Conceptualizing rational social action
Summary review of the major papers from the Rationality seminar by Talcott Parsons , Joseph A. Schumpeter , and Alfred Schütz shows that all three focus on conceptualizing the rational conduct of individuals or aggregates of individuals. The present contribution follows instead a Weberian emphasis on the cultural and institutional foundations that frame the rational action of individuals. A starting point is Weber 's conception of the spirit of capitalism as a secular economic ethic independent of—differentiated from—the Protestant ethic and its inner-worldly asceticism that historically gave rise to it. Weber cited Benjamin Franklin's writings as an early exemplar of the spirit of capitalism that preceded and gave rise to the economic institutions of modern capitalism. An examination of Franklin's career shows that he was a more diverse and successful entrepreneur than Weber knew. Moreover, he also became prominent as philanthropist, scientist, statesman, and diplomat, roles that he could assume only after taking on the status of "gentleman" on the basis of the wealth he had earned. He was also an adherent of ideologies arising from the Enlightenment, perhaps the first in the American colonies. A brief discussion follows of the respects in which the Enlightenment philosophy provided the basis not only for the spirit of capitalism but also for the abstract design, progressive rationalization, and legitimation of a wide range of modern secular institutional complexes. A final section of the essay explores the respects in which the notion of "generalized symbolic media" developed in the later work of Talcott Parsons clarifies how key institutions and related social mechanisms enable citizens of modern societies to rationalize their conduct in various spheres of social life.
Lidz, V. (2018)., Conceptualizing rational social action, in H. Staubmann & V. Lidz (eds.), Rationality in the social sciences, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 167-188.
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