effort to escape from the individualizing and particularizing approach
of German Geisteswissenschaft and historicism, Weber developed a
key conceptual tool, the notion of the ideal type. It will be recalled
that Weber argued that no scientific system is ever capable of reproducing
all concrete reality, nor can any conceptual apparatus ever do full
justice to the infinite diversity of particular phenomena. All science
involves selection as well as abstraction. Yet the social scientist
can easily be caught in a dilemma when he chooses his conceptual
apparatus. When his concepts are very general--as when he attempts
to explain capitalism or Protestantism by subsuming them under the
general concepts of economics or religion--he is likely to leave
out what is most distinctive to them. When, on the other hand, he
uses the traditional conceptualizations of the historian and particularizes
the phenomenon under discussion, he allows no room for comparison
with related phenomena. The notion of the ideal type was meant to
provide escape from this dilemma.
ideal type is an analytical construct that serves the investigator
as a measuring rod to ascertain similarities as well as deviations
in concrete cases. It provides the basic method for comparative
study. "An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation
of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many
diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent
concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those
one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified anlaytical construct."
An ideal type is not meant to refer to moral ideals. There can be
an ideal type of a brothel or of a chapel. Nor did Weber mean to
refer to statistical averages. Average Protestants in a given region
or at a give time may be quite different from ideal typical Protestants.
The ideal type involves an accentuation of typical courses of conduct.
Many of Weber's ideal types refer to collectivities rather than
to the social actions of individuals, but social relationships within
collectivities are always built upon the probability that component
actors will engage in expected social actions. An ideal type never
corresponds to concrete reality but always moves at least one step
away from it. It is constructed out of certain elements of reality
and forms a logically precise and coherent whole, which can never
be found as such in that reality. There has never been a full empirical
embodiment of the Protestant Ethic, of the "charismatic leader,"
or of the "exemplary prophet."
types enable one to construct hypotheses linking them with the conditions
that brought the phenomenon or event into prominence, or with consequences
that follow from its emergence. If we wish to study the religious
roots of modern capitalism, it may be advisable to construct an
ideal type of Protestant, based on the distinct features of sectarians
as these emerged during the Reformation. We shall then be in a position
to determine empirically whether the concrete conduct of Protestants
in, say, seventeenth-century England did in fact approximate the
type and in what specific aspects it failed to do so. This type
will further allow us to distinguish between the conduct of men
who adhered to Catholic or Protestant religious bodies. We can then
proceed to correlations and causal imputations as to the connections
between the emergence of Protestantism and that of modern capitalism--both
being conceived in ideal typical terms. As Julien Freund puts it,
"Being unreal, the ideal type has the merit of offering us
a conceptual device with which we can measure real development and
clarify the most important elements of empirical reality."
three kinds of ideal types are distinguished by their levels of
abstraction. First are the ideal types rooted in historical particularities,
such as the "western city," "the Protestant Ethic,"
or "modern capitalism," which refer to phenomena that
appear only in specific historical periods and in particular cultural
areas. A second kind involves abstract elements of social reality--such
concepts as "bureaucracy" or "feudalism"--that
may be found in a variety of historical and cultural contexts. Finally,
there is a third kind of ideal type, which Raymond Aron calls "rationalizing
reconstructions of a particular kind of behavior." According
to Weber, all propositions in economic theory, for example, fall
into this category. They all refer to the ways in which men would
behave were they actuated by purely economic motives, were they
purely economic men.