Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 283

The author addresses problems of objectivity and subjectivity in the social sciences and their relation to human action from a phenomenological standpoint in an attempt to answer the question of to what degree social science can provide a genuine understanding of human actions and motivations. The question of whether humans be best understood through a reductive categorization into types or only as individuals 'close up' is subject to systematic analysis.

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Shutz expands upon the sociological framework of Max Weber and Edmund Husserl. Shutz agrees with Weber that action is defined through meaning, and so proceeds to analyze the meaning of actions. Shutz develops many useful categories of action and how well they can be understood on a sliding scale from objectivity to subjectivity based on physical or temporal proximity and many other variables.

He makes a crucial distinction, following Husserl's phenomenology, between repeatable actions that anyone can theoretically do, that can be understood objectively and have universal validity. These include certain concepts in law and pure economics. They are distinguished from concepts like "Western capitalism" or "the Indian caste system" or, indeed, economic history, which require subjective analysis of actions and motivations and are unrepeatable. This latter quality does not imply they are less important to understand, but rather that they are more difficult to approach objectively. The former have universal validity, being repeatable and having predictable outcomes, ceteris paribus, and can form the basis of objective social science, while the latter do not have that quality. Thus Shutz offers a potential resolution to the conflicting views of Max Weber and Ludwig von Mises on the possibility of objectivity in the social sciences, and lays a useful groundwork for further research and debate.

Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 289

Originally published in 1932, The Phenomenology of the Social World has its deepest roots in the nineteenth century, when scholars (especially in Germany) made great advances in the study of history, economics, and social institutions. The modern conception of the social sciences arguably has its origins in the intellectual advances of this period. However, in conjunction with the development of the social sciences, questions arose about their status as scientific enterprises: Could human thought and activity be explained in terms of general laws? To what extent could the study of human thought and activity be free of value assumptions? Are the methods of the natural sciences appropriate for the social sciences? Timeless as these questions may seem, they held special prominence for the generation of philosophical and social scientific thinkers that came to intellectual maturity in the early decades of the twentieth century.

In orienting himself to these questions, Alfred Schutz drew on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the methodological writings of sociologist Max Weber. Husserl sought to describe the relationship between objects of experience and the subjective structures through which humans become conscious of those objects; Weber championed an interpretive approach to the explanation of social action in terms of its subjective meaning. Schutz found shortcomings in both Husserl’s and Weber’s thought, but he also believed that a synthesis of the two thinkers’ works—that is, a phenomenological study of the basic concepts of the social sciences—would address the questions about the scientific potential of the social sciences. Schutz’s commitment to the synthesis of phenomenology and social science can be seen in the following pair of facts: He dedicated this book to Husserl, and he conceived of it...

(The entire section contains 2769 words.)

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