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Max Weber on Intellectualism

May 31, 2019

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, intellectualism is defined as a “devotion to the exercise of intellect or to intellectual pursuits.” Max Weber coined the term in the early 1900s, in which he stresses the importance of “technical means and calculation.” What exactly is implied in his definition? In “Essays on Sociology” Weber describes an evolution towards rationalism which stems from intellectualism. Using historical data, he explains how the Protestant ethic feeds into rational views and even intellectualism. But rationalism is not the sole basis of intellectual pursuits. Hidden beneath this seemingly simple concept are a few other layers that require analysis.

It is ironic that a puritan ethic fostered this idea of rationalism, because one of the foundational features of intellectualism is that it is devoid of what Weber calls magic. By this he means that the world no longer needs gods in general. He says:

“It means something else, namely, the knowledge or belief that if one but wished one could learn it [the conditions of life] at any time. Hence, it means that principally there are no mysterious incalulable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. This means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service. This above all is what intellectualization means” (114A).*

Weber uses Plato’s cave analogy (from The Republic) in order to elaborate. According to Weber, when man sees light and finally emerges from the cave, he is seeing the light of science. He writes, “He is the philosopher; the sun, however, is the truth of science, which alone seizes not upon illusions and shadows but upon the true being” (114B). Weber calls this utilization of concepts as the first real tool in scientific history. The second great tool in history, according to Weber, was developed during the Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci and others who relied upon rational experiments. The combination of concept and rational experiment eventually leads to a world in which intellectualization is possible.

While Weber admits that intellectualism was reinforced, in part, by a religious influence in which church scholars look for salvation, he also continues to question the irrationality of religion. He writes:

“It has only been these genuinely priestly interests that have made for ever-renewed connections between religion and intellectualism. It has also been the inward compulsion of the rational character of religious ethics and the specifically intellectualist quest for salvation. In effect, every religion in its psychological and intellectual sub-structure and in its practical conclusions has taken a different stand towards intellectualism, without however allowing the ultimate inward tension to disappear. For the tension rests on the unavoidable disparity among ultimate forms of images of the world.

“There is absolutely no ‘unbroken’ religion working as a vital force which is not compelled at some point to demand the credo non quod, sed quia absurdem – ‘the sacrifice of the intellect’” (227B-228A).

I take this to mean that religion involves a system of belief, and belief without empirical evidence is irrational, according to Weber. I wonder what Weber’s motivations are for positing intellectualist views as opposed to belief systems. Does he find fault with ethical systems which are founded upon belief systems because they are not inclusive enough? Though he focuses on America in describing political and cultural value systems founded upon religious morals, I wonder if his historical moment (early 1900s Germany) plays a large part in his analysis.

As a final note on Weber’s intellectualist movement (though much more could be said), a couple of Weber’s definitions also prove useful and insightful:

1] “By ‘intellectuals’ we understand a group of men who by virtue of their peculiarity have special access to certain achievements considered to be ‘cultural values,’ and who therefore usurp the leadership of a ‘culture community’” (133A).

2] “One might well define the concept of nation in the following way: a nation is a community of sentiment which would adequately manifest itself in a state of its own” (133A).

These broad definitions give some insight into his practice. I believe that he left definitions so vague as to sound almost ridiculous, yet, perhaps they are broad by design, so that they can be universally applied to a diverse and ever-changing idea of nation. This would, of course, be useful in sociological studies which can utilize his definition in a study of specifics. I find that Weber’s lectures are loaded with ideas that seem basic on the surface, but are actually extremely challenging when fleshed out. This kind of reading makes for a great discussion since nation can mean any number of different things, as can intellectual, citizen, etc.

I will leave you with a few questions to get you started with Weber. In what way(s) does Weber challenge our understandings of either nation or religion? In what ways does Weber lead the way for sociological studies? Why does Weber focus on intellectualization?

* All quotations are from The Great Books of the Western World, Volume 58.

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Ovation

March 10, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Plutarch's Parallel Lives gives the reader a great amount of information about language. It is an invaluable resource when looking at language changes over a period of time. More importantly, Plutarch explains that language is affected both by cultural change, but also demonstrates how language change is based upon proximity to other cultures. I have mentioned in past blog posts how place names depend upon the current cultural story of a place. These names often overwrite previous stories of battle, heroism or tragedy. In this same vein, language itself, arrives already defined, but ever-changing. In thinking that language is static, we fall into a classic human error, until we realize that nothing is static, not even the dictionary.

Throughout Parallel Lives, Plutarch gives language depth and understanding. He offers histories of battles and tragedies that bring the words to life. I often wonder if these stories of our everyday words would have been preserved otherwise. Either way, it seems that we owe a debt to Plutarch for enriching our understanding both of the words themselves, and also the process behind language.

As one example, I wanted to place the entirety of Plutarch's description of the term “ovation”. He situates the origin of this term between Latin and Greek, but also defines the term as different from triumph. His elaboration of the difference between triumph (as after a great battle) versus ovation (as after an elocutionary win, or one without force and battle) still remains true today. We retain remnants of these ancient practices, though without ritual sacrifices. For example, standing ovations occur in present-day politics, concerts or speeches. We even use the term 'triumph' often, but rarely grant it an understanding in relation to ancient Roman and Greek history. Therefore, Plutarch's passage instructs both the term and the historical and cultural practices surrounding them.

In “Marcellus”, Plutarch writes:

“Whence Marcellus was more popular with the people in general, because he had adorned the city with beautiful objects that had all the charms of Grecian grace and symmetry; but Fabius Maximus, who neither touched nor brought away anything of this kind from Tarentum, when he had taken it, was more approved of by the elder men. He carried off the money and valuables, but forbade the statues to be moved, adding, as it is commonly related, 'Let us leave to the Tarentines these offended gods.'

They blamed Marcellus, first for placing the city in an invidious position, as it seemed now to celebrate victories and lead processions of triumph, not only over men, but also over the gods as captives; then, that he had diverted to idleness, and vain talk about curious arts and artificers, the common people, which, bred up in wars and agriculture, had never tasted of luxury and sloth, and, as Euripides said of Hercules, had been -

Rude, unrefined, only for great things good, so that now they misspent much of their time in examining and criticising trifles. And yet, notwithstanding this reprimand, Marcellus made it his glory to the Greeks themselves that he had taught his ignorant countrymen to esteem and admire the elegant and wonderful productions of Greece.

But when the envious opposed his being brought triumphant into the city, because there were some relics of the war in Sicily, and a third triumph would be looked upon with jealousy, he gave way. He triumphed upon the Alban mount, and thence entered the city in ovation, as it is called in Latin, in Greek eua; but in this ovation he was neither carried in a chariot, nor crowned with laurel, nor ushered by trumpets sounding; but went afoot with shoes on, many flutes or pipes sounding in concert, while he passed along wearing a garland of myrtle, in a peaceable aspect, exciting rather love and respect than fear.

Whence I am, by conjecture, led to think that, originally, the difference observed betwixt ovation and triumph did not depend upon the greatness of the achievements, but the manner of performing them. For they who, having fought a set battle, and slain the enemy, returned victors, led that martial, terrible triumph, and, as the ordinary custom then was in lustrating the army, adorned the arms and the soldiers with a great deal of laurel. But they who without force, by colloquy, persuasion, and reasoning, had done the business, - to these captains custom gave the honour of the unmilitiary and festive ovation. For the pipe is the badge of peace, and myrtle the plant of Venus, who more than the rest of the gods and goddesses abhors force and war.

It is called ovation, not as most think, from the Greek euasmus, because they act it with shouting and cries of eua; for so do they also have the proper triumphs. The Greeks have wrested the word to their own language, thinking that this honour, also, must have some connection with Bacchus, who in Greek has the titles of Euius and Thriambus. But the thing is otherwise. For it was the custom for commanders, in their triumph, to immolate and ox, but in their ovation, a sheep: hence they named it ovation, from the Latin ovis.”

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