Weber and his Possible Obsession with Shoes and Inspirational Quotes

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Though I am unsure of the origin of the sayings, I remember my mother always quoting things like “until you walk a mile in another person’s shoes”. And now aside from my mother, when I hear or read something similar, I think Weber. Maybe this is the reason I felt a likeness towards his ideas when I first read about Weber.

Let me explain. Weber focuses on naturalistic accounts of behavior, meaning he sticks to the naturalistic tradition, not the positivist. Naturalistic tradition is the belief that we cannot justify or explain another person’s actions or motives in ways that cannot be understood by human agent. He argues that a person’s explanation for their behavior cannot be thought of as incidental to the behavior. Unlike Durkheim, who believes society imposes behavior through a collective conscience (collective conscience being the shared values and beliefs of a society that influences the behavior of people), Weber stressed the importance of a person’s stated motives being included in part of the analysis. This belief leads to Weber not making generalizations about human behavior but instead, seeking Verstehen.

The idea of seeking Verstehen which Weber uses means obtaining a deeper, more empathetic, understanding of human behavior. Verstehen lead me to the idea of not judging someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Both ideas focus around empathetic tendencies as well as reaching an understanding for an individual’s behavior. I think they resonate well with each other because they imply that just because the same actions are executed by different people, does not necessarily mean both people had the same reasons behind their actions.          

Likewise to “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, in Weber’s explanation as to why Protestants have a high work ethic, I made a connection to quotes like “see the ball, be the ball”.  The doctrine of predestination for Calvinist’s says that a person’s eternal destiny is decided even prior to birth and only a small number of people (the “elect”) are expected to go to heaven. Anyone who accepts this understands that there is nothing for them to do to change their fates. Weber argued that people have a desire to know whether or not they are part of the “elect” which leads people to look for signs of God’s favor. He also mentions that due to the uncertainty that the doctrine of predestination gives, people who follow it will be driven to find evidence of God’s favor. With looking for evidence came working hard as well as going to church and doing other good things. This makes sense because though a person would not be able to know if they are an “elect” or not, they do know an “elect” would do certain things like going to church, and in keeping their own chances of becoming an “elect” open, they too would do things an “elect” person does. I find that Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic and quotes like “see the ball, be the ball” and “monkey see, monkey do” apply nicely to his idea since both the quotes and the Protestant work ethic have an underlying quality of idolizing something in order to be more like the person/object being idolized.

Lastly, while thinking about Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic, I saw a similarity in how a student may work towards becoming an A student. In a similar way to a Protestant doing thing an “elect” would do in order have a possible better chance of becoming an “elect”, a student may emulate an A student, doing things an A student does (like studying more or asking questions in class, etc.) to have a better chance of becoming an A student.  

-Madeline Baumeister