Science as a Calling/Vocation 1917/1919

Wissenschaft als Beruf.

“Bericht über den Vortrag beim Freistudentischen Bund am 7. Nov. 1917 in München.” Wissenschaft als Beruf. Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, Nr. 567, 9. Nov. 1917. MWG I:17, S. 67-69

Wissenschaft als Beruf (Geistige Arbeit als Beruf. Vorträge vor dem Freistudentischen Bund. Erster Vortrag). München und Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot 1919. MWG I:17, S. 49-111. GAW 582-613.

Science as a profession and vocation. In Max Weber: Collected methodological writings.  Edited by Hans Henrik Bruun and Sam Whimster. Translated by Hans Henrik Bruun. Routledge, London and New York 2012.

“Science as a Vocation.” In Max Weber: The vocation lectures. Edited and with an Introduction by David Owen and Tracy B. Strong. Translation by Rodney Livingstone. Hackett Publishing Company Indiana Polis/ Cambridge 2004.

“Science as a Vocation.” In Max Weber’s Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations Edited and with an ontroduction by John Dreijmanis.  Translation by Gordon C. Wells Algora Publishing, New York 2008.

Tiede kutsumuksena. Suomentanut Tapani Hietaniemi. Teoksessa Tiede ja politiikka kutsumus ja ammatti. Vastapaino 2009.



The external conditions

“In very important respects German university life is being Americanized, as is German life in general. This development, I am convinced, will engulf those disciplines in which the craftsman personally owns the tools, essentially the library, as is still the case to a large extent in my own field. This development corresponds entirely to what happened to the artisan of the past and it is now fully under way.”

“As with all capitalist and at the same time bureaucratized enterprises, there are indubitable advantages in all this. But the ‘spirit’ that rules in these affairs is different from the historical atmosphere of the German university. An extraordinarily wide gulf, externally and internally, exists between the chief of these large, capitalist, university enterprises and the usual full professor of the old style.”

I know of hardly any career on earth where hazard plays such a role.

Democracy should be used only where it is in place. Scientific training, as we are held to practice it in accordance with the tradition of German universities, is the affair of an intellectual aristocracy (geistesaristokratische), and we should not hide this from ourselves.

Academic life is a mad hazard.

Das akademische Leben ist ein wilder Hasard (GAW 530)

But one must ask every other man: Do you in all conscience believe that you can stand seeing mediocrity after mediocrity, year after year, climb beyond you, without becoming embittered and without coming to grief? Naturally, one always receives the answer: ‘Of course, I live only for my “calling.” ‘ Yet, I have found that only a few men could endure this situation without coming to grief.

The inward calling for science (Inneren Berufe zur Wissenschaft)

Only by strict specialization can the scientific worker become fully conscious, for once and perhaps never again in his lifetime, that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized accomplishment.

And whoever lacks the capacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up to the idea that the fate of his soul depends upon whether or not he makes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscript may as well stay away from science.

He will never have what may be called the “lived experience” (erlebnis) of science.

Without this strange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider; without this passion, this ‘thousands of years must pass before you enter into life and thousands more wait in silence‘–according to whether or not you succeed in making this conjecture; without this, you have no calling for science and you should do something else.

Nothing has any value for human, as a human being, that he cannot do with passion.

Denn nichts ist für den Menschen als Menschen etwas wert, was er nicht mit Leidenschaft tun kann.

Enthusiasm is a prerequisite of the ‘inspiration’ which is decisive.

Nowadays in circles of youth there is a widespread notion that science has become a problem in calculation, fabricated in laboratories or statistical filing systems just as ‘in a factory,’ a calculation involving only the cool intellect and not one’s ‘heart and soul.’ First of all one must say that such comments lack all clarity about what goes on in a factory or in a laboratory.

In both some idea has to occur to someone’s mind, and it has to be a correct idea, if one is to accomplish anything worthwhile. And such Idea (Einfall) cannot be forced. It has nothing to do with any cold calculation.

Certainly calculation is also an indispensable prerequisite.

The idea (Einfall)  is not a substitute for work; and work, in turn, cannot substitute for or compel an idea, just as little as enthusiasm can. Both, enthusiasm and work, and above all both of them jointly, can entice the idea.

Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. 

Aber er kommt, wenn es ihm, nicht, wenn es uns beliebt.

In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.

Inspiration plays no less a role in science than it does in the realm of art. It is a childish notion to think that a mathematician attains any scientifically valuable results by sitting at his desk with a ruler, calculating machines or other mechanical means.

Both are frenzy (in the sense of Plato’s ‘mania’) and ‘inspiration.‘

Beide sind: Rausch (im Sinne von Platons »manía«) und »Eingebung«.

Now, whether we have scientific inspiration depends upon destinies that are hidden from us, and besides upon ‘gifts.’

Last but not least, because of this indubitable truth, a very understandable attitude has become popular, especially among youth, and has put them in the service of idols whose cult today occupies a broad place on all street corners and in all periodicals.

These idols are ‘personality’ and ‘personal experience.’

Jene Götzen sind: die »Persönlichkeit« und das »Erleben«.

One puts oneself through agonies in order to have “lived” (erleben) — for that befits for a the life-style (Lebensführung ) of personality — and if one fails, one at least has to act
as if one had this gift of grace.

Formerly we called this ‘lived experience (Erlebnis),’ in plain German, ‘sensation’;

Früher nannte man dies »Erlebnis« auf deutsch: »Sensation«.

In the field of science only he who is devoted purely to the matter (Sache) has personality.

Art and Science 

goethe As far as his art is concerned, even with a personality of Goethe’s rank, it has been detrimental to take the liberty of trying to make his ‘life’ into a work of art. And even if one doubts this, one has to be a Goethe in order to dare permit oneself such liberty. Everybody will admit at least this much: that even with a person like Goethe, who appears once in a thousand years, this liberty did not go unpaid for.

In the field of science, however, the person who makes himself the impresario of the subject to which he should be devoted, and steps upon the stage and seeks to legitimate himself through ‘lived’ (Erleben) asking: How can I prove that I am something other than a mere ‘specialist’ and how can I manage to say something in form or in content that nobody else has ever said?

This is a phenomenon that is found on a massive scale in our time. It always appears petty, and diminishes the person who asks such questions, whereas inward devotion to his task, and that alone, would raise him to the height and dignity (Würde) of the cause that he claims to serve. This is also no different for the artist.

In contrast with these preconditions which scientific work shares with art, science has a fate that profoundly distinguishes it from artistic work. Scientific work is chained to the course of progress; whereas in the realm of art there is no progress in the same sense.

A work of art that attains real “fulfillment” (Erfüllung) will never be surpassed, and
will never become obsolete; the individual may assess its significance for himself
variously, but no one will ever be able to say of a work that attains real “fulfillment”
in the artistic sense that it has been “surpassed” by another one that also
attains “fulfillment.”

Every scientific “fulfillment” means new “questions,” and is intended to be surpassed and rendered obsolete.

It is not only the fate, but also the goal, of all of us to be surpassed scientifically. We cannot work without hoping that others will get further than we have. In principle, this
progress can go on indefinitely.

The meaning (Sinn) of science

Scientific progress is a fraction, the most important fraction, of the process of intellectualization (Intellektualisierungsprozesses) which we have been undergoing for thousands of years and which nowadays is usually judged in such an extremely negative way.

hottentot Does it mean that we, today, for instance, everyone sitting in this hall, have a greater knowledge of the conditions of life under which we exist than has an American Indian or a Hottentot? Hardly. Unless he is a physicist, one who rides on the streetcar has no idea how the car happened to get into motion. And he does not need to know. He is satisfied that he may ‘count’ on the behavior of the streetcar, and he orients his conduct according to this expectation; but he knows nothing about what it takes to produce such a car so that it can move. The savage knows incomparably more about his tools.


The increasing intellectualization and rationalization do not, therefore, indicate an increased and general knowledge of the conditions under which one lives.

It means that principally there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation.

This means that the world is disenchanted.

Das aber bedeutet: die Entzauberung der Welt.

One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service. This above all is what intellectualization means.

The Meaning of Death 

Tolstoy’s answer was: for cultural man (Kulturmenschen) death has no meaning.

It has none because the individual life of civilized man, placed into an infinite ‘progress,’ according to its own immanent meaning should never come to an end; for there is always a further step ahead of one who stands in the march of progress. And no person who comes to die stands upon the peak which lies in infinity.

Abraham, or some peasant of the past, died ‘old and satiated with life’ (»alt und lebensgesättigt) because he stood in the organic cycle of life; because his life, in terms of its meaning and on the eve of his days, had given to him what life had to offer; because for him there remained no puzzles he might wish to solve; and therefore he could have had ‘enough’ of life.

Whereas civilized man, placed in the midst of the continuous enrichment of culture by ideas, knowledge, and problems, may become ‘tired of life’ (lebensmüde) but not ‘satiated with life.’ (lebensgesättigt).

He catches only the most minute part of what the life of the spirit brings forth ever anew, and what he seizes is always something provisional and not definitive, and therefore death for him is a meaningless occurrence (sinnlose Begebenheit)

And because death is meaningless, civilized life as such is meaningless; by its very ‘progressiveness’ it gives death the imprint of meaninglessness.

The value of science