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In addition, scientific methods can be used to provide a critical assessment of the ideals that underlie value-judgements since they can yield ‘a formal logical judgement of historically given value-judgements and ideas, a testing of the ideals according to the postulate of the internal consistency of the desired end’ (Weber, 1949, 54). This in turn, Weber claims, may aid practical activity because it facilitates clarification of the axioms and means which underpin the pursuit of particular ends (see Weber, 1970, 151).

The aristocracy of intellect is hence an unbrotherly aristocracy’ (p. 355). From cultural to societal rationalization: towards bureaucratic domination The sociological logic of Weber’s thesis is relentless: processes of cultural rationalization influence and sometimes even revolutionize 24 Max Weber and Postmodern Theory the organization and nature of social life. Indeed, this is the central message of the Protestant Ethic: that shifts in the ideas, values and beliefs (or culture) of a population, when coupled with favourable material circumstances, can engender profound changes in the nature of societal organization (for example, the rise of modern capitalist structures).

Weber, 1949, 18–19) The irony of this is that scientific knowledge is unable consequently to resolve the very crisis it inaugurated. It set into play the modern conflict between different value-spheres through the progressive devaluation of religious ‘truths’, but is itself unable to resolve this conflict through the founding of a new value-standard. This is because science, in Weber’s view, should be concerned strictly with what ‘is’ and not what ‘ought’ to be, and may clarify but not answer questions of ultimate meaning or value.

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