When I use concepts like intimacy and integrity and ascent and descent on this blog, I very often refer to them as ideal types. So far I have explained what that means mostly in passing, and it’s time to provide a bit more detail.
Credit for the concept of an ideal type must go to Max Weber, the early twentieth-century German historian who is now retroactively regarded as one of the founders of sociology. Weber identifies the concept in his long and thoughtful piece “‘Objectivity’ in social science and social policy”; its English translation (by Edward Shils and Henry Finch) is easily found in the short collection The Methodology of the Social Sciences, available free online. Weber’s point is to argue for theoretical constructs that – much like Platonic forms – allow us to understand empirical reality even if they are never instantiated in that reality. He takes as an example the abstract mathematical constructs that characterize twentieth-century economic theory: Continue reading