Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Generalist

I am not a donkey, and I do not have a "field."

--Max Weber


G. Verloren said...

I am at an utter loss for context.

I figured I must simply be missing something, so I tried looking up the quote's larger context via search engines, and while I can find countless references to the quote itself, I can't find any clue as to what instigated the comment. What little I have found claims the comment was made in relation to some form of criticism for straying out of his professional discipline, but that much can be gleaned from the second half of the comment.

It's the first half which is an enigma to me. My first thought was that perhaps he was responding to being called an "ass" by someone who found him to be presumptuous? But then there's a different possibility - donkeys are often kept in "fields" and pastures, so maybe it's some sort of metaphor there? But then if so, why a donkey specifically, rather than something more closely and generally related to "fields", like a horse, or a flower, or a stream?

Every source I find tauts Weber as bravely standing up for interdisciplinary thinking, but without the actual context of the inciting comment that garnered his response, I have no way of knowing whether Weber actually deserves praise, or was just being petulant when someone rebuked him for overstraying his expertise - which is entirely possible. No matter how brilliant an individual is in one or more fields, if one speaks beyond one's expertise about something they know little to nothing about, they can very quickly put their foot in their mouth. I know I've done exactly that on a number of occasions - I have a strong and rapid intuition, and it has more than a few times led me astray in matters more complicated than one might regularly intuit them to be!

John said...

What is interesting about Weber's work is that he crossed back and forth between history, sociology, economics, and epistemology. So if he had a field, it was one which he invented, and in which he has had few followers.