chapter  15
36 Pages

‘Max Weber and the Comparative Study of Religious Ethics’, Journal of Religious Ethics, 2, pp. 5—40

In the interest of developing a respectable approach to the comparative study of religious ethics, the work of Max Weber is unavoidable. It is unavoidable both because it contributes some pathmaking methodological and empirical insights and also because it contains certain deficiencies which are no less instructive. Weber makes clear that, as a social scientist, he has a special sort of interest in religious ethics. He is concerned, he says, neither to undertake a study of "the ethical theories of theological com pendia" (1 958 a:267) as an end in itself, nor "to ascertain the 'true' and 'valid' meanings" (1968:1,4) of ethical terms, as (Weber believes) ethicists are in the business of doing. Rather, his concern is with the connection between various manifestations of religious ethics and what he called "the sociology of rationalism " (1958a:324; cf. 19 58c:26; Loewith, 1970). Of course, all of Weber's investigations and reflections are intended to make a contribution to the sociology of rationalism, but he comes

to feel that the subject of religious ethics is particularly apposite for this enterprise. In order to understand and evaluate Weber's approach to religious ethics, it is first necessary, then, to clarify as much as possible what he means by the sociology of rationalism. This is no easy task since Weber's use of the all-important concept "rationalism ," as well as its cognates, "rationality" and "rationalization," is both complex and confusing.