Both Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (1864-1920) are great contributors to sociological theory. At the time of their writings, Germany was still almost in the Middle Ages compared to the most advanced capitalist country, England. Both economic development and political liberalization were limited (Giddens, 291). The main issue that was of primary interest to both philosophers was the interpretation of the rise of Capitalism in Europe. However, whereas Marx sees the rise of Capitalism predominantly through a material lens framed by a metaphysical paradigm of history, Weber sees the rise predominantly through an epistemological lens framed by contemporary socioeconomic realities. Simply put, while Marx believes materialism is the key to historical changes, Weber asserts that economics can be separated from aspects of society that affect it.
[...] However, Marx also asserts, history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle (Giddens, That is, as history evolves towards a more efficient and productive society, there are dialectic clashes in the relation of production where an increasingly powerful bourgeoisie is juxtaposed by a disgruntled working class (Coulter Lecture). Marx's main area of study is the transition from feudalism to capitalist society. He described feudalism as a stage before the inevitable rise of capitalism. It was a period where the power of the aristocracy was determined by their control of land and exploitation of the peasant farmer serfs. [...]
[...] As Giddens states, “While Weber admitted the use of ‘development stages' as a heuristic means which could facilitate the explanatory interpretation of historical materials, he rejected totally the construction of ‘deterministic schemes' based upon any sort of general theory of historical development (Giddens, Unlike Marx, Weber believes that the role of social science is not to predict the future. His view of history is cyclical rather than linear. He criticizes Marxism as being unidirectional. Weber's criticism itself can be criticized as Marx does delve into ideas of human behavior, but his assertion is valid insofar as Marx does focus heavily on class struggle and the “ultimate end”. [...]
[...] Accordingly, another major point of divergence in the two approaches on the rise of capitalism is the role of “cultural factors” and “meaning”. While Marx saw culture (philosophy, religion, ethical ideas, etc) as secondary features and assigned epic meaning to peoples' lives, Weber emphasized people's epic ideas of culture and the world they live in, especially the role of religion. In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber examines differences in capitalist and non-capitalist societies and finds that capitalism surfaced around the same time as the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. [...]
[...] Thus Weber contends, production and exchange of goods can no longer be adequately comprehended as involving utilitarian calculations and clever business procedures alone (Kalberg, Although Weber agrees with Marx that modern capitalism had lost its value-oriented roots during industrialization and urbanization during the nineteenth and twentieth century, the Protestant Ethic still challenges Marx's structural and material transformation model (Kalberg, 6). Weber indicates that Marx doesn't consider how economic aspects of society can be separated from other aspects of society. As Giddens demonstrates, Weber coins the terms “economics”, “economically relevant”, and “economically conditioned” to criticize Marx's reductionist approach. [...]
[...] While Weber acknowledges that there are conflicts in the rise of Capitalism, Marx examines contradictions instead. As he believes Capitalism is fueled by high input of labor at the lowest possible cost, the interests of the Capitalist and the workers are, by default, in contradiction. This is because while the Capitalist's interest is to pay workers just enough so they are alive enough to be productive, the worker's interest, on the other hand, is to avoid the same economic exploitation. [...]
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