Weber began by promising a unity of the material world and the cultural world achieved in the categories of rational action. He ended with, essentially, two conceptions of rational action, one competent, but constraining, the other free, but socially meaningless. We have shown how these forms are not different, unconnected conceptions of action, but the components of a contradictory conception of action which requires both the closure of knowledge, or competence, and the openness of innovation and choice. The two conceptions are bound together in their inadequacy and each includes the other as its own negation. Modern Weberians — and, in this connection, we shall consider, most importantly, Parsons, Habermas and Giddens — all recognise the unsatisfactory nature of the types of rationality in their conflicting claims and fictitious status. They see ‘positivistic’ elements in Zweckrational forms and ‘idealistic’ elements in Wertrational forms, but believe that Weber’s division of these forms and his acceptance that they cannot be integrated is a weakness of his analysis which is unnecessary. They all believe that the division of the forms of action has produced a rigid, mechanical and oppressive account of purposive-rational action, on the one hand, and a meaningless individualism, on the other.
KeywordsCommunicative Action Action Theorist Valid Knowledge Action Frame Synthetic Theorist
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