Value-Free Sociology

Hammersley, Martyn (2018). Value-Free Sociology. In: Ritzer, George ed. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.



It has been argued, most notably by Max Weber, that the principle of value freedom must guide social science. This requires that the conclusions of research be restricted to factual ones, excluding practical evaluations and policy recommendations that go beyond the identification of effective means. Equally important it implies a responsibility on the part of social scientists to minimize any distortion of research resulting from their own or others' value commitments. Picking up on an influential philosophical theme, Weber insisted that value conclusions cannot be derived solely from factual assumptions, and concluded on this basis that there can be no scientific authority for such conclusions. The principle of value freedom (sometimes referred to as “value neutrality” or “ethical neutrality”) was widely appealed to by social scientists around the middle of the twentieth century, but since that time it has been championed less frequently, and indeed has been subjected to widespread criticism. Much of this criticism is misdirected, and, even when it is not, it relies upon alternative philosophical and political positions that are themselves open to question.

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