No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Oppenheimer, H. (1925), The logic of sociological concept formation, from the series "Heidelberg treatises on philosophy and its history" edited by Ernst Hoffmann and Heinrich Rickert, Tübingen: Verlag von J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).


After Auguste Comte coined the term "sociology" in 1838, there has been a wide range of attempts to clarify the nature, goal, and method of this science, which have led to different kinds of sociologies. Hans Oppenheimer obtained his doctorate in 1924 at the age of 23 with this essay, in which he wonders how sociology is possible at all.

Everything that man experiences immediately and undividedly in human experience can be classified by scientific observation into two mutually exclusive, most comprehensive areas of existence:

  • the perceptible by our inner and outer sensuality: forms and colors, sounds and noises, spread out in time and space, insofar as it is known; we call this the category of being;
  • the understandable meanings from the perceived impressions: the beauty or ugliness of something, the theoretical meaning, the truth and falsity of a sentence; we call this the category of validity.

So, the meaning of a judgement or of a work of art can never be the object of our senses. Kant said that what gives knowledge meaning and value, objectivity and validity, is the spontaneous production and contribution of the regular subject to what is given by the senses.

The perceptible and that what is ultimately valid are world and object moments, “polarities of form and matter”. The object is the understandable; we call it meaning to distinguish it from its formal prerequisite, value. The form and matter of meaning do not have a fixed, absolute place, but rather a place related to the point of view (or worldview; MF) of the experiencing or reflecting human being. For philosophical consideration the value areas "true", "beautiful" and "good" are as category material, as objects to be recognized.

Oppenheimer proposes to be guided by the work of Max Weber. Society is a concept of culture. In society, goals, meaning and values connect people and people act meaningfully, they do not just react incomprehensibly.

According to Oppenheimer, two sets of legitimate scientific tasks of quite different kinds must be kept apart in sociology: (1) pure, formal and general sociology, and (2), material, historical-philosophical, special sociology.

Sociology is the science that tries to understand and evaluate the meaning of the specific social behavior of man, that elaborates a basic form of understanding in the social, a law of meaning of human action, a value area. Insofar as it does not belong to the natural sciences or is sociology in the sense of a field of values-philosophical practice, all existing sociology tries to realize a peculiar research method.

First Chapter - Sociology as a generalizing cultural science

Oppenheimer methodologically investigates sociological-scientific conceptualization. He starts from Heinrich Rickert's logical duality of individualizing and generalizing methods and from the differences in the material conditions that the sciences have to work on. Oppenheimer asks himself how Rickert’s demand for a generalizing cultural study can be fulfilled. His answer: If we generalize the components of meaning attached to cultural reality.

History must use general concepts to subsume individual elements of historical objects to find a cause or a complex of causes, which can then be recombined into one or more historical concepts to form the unity of the historical cause.

Oppenheimer mentions a number of general terms that we use to determine historical context: causal connections and contexts of meaning.

Causal relations in the strict sense exist only in so far as they are perceived as real, as mere-being, as nature. For example: "A stab in the back can lead to death under certain conditions". This is a connection in a pre-scientific form, which, however, we use in meaning and content as general, ideally mathematically formulatable concepts of absolutely necessary factual contexts in time. For example, we explain an earthquake by causal analysis.

In addition, we use phrases like: "Self-government inspires community spirit." Self-government and community spirit are complexes/realities of meaning, not realities in the same sense as a stab in the back, nor are they necessarily connected by nature, nor can their relationship be related to time, nor is it based on a mathematical form; it is a context of meaning. For example, we explain the lasting effect on the economy of the aforementioned earthquake.

Oppenheimer asks himself if Weber’s argument is right; can puritanism in the strict sense be called the cause of capitalism? If that would be true, the objective correlates of the historical concepts of puritanism and capitalism should be realities in the sense of natural reality, he argues. However, these are complexes of meaningful bits of reality combined by a unified meaning to form individual totalities. Our interest, Oppenheimer writes, is centered on the similarity of meaning between both concepts. Historians may claim there is a real connection between puritanism and capitalism, yet only in hindsight, based on (1) the intelligibility of this connection and on (2) the observation that capitalist ways of thinking and behaving and puritanical ways of thinking and behaving actually have been realized in the real soul processes of the same people or people who somehow belong together. Oppenheimer concludes that we don’t want to look for connections between natural realities where there are just connections between realized symbols, for this can get us into trouble. When we make an attribution assessment, confirming that a context of meaning has been realized in a specific case, we covertly convert the reality of the context of meaning (the objective validity of the judgment) into reality in the sense of the actual natural context. If one understands explanation as being subsumed under a more general concept, then one can rightly call any historical attribution an explanation. However, no historical individual, and therefore no historical context, can be simply taken as an example of a generic concept.

The recognition of individual cultural contexts logically presupposes general concepts of meaning contexts. In these generalizing concepts of meaning contexts, which constitute a necessary postulate for the logic of history as a logical condition for historical attribution, we see the methodological basic form of all sociological concept formation.

There is an element of generalizing concept formation in the relative historical concept. That, for the sake of which e.g. the medieval town economy is important for us, should therefore have been common to all people involved in the medieval town economy.

The goal of science decides whether we are dealing with sociological or historical concepts. The concept of a symbolic structure is a historical concept if we apprehend and affirm in it this individual realized at a fixed point in cultural life; it is a sociological concept if we regard it as a concept of understandable-possible connections and in its function as a means of cognition for the cognition of historical connections.

Oppenheimer asks himself: “Should our sociology be called a science of reality or of unreality?” It could be called the science of unreality, because it uses symbolic formations as its material and generalizing consideration as its method.

The logical starting point of Oppenheimer’s sociology is classifying cultural science, cultural theory (Oppenheimer refers to Hermann Kantorowicz' Der Aufbau der Soziologie, 1923). When sociologists talk about a "medieval town economy", they do not mean an individual reality, but an epitome of norms, customs, behavior; contexts of meaning, in which the general, comprehensive concept is used as a means of cognition for more individual, more concrete events in medieval town economies.

Sociology, Oppenheimer writes, has to be content with classificatory concepts and cannot ascend to unconditionally general laws in the realm of the perceptible-real. The substrates of sociology are people with their actions and their cultural creations, people whose cognitive actions are bearers of meaning, and whose physical actions signify the expression and presentation of intelligible cultural meaning in the material of mere beings.

The sociologist summarizes people and things (whose cultural being and doing is interpreted with the help of an identical symbolic structure or complex of meanings) under the concept of a fictitious, conceptual society or cultural community that exists in principle only for the interpreting observer.

Philosophy, history and sociology

Values ​​have always been the subject of philosophy. They mean to us the superempirically valid, non-sensuous basic forms and norms of cultural creation and understanding, which confront the realm of natural and historical reality as prerequisites as well as eternally unattainable goals: opposing, validating. Only through them is reality constituted; values are empty forms, principles of the intelligible, of the meaning, of the object.

While the material of history consists of the content of its concepts, which we call symbolic structures, sociology as a generalizing cultural science determines the content of the concrete symbolic structures that appeared in historical cultural heritage. Philosophy wants to rise from the historical material to the suprahistorically valid, because culture and history are the first facilitating and justifying forms of meaning and cultural principles. The formal values ​​of philosophy are abstract, content empty and universal. The symbols of sociology, on the other hand, are always relatively general and always individual compared to the formal values.

When the unreal values ​​combine with their opposite, the merely existing, they must transform themselves into meaning: they must become real by being filled with matter in the construction of meaning. All the symbols that we know and that sociology can develop in its concepts have at some point been realized more or less purely and appropriately in cultural life, if only in thought.

The logical problems of philosophical and sociological understanding and the philosophical and sociological possibility of culture are two different aspects of the same issue. The historian affirms and recognizes a fact as historical (as a generally important individual). The general formal values ​​act as selection principles. Furthermore, the historian makes connections between what has come about and the lasting effect of what we have recognized as historical through value relationships. Values ​​are presuppositions of historical objectivity and the knowledge of individual, intelligible contexts in real cultural life requires general concepts of intelligible-possible connections.


Sociology is the science of general concepts that we use to contextualize and understand individual cultural events. Sociological understanding thus means the subordination of more individual, more real structures of meaning to more general ones. Sociology is the method to determine the connection between cultural phenomena, the method of historical motive and follow-up research. The sociological concepts are not aimed at knowledge of historical reality itself, but want to be an aid to this knowledge. Connections can only be understood by the general; real is only individual. In this sense, sociology consciously forms meanings in its concepts of general and unreal.

Philosophy proceeds in a value-interpreting, value-analytic, value-determining way; what interests her in the historical individual is not its intelligible state through the cultural environment, but its intrinsic value. Philosophy saves transient phenomena by understanding them as a reflection of the eternal. For sociology, on the other hand, the problem is the understandable global coherence of the cultural formations of all value spheres. Although it can occasionally use connections of meaning formations of the same value area elaborated from a normative (also from a theoretical correctness) point of view as interpretative schemes of historical cultural events, for sociology the non-meaningful, less paradoxical: the incorrect context of meaning is an important part for her. Sociology deliberately ignores the nature and individual characteristics of the cultural structure and focuses on the meaningful references that are largely outside the value sphere that gives it its own meaning and in which it can be understandably transferred to other cultural structures.

Max Weber wrote that sociology reflects on the empirical existence of meaning. She doesn't judge, she just wants to understand; it makes no statement about the value level and the proximity of the ideal of cultural structures. Overzealous sociologists occasionally expect that sociology can make philosophy obsolete by establishing the absolute validity of values ​​independent of any realization and recognition. For sociology it is crucial and characteristic to understand meanings and values ​​only historically and to compose and order them from a historical point of view, with regard to an empirical-cultural field of validity, according to relative generality.

Philosophy aids sociology by logical presupposition. Sociology can help philosophy avoid taking the historical for the timeless. Imagination, to be regarded with suspicion when supposed to mean knowledge of reality, turns out, positively, to be the principle of the development of the unreal, of contexts of meaning reinforced to the point of unambiguity and proof. Sociology may not completely destroy the historical-individual, but the elements of the sociological concept can never be linked by the bond of strict, exclusive belonging. Necessity and unconditional relatedness are more than generality and method; they assume a certain part of the world for their applicability. Not everything can be regarded as determined by general law, but only beings, the sense-intuitive, the objects of our senses, the existence of things, and only this, so far as determined by general laws, becomes nature in the strict , objective and logical meaning of this word.

The material of sociology, however, consists of things that can never become objects of our senses, of our understanding, of our experience: symbolic structures. Natural categories (such as necessity) do not apply to the objects of sociology. All positive methods of sociology will have to be built on this negative assumption. Even if an understanding of a context of meaning achieves the highest possible level of evidence, this does not mean that a necessary connection is time- and place-independent, as is the case with natural law. Rather, the validity of the sociological concept in the concrete case must be determined by historical research into reality. Even if that is the case, the connection between cultural structures can only be understood as understandable and possible, not as necessary. Therefore, when recognizing concrete cultural events, the historian may only use concepts from intelligible contexts of meaning that are grounded in the respective realized meaning; concepts of objective possibilities.

The degree of meaning realization is important because of the unreality of the conceptual content. Sociological concepts must be objectively possible in a historical-empirical field. Not everything that is imaginable, comprehensible, possible is possible at every moment, in every place and under all circumstances. For sociology, possibility means objective possibility of realization; it can only be made intelligible from pre-existing cultural realization through contextual evidence. Sociology asks about the possible existence and living of values. The subject of sociology is the material conditions of all cultural realization: the objective 'mind'.

Sociology is the successor of the originally religious philosophy of history; stripped of the philosophical and speculative. Comte wanted to express that with the new name. The philosophy of history does not only want to understand historical-cultural connections and processes, but also to evaluate them. The method of sociology lies in the form of objective possibility, and the material of sociology in the historical structure of meaning.

In the sense of generalizing sociology of cultural sciences, society means an example of historical symbols with regard to the group of people in which they can realize themselves more or less adequately and intensively or objectively. In this sense, society is the subject of sociology as a method.

The same material that sociology makes for understanding cultural contexts from the point of view of objective possibilities becomes the subject of two other kinds of science when processed with different cognitive goals and methods. Positive norm sciences test historical meaning for its positive-normative correctness and validity by deriving and justifying it from more general historical-positive norms. The historical symbols are also the objects of the historical sciences; they are affirmed as meaningful realities and recognized as real motives and consequences, and are arranged in individual, temporally real, historical contexts of events.

Second chapter - Max Weber's concept of the ideal type

Max Weber's sociology is empirical cultural science that seeks to understand reality in its cultural meaning. Central to his methodology is the ideal type: a concept of historical structures of meaning as objective contextual possibilities. Oppenheimer shows the universal, historical meaning and value in the ideal type in relation to its possible and actual realization cases (the naturalistic moment).

The ideal type serves in many ways as a means of empirical cultural knowledge, of the valid attribution of a historical process to its real causes. The ideal types have the heuristic value of comparing reality with it, of making individual connections. The ideal type has a terminological function, a classifying function and a systematic function with which it brings order to the diversity of cultural reality. In order to serve as a benchmark for reality, it must necessarily possess unreality itself. To see through the real causal connections, we construct unreal ones. The ideal type is a construction with a deliberate distance from empirical reality. It is a product of our imagination, a utopia obtained by the intellectual intensification of certain elements of one or a few points of view. This unreality yields greater clarity, conceptual sharpness and purity, evidence, inner consistency, and logical perfection.

Sociology differs from history, which seeks the causal analysis and attribution of individual culturally significant actions, structures, personalities, while sociology forms concepts of type and seeks general rules of events; it is generalizing science. It provides knowledge of the regularities of the causal relationships. The ideal types indicate the attempt to make legal connections in the field of cultural studies. Sociology is the science that seeks to interpret social action and thereby to causally explain its course and effects.

The reinforced elements of reality in the ideal type are value components and meanings attached to reality. We combine these meaning contexts into a unified thought image, from the point of view of value. With the appearance of new value aspects, new ideal types must be formed in order to understand the historical objects they constitute in their context and to explain them causally.

Historical cognition is determined by the moment of reality and the moment of meaning. Max Weber further wanted to uncover connections between cultural realities. Recognizing Puritanism in its cultural sense can mean recognizing its significance as a culture, constituting it as a historical individual through value relations. However, it can also involve recognizing the importance of Puritanism to culture, e.g. for modern capitalism. To this end we want to understand the kinship that exists between the two phenomena and on this basis see this objectively possible connection as an individual, real cultural phenomenon of Puritanism, in this case as the real individual motive. Wherever a natural event has become historically significant, it has become so only through meaning, in the sense that nature is experienced by humans and shaped under aesthetic, religious, or other categories.

In Max Weber, the causal element means the sense of knowledge through the subordination of something more individual under something more general. Causality is used both in the realm of the intelligible and in the realm of the observable. The connection between an earthquake and its geological-physical-astronomical causes is, in terms of the content of what is connected with it, fundamentally different from the connection of an earthquake with its political and economic consequences or with the religious feelings it evokes. For Max Weber, understanding contexts of meaning is subordinate to understanding understanding behavior in contexts of meaning. Since sociology seeks to interpret social acts and thereby explain them causally, in the sense that action is always a meaningful action, the content of the ideal types expresses only contexts of meaning. In the ideal type, values ​​and norms serve as means of causal knowledge, whereby the values ​​must be regarded as possible empirical content of a psychological event. For sociology they are contexts of meaning that are fixed in the ideal types and raised to the level of proof. The ideal type is always constructed as a context of meaning, not as something that just exists.

In relation to all dogmatic sciences, sociology is concerned with the subjectively intended meaning. It is not about "the right meaning", but about the historically lived meaning of civilized people. Based on previous historical realization of meaning, the chance of new realization of meaning is recognized as existing.

In the ideal type, only historical values ​​and symbols are displayed. All values, however general they may be in the sense of being meaningless or widespread, must be seen as historical values ​​that have been materialized in terms of content. For Max Weber, objectivity only exists for the questions of how the historical came into being and how it works through, not for the what, the historical objects themselves. For Max Weber, there is no reality that can claim to be historical for all people, because it lacks the absolutely valid value system as a prerequisite for objective, universally valid history. The only supra-empirical assumption of cultural studies that Max Weber admits is that we are endowed with the ability and will to consciously take a stand on the world and give it meaning. The concrete value ideas of his time guide the researcher in the selection of what is for him only history from the fullness of reality. We cannot systematically establish objectively validly which questions and areas the cultural sciences are supposed to deal with; the result would be just a set of points of view from which reality was or is culture (meaningful in its own way), a system of historical values. No one can be expected to accept modern capitalism as historical; but everyone must recognize the rise of modern capitalism from the spirit of puritanism, so long as this hypothesis has not been supplanted by a more probable, more obvious explanation based on more objective possibilities. The possible content of the ideal types can be all value and symbolic contexts that arise from the selection aspects and value ideas of the cultural people and culture researchers that have ever been used. For sociology the ultimate starting point is the meaning of the real valuations of historians and of historical centers; historical-empirical values. The ideal type illustrates that apparently consistent behavior and meaning contexts in a given situation result from the mere recognition of particular meaning and value views. If the actual events deviate from what is constructed in the ideal type, there are other than the supposed value ideas or purely psychological-natural motivations at play, which suggest seeking the ideal type or the comparison of reality with it. Ideal types construct correct and purposeful contexts of meaning as interpretative schemes of human behavior.

Ideal types, which as always are based on a realized meaning, can always only be empirically justified as useful for very large historical spaces, in the extreme case for all history and culture hitherto known. Max Weber based the validity of values ​​on subjective decision, recognition and evaluation. For those who do not want beauty, it has no value; what is of the highest value to one person may be worthless or irrelevant to another.

What is ethical to us may be considered unethical by others. Religion in general or ethics in general are never realized, but are concrete-historical ethical imperatives and religious systems that are fulfilled in substance. It is true that truth is only valuable to those who want truth, not its correctness; scientific truth is only what will apply to anyone who wants the truth.

The historical object concepts, for example all representations of an essence of Christianity, are themselves ideal types with a one-sided emphasis on certain components of reality. The ideal type shows Max Weber's view on the inaccessibility of objective historical knowledge of the object, of the subjectivity and relativity and thus the non-objectivity and unreality of the historical object. Historical individuals are conceived in genetic terms, whereby they can gain objectivity through the rational form of their material.

Objective historical causal analysis and attribution of individual culturally significant actions, structures and personalities is possible, but only using ideal types and general rules of events. A symbol can be historically classified as an individual and real causal relationship in a unique cultural-historical causal context. However, it can also be formed and used as a sociological knowledge tool to recognize concrete, individual events or also to form general cultural concepts by emphasizing certain value aspects. For sociology a symbol always means a possibility of connection; according to its logical structure, the ideal type is always a general, scientific and unreal concept.

Third Chapter - Sociology as a Philosophy of Value (Philosophy of the Social)


The enlightened social philosophy of natural law, and initially that of German idealism, essentially saw only law and the state as their problem. Romanticism discovered completely different social values ​​of love and community, which later German idealism then tried to process systematically. With Adam Smith as a symbol of the English ethic of sympathy and of the classical political economy for which all economics was social economics, based on the division of labor, we have the great precursors on which sociology could now build. Comte's path also leads, in imitation of almost the same predecessors, to sociology as a generalizing cultural science. We survey the road to sociology as a science of the value area of ​​the social. How did the conception of social society as a peculiar life of meaning and values ​​develop?

At the logical beginning are the biological analogies. The static coherence of the individual with society is understood here as natural-functional-organic, the whole society as a natural organism. In Romanticism, the word organic had a very different and much more important meaning for sociology: the socio-cultural value of society, community and belonging, together with the emergence and explanation of the formation of cultural objects from the mind of the community. Sociology as a social philosophy and sociology as a method of cultural knowledge are united in the romantic concept of the organic. Sociology only needed to imitate biology if it wanted to be a science of the constantness of society and of the origin and development of culture and progress in and out of society. The biological theories flow into psychological theories, in which human society is conceived as the sum of natural organisms. To be scientific, human society is treated as the sum of mere organisms, which also have a state. The connecting element of such a natural society would then be formed by social instincts, drives, feelings - animal psychology. It is soon noticed that animal psychology and the animal state only exist as analogies with human psychology and the human state: sociology becomes psychology.

Undoubtedly, sociology, which aims to be psychological, has contributed most to the elaboration of the social field of value. Valuable analyzes are due, for example, to the psychological study of the psychological and sociological phenomena of imitation (Tarde), the sense of belonging (Giddings) and subordination (MacDougall).

The psychological scientific stage of sociology opens up the view of truly incomprehensible natural events when people are together: social psychology, mass psychology separates from sociology; while society reveals itself as a cultural being, the masses above all remain behind as the object of scientific analysis (Le Bon, 1895).

Psychology in sociology, thought through to the end, was supposed to lead to the dissolution of the notion of society: could a whole and a unity arise from purely individual, psychic acts? The idea of ​​wholeness and unity is what makes organology -- both romantic-historical and biological-scientific -- so tempting to sociology. The humanistic successor to the natural sciences of psychology and sociology had to be made aware that what creates unity and wholeness, the social, must lie not in being, but in the sense of mental actions. Just as all meaning can ultimately be interpreted and understood only from the standpoint of values, so psychology of the humanities, as its science of principles, leads consistently to the philosophy of values: Dilthey's drive to socialize and community spirit become Spranger's social and political people, personifications of value areas.

Another line also produces the same result and at the same time produces valuable elaborations of the most general field of social value; starting with Tönnies' book"Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft" (Community and Society), which originated from rationalistic socialism, Marxism and Hegel, and via Schopenhauer from Romanticism. In Tönnies’ book, sociology as a theory of value is in its metaphysical stage (see for an explanation of Comte’s three stages Elias (1971), "What is sociology?"; MF).

Community (Gemeinschaft) is no more real, genuine and essential than society, unless one values ​​the unconscious, natural-organic, non-purposeful as the highest value and then simultaneously metaphyses it into true being. Stripped of their metaphysical cloaks, community and society are two kinds of social connectedness: the existing dissolves into subgroups of the concept of the social as the intelligible behavior towards the other.

Starting from Tönnies, the methodology of sociology is aimed at solving social metaphysics. This is done through epistemology, the theory of methods and forms of historical-concrete cultural life. This is reflected in Simmel's goal for sociology to discover timeless laws. The social structure is then seen in terms of interactions and relationships. By Max Weber, this has been reduced to social and community action. Vierkandt elaborated on the value-philosophical social basic conditions and looked for basic forms of meaning. Max Scheler wanted to demonstrate the laws of the meaning of the emotional life. Finally, there was the philosophy of life of society and community, in which community is conceived as an original living being, as a spiritual organism. The philosophy of values ​​wanted to conceptually and theoretically grasp and justify the cultural life of value and the cultural experience of value.

Tönnies' duality of social life forms suggested their unity in the social element par excellence. However, it raises the question whether, in addition to the forms of community and social relationships, there could also be other basic modes of behavior between individuals: the material, object relationship and the violence relationship. W. Metzger distinguished love, war, and legal or civic values. Vierkandt believed that there are four basic social relationships: community, recognition (legal or contractual), struggle, and power (supremacy) relationship. The philosophy of law and the theory of state of the 19th and 20th centuries were of the utmost importance for the assumption and knowledge of the legal subsphere of the social area of ​​value. A philosophy that really wants to embrace the meaning of life can no longer ignore social attitudes, as far as Oppenheimer is concerned. As far as he was concerned, the philosophy of value at the time had not yet completely freed itself from Kant's confusion of law with ethical values. Kant did not separate the legal value as an external regulation of human behavior from the purpose of the law, which for him was the promotion of morality. Objectively, his ethics is an open legal ethics.

Tönnies' sociology moves on to the unity of the social area of ​​value. For Simmel, society exists wherever different individuals interact. According to Simmel, the forms of social interaction are infinitely varied: superiority and subordination, competition, imitation, division of labor, party formation, representation, simultaneity of internal merger and external closure.

Max Weber sees the concept of social action as the most formal category. This social action is characterized as a sense of belonging, the orientation of intelligible action on the behavior of others. His social action is only a logical postulate that cannot be realized without the awareness of crossing the border to represent historical-concrete forms of society and relationships.

All empirical-historical formation of society can only acquire meaning as a society from a formal, suprahistorical area of ​​significance. Sociology as a philosophy of values ​​appeals to this logical postulate. Weber subordinates his concept of community and society, as social relations, to the generic concept of the social, depending on whether the attitude of social action is based on the subjectively felt togetherness of those involved or on a rational (value or purpose rational) motivated conflict of interest. In general, the social can be described as a form of orientation, relationship, turning to each other as rational beings, as a form of the relationship between spirits.

Religious or artistic value is fulfilled and becomes reality in the religious or artistic life and experience of a subject. Social value enters life in one's spiritual act: If I behave socially, if I turn to another self in an appreciative, dominant or grateful way, then society is lived.

Society consists in the mental act of an individual, insofar as his attitude was social. Social values ​​such as dedication, legality and recognition are attached as personal social values ​​to the individual action of the individual subject. The realization of social values ​​requires a multitude of psychic actions in a multitude of minds. Only in their entirety do the individual meaningful actions provide a foundation for realisation.


If we see value as a principle of interpretation and as a cultural norm, so does our new social value class, Oppenheimer writes: Our understanding of the very lowest realms of cultural life must make use of this realm of social value as a whole. . Man is both an example of a general value and a partial bearer of a whole of value. Oppenheimer asks critical sociologists like himself to understand society as well as our discursive mind can understand, no less, no more.

Sociology as a theory of holistic values, according to Oppenheimer, must come from one of the analytic logics, which can be transposed into a logic of the transpersonal social value area. This logic serves to understand the peculiar type of contextual meaning of the entire social value area, scientifically and in a compelling logical form, however irrational the content may be.

Only what is physical and psychological is really in the right sense. Wholeness, however, only exists as something intuitive or something related to meaning. Even the biological natural organism is a product of value-related synthesis. What about the real whole of society? The analogy with the teleological concept formation in nature helps us here. The unified meaning unites the mere reality of the natural organism to form an organism in the methodological sense of the word, as a whole for the parts, as a reciprocal end-means relationship. Likewise, a unified, multifaceted, transpersonal meaning connects meaningful realities to form the social whole. A meaning hovers over countless individual acts, not so common to all, but as a more meaningful outcome of their totality. Each of us carries out our economic and political acts of mind. And usually without knowing it, everyone is working on a meaning that is realized by and in us and at the same time above us, in our sum. In everyday life, the realization of the totality of meaning is based on the universality of meaning; that only happens when individuals together consciously or unconsciously realize a meaning in their actions that they as individuals cannot realize at all.

Historical society also hovers above the individual, the complex of meanings of individual-personal values ​​expressed in the ideal type. The sense of totality arises only from the actions of several people and in this respect is not only above the individual as the possible place of its realization, but necessarily above different individuals as the parts of its possible substratum. By the working class, a political party, the state as a sociological reality, we mean a sense of meaning that is only possible through a multiplicity of partial sense of meaning behind it.

Each system of meaning and norms itself determines the foundation of its realization; in its meaning lies at the same time the reality that is intended, on which and in which it wants to be realized.

The organizer who devises a plan does not realize the plan by thinking it; the plan is actually realized, as it is in its own sense, in the work of the many heads and hands that hold it together as a unit. So for the viewer there is 'society per se'; in the consciousness or feeling knowledge of the parts themselves, what will be the starting point for the social behavior of the individual towards each other and towards the whole: society for itself.

What is important here is the method of the value area that Oppenheimer has postulated as the basis of a third sociology: the transpersonal value and meaning can never be realized by the isolated individual, who rather functions only as a link, as a carrier of a part of meaning. . The sense of wholeness is often not noticed at all; it so often seems pointless.

The organic growth of culture, the unintentional, unconscious new creation of the mind, does not necessarily take place exclusively in the social organism, in the community of people whose individually intelligible behavior takes on a new meaning in relation to an entire sentence. A sense of an individual value sphere should be called social if it results from the interaction of two or more people. To the extent that such interaction is meaningful and understandable and not natural and incomprehensible, real social life of significance is the actual soil in which culture grows.

In philosophy and religion it has long been the case that in the meaningful cooperation of individual people a new meaning can become reality, which is sometimes not intended at all by the subjects, sometimes pursued and only vaguely and semi-existing, i.e. not yet fully known or to experience. From Socrates and Plato to Fichte, the idea of ​​the birth of meaning is always expressed from the spirit of society. Stimulation and request for spiritual experience comes from man to man (compare much later, among others, Hartmut Rosa's Resonanz; MF). A spiritual reproductive power lies in the social. Ultimately, the objective spirit is transmitted to and mediated by man, that is, in social life.

Societal values ​​are related to the mind-mediating and mind-generating function of living society: they are values ​​in the service of other ultimate ends. In the organism the members derive their value and meaning from the feeling of wholeness, but that says nothing at all about the value of the whole itself, of the organism as an organism.

Between value and bare reality there is often a second form of meaning in which the ultimate values ​​are expressed. The higher values ​​then count as reality and oppose naked reality as a mediating symbolic structure. In this dual position, social life is in its function as a meaningful life of value creation.

In fact, there is always and among all peoples a society, because man naturally lives in society, in mutually meaningful relationships and social interaction. The doctrinal values ​​are the real values ​​of man's daily life. In this factual truth lies an important motive for the methodology of sociology. In fact, all people participate in the social value area, regardless of spatial, temporal, personal differences. Since the social constitutes the main component of meaning in the eternally the same everyday life of people, the word social takes on further meaning by inverting the sense of common sense, of the lowest, most general element of culture, of mass culture value and mass culture importance. The pure economy is conceptually far from being a social economy, any more than the social in its essence has any connection with the economic. In fact, at least above the most primitive levels of culture, economics and society are inextricably linked, and the link lies not least in the everyday, in the historical-empirical universality of both realms. Max Weber's sociology is not called economics and society for nothing. People can always and everywhere be divided into classes, estates, parties and other similar groups and strata on the basis of the equality of political and legal position, economic situation, social status and social goals. The economic-social is the universal in the field of culture.

With other aspects of their nature, humans are the creators of all other - artistic, religious, scientific - culture. When interpreting cultural development, the economic and social background on which it originated should always be taken into account as a potentially meaningful component. However, the economic can never be regarded as the exclusive or ultimate cause. Economy, society and culture influence each other.

We conceive of society as a reality from the logical relation of social life to the extrasocial values ​​realized in social life. Society then appears as a reality with regard to the social values ​​themselves, insofar as they appear and are regarded as norms of social life. Custom, convention and law are such norms of social life. But don't social life and social norm coincide, since both positive contexts are meaningful? Are not custom, morality, law, at the same time what must and what is done, values ​​and realities at the same time?

Social life in the broad sense is not only legal life as a conscious orientation to the applicable law, but above all economic life and also the large area of ​​social life that is expressly not ordered by law, but in manners, customs, conventions. . Oppenheimer asks us to remain aware of the logical side: that all society, economy, state and power are not natural realities, but meaningful lives, that their existence lies in their being lived, their essence in meaning and their existence. in the understandable coincidence of their realization.

Social values ​​arise from the circumstances and interests of man as a natural being: in his highest forms as mother and partner love, in his lowest levels as natural companionship and the common search for food. We only speak of man in the succinct, cultural-conceptual sense where the meaningful shows itself more strongly than nature alone; where the meaningful companionship survives and the instinctive overcomes. Society is understandable and meaningful cultural life.

The ultimate principles of possibility and its interpretation lie in the formal values ​​of the individual-social, the transpersonal-social and, in addition, in the values ​​of everyday human life, generally empirical social values.

Fourth Chapter - Sociology as a generalizing cultural science

Max Weber's well-known discovery of the connection between puritanical ethics and modern capitalism presents itself to an analysis of meaning as a demonstration of an understandably coherent matter of meaning (inner-worldliness, asceticism, rationalism, etc.) in two heterogeneous forms of meaning (religion and economy). The same applies logically to the concepts of epoch, stage, folk spirit and cultural soul, which sociology has been fond of constructing from the very beginning. In each case, an identical matter (the spirit of metaphysics, theology or positivism, the Faustian, Apollonian soul) underlies the various cultural areas (science, state, economy, religion) as the objectifying and unifying force in all these forms. There must be a relationship between these two forms.

If one reduces Spengler's well-known book (Downfall of the West) to its only justifiable logical content and cleanses it of all unscientific pathos and biological frills, then, according to Spengler's view of history, world history results from the fulfillment of cultural area flow charts (forms) that are timeless and valid for all cultures individual cultural souls (matter), or, to put it another way, from the development and unfolding of individual cultural souls, whose elements are comprehensibly connected, in the comprehensibly structured development schemes of religion, art, science, economy, and state formation that are necessarily identical for all cultures. Spengler is the best recent example of ignorance of the limits of sociological knowledge and of the consequences of crossing them. His basic concepts: culture souls and development schemes, are eminently sociological concepts. They are interpretative concepts of cultural events, "ideal types" in Weber's sense. His falsification lies in the fact that Spengler presents his schemes as natural laws, his cultural souls as historical realities.

Kant saw causality and objective chronology as preconditions for each other. As a counterpart to Kant's doctrine, sociology has some structural idiosyncrasies that signify different aspects of the disparity of natural and cultural contexts:

  1. The sociological connections are not causal, but extra-temporal drives;
  2. The sociological context leaves the motif-sequence arrangement undetermined;
  3. The same sociological connections can be realized both side by side and one after the other.


The more comprehensive the historical units to be ascribed become, the more difficult it becomes to put previous realizations of one complex of meaning above that of another, and the more difficult it becomes to determine which objective facts constitute a valid judgment about the attribution of motives. should be based.

The sequential relationship between meaning structures expressing sociological concepts is reversible. Is an increase in prices the result or motive of an increase in money supply? Does balancing the state budget depend on currency stability or vice versa? Theory can only show us understandable possibilities here.


The originally mathematical and scientific terms static and dynamic were Comte’s methodological skeleton of the sociology he called social physics. While sociology has the task of recognizing cultural contexts, space and mathematical time lose their importance as principles of form and order.


While the positivist sociologists mistakenly wanted to impose the inappropriate scientific form on the material of sociology, cultural contexts, this material slipped from their hands and found its way into the dialectic: a form suited to the changing dynamics of society against their will. In the logic of cultural science, dialectics is related to mechanical dynamics in natural science. Hegel transferred dialectics to nature, making the opposite mistake of the positivists. Dialectics, inversion into the opposite or synthesis of opposites, exist only in the realm of the intelligible, just as contradiction exists only in value-formed things, never in mere beings. Contradiction is possible only between concepts, never between what is just real. Troeltsch, according to Oppenheimer, rightly sees in Hegel's dialectic the logic of movement, the logic of becoming (see later also Deleuze, MF), which must take the place of positivist-mechanical dynamics in the domain of cultural contexts. Dialectical becoming stands outside the mathematical-scientific time; the contexts of meaning, which are very often dialectically unfolded in sociological concepts, have no relation whatsoever with an objectively and mathematically definable time sequence. Dialectics is based on a philosophy of identity, but identity, like dialectics, exists only in the realm of meaning, not in the realm of time. Culture, which sociology seeks to understand, is never a number, but essentially always quality (namely, the higher quality of the meaningful and valuable, not that of sensuous perception).

All cultural-historical scientists use meanings and contexts as their material. Meaningful material, however, only becomes a sociological object and understanding through the specifically sociological forms of cognition. Space, time and number, the constituent parts of reality, incompatible with the material of sociology, become of decisive importance for the sociological forms as forms of the objectively possible substrates of the historical realization of meaning intended in the sociological concept. The distinction of sociological forms can only be understood by adapting the sociological material to the scope of sociological concepts, scattered and limited in time and space. The material of the sociological concepts is in itself extra-temporal, but the validity of the sociological concepts - logically and principally - is limited in time.

We have a cultural science hypothesis, if a historical symbolic structure in the basic form of objective possibility functions as a schema in the interpretation of a concrete, individual cultural process. The conceptual form of the hypothesis is of particular interest for sociology and history when the non-origin of a specific cultural asset in a specific cultural complex is due to the absence of the corresponding motifs in the respective cultural area, or where in future predictions the sociological impossibility of the occurrence of certain cultural events is asserted because of the non-realization of meaning, which as a motive makes the occurrence of the meaning in question intelligible.

A type is a construct in the form of a representation of multiple (logical) individuals whose cultural essence and behavior can be objectively understood - possibly as a participation in this construct. This is- a relative historical concept, a construct in which a group of individuals may actually or objectively be more or less a part. For the sociologist, individuals are only the objectively justified, temporarily limited field of application of a type concept.

Culture participates in the symbolic structure. Real cultural objects cannot be defined other than platonic. A piece of clothing or a bookcase is only a piece of clothing and a bookcase to the extent that they more or less realize the aesthetic and economic meaning and purpose from which only their essence can be determined. In cultural life a complex of meanings arises more or less adequately.

If we speak of a type in which a complex of meanings is realized in a multiplicity of individual cultural phenomena and each time in chronological juxtaposition, in intelligible interaction, in static form, then a cultural rule, a so-called social or historical law, is supposed to exist. are when contexts of meaning are experienced, but often generally in chronological sequence, as a motif and sequence, in a dynamic form, as processes or events. Structurally, most economic laws belong here.

As far as sociology is concerned, the law of development may only indicate a context of meaning, not a meaningfully realized series (because that would be history; knowledge of this historical-fact series, however, is based on the intelligible possibility that is the object of sociology.) However historical and systematic cultural studies are always interdependent, then 2. the application of the understandably possible connection with the interpretation of history must be justified by the historical-cultural reality, otherwise the law of development has no place in sociology but in the philosophy of history.

If the human individuals and works, whose meaningful behavior and nature are objectively empowered to interpret a complex of meanings, are conceptually summarized with this in relation to the bridging function of meaning between these people as cultural beings, then there is a sociological collective or entity.

The difficulties of the sociological concept of structure - let us think of the concept of people - lie in the seemingly impenetrable fusion of the real and the meaningful ideal. However, as soon as history wants to say something about an individual member of a people or a part of a people on the basis of the individual's belonging to the people, it uses the concept of man as something general to indicate more individual behavior and thus becomes logical. sociology. Even as soon as we want to understand what constitutes history only outwardly and briefly as a people, also internally, in essence, we are referred to the sociological understanding of the people. The people consist of a sum of individuals whose cultural behavior can be interpreted objectively and justified by the meaning that constitutes the content of the concept. For example, the transition from the concept of people to the concept of race is absolutely incomprehensible without a leap in methods: why a naturally determinate group of people cannot realize certain cultural experiences is absolutely incomprehensible and inexplicable; unless one in turn understands that this inability is an obvious impossibility because of the culture of the race in question; but then you're back in sociology.

We must distinguish two folk concepts; both are empirical concepts of culture (not natural nor norm concepts). The historical people: a sum of cultural realities, of real sensory experiences of a certain kind and of their real bearers. The content of the historical concept of the people grows with its scope, as the historical people rolls further and further in time. The historical people is and truly lives in time as an aggregated and complex reality of meaning. However, this is what makes the people possible as a reality in our thinking, the spiritual bond that holds the many individuals of the people together for the discerning observer and in addition to other things in itself, by using the respective existing possibilities of their being and behavior as civilized people and as members of the people: that is the content of the sociological concept of the people. With greater scope, the sociological concept loses concreteness and individuality and richness of content.

Where one falls back on the soul, consciousness, spirit of a society, time, culture to interpret cultural events, nothing is hidden behind them but our sociological concept of structure. Such a society has been contrasted with its individuals as a higher reality. However, according to today's scientific usage, we must recognize the relationship between society and the individual, between folk spirit and people, as the validity of a higher and more general unreality for something more real, more individual.

The empirical validity of society for a group of individuals is about understandable possibilities of meaning; norms of cultural life. The identity of society and cultural possibilities and norms that are empirically valid at a specific point in time are presented as the conventional foundation of material values. Society can be explained as a concept of degree. Society is then all the more truly society the less the individuals involved in it are mere realities and the more and more intensively they realize the respective historical sense of society.

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