Dialogues in Philosophy
Mental and Neuro Sciences

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

The official journal of Crossing Dialogues
Volume 11, Issue 1 (June 2018)

Causal understanding: Max Weber and the interpretation of human actions
Massimiliano Aragona
This paper explores the concept of understanding (Verstehen) in the work of Max Weber. Parts of Weber’s writings discussing this issue are here selected and reproduced. It is shown that in his use, the concept of understanding is part of a complex approach that tries to complement the specificities of humanistic disciplines with their exigence of a rigorous scientific approach. Weber conceives understanding as explanatory understanding, i.e the causal interpretation
of a third person’s action. The model he uses is that of the legal imputation of concrete effects to concrete causes (i.e. motives).
According to Weber, understanding is always an hypothetical interpretation that must be confirmed by objective verification. Weber also makes a distinction between direct observational understanding [aktuelles Verstehen] and explanatory understanding [erklärendes Verstehen]. The former directly grasps the subjective meaning of a given act as such, while the latter is understanding of motivations, which consists in placing the act in an intelligible context
of meaning. Both can be rational or affectively determined. Moreover, Weber distinguishes between subjective (on the level of meaning) and causal adequacy of the explanation of an action, and both must be present.
hermeneutics, sociology, empathy, philosophy, interpretation
Dial Phil Ment Neuro Sci 2018; 11(1): 36-48