, this is primarily due to the work that Max Weber devoted to the logical problems of history.

  • 7. On this point cf. Bernheim, Lehrbuch der historischen Methode (6th ed.; Leipzig, 1908), pp. 101 ff.; Rothacker, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Tübingen, 1920), p. 195.
  • 8. Breysig, Der Stufenbau und die Gesetze der Weltgeschichte (2nd ed.; Berlin, 1927), p. 165.
  • 9. Cf. above p. 119 concerning Rickert's observations, in which he admits the possibility of "a presentation according to the methods of the natural sciences and by means of generalization" of the "vicissitudes of civilized mankind."
  • 10. Jaspers (Max Weber [Oldenburg, 1932], p. 43) calls Weber a "universal historian" and adds: "His sociology is universal history." On Weber as an economist, cf. my Kritik des Interventionismus, pp. 85 ff.