Which ideologies value discipline

Hans Albert celebrated his 100th birthday on February 8, 2021. He is one of the social scientists who experienced National Socialism and World War II as young pupils and students and whose academic career was shaped by the reconstruction of society, the economy and the social sciences and universities. Hans Albert's contribution to this can be seen above all in the methodological foundation of the social sciences with reference to Karl Popper and the principles that follow from it, which today are summarized as ›Critical Rationalism‹.

Social Sciences in the 20th Century: The Value Judgment Controversy

After the war, Hans Albert had enrolled at the University of Cologne and, according to his own statement, learned Max Weber and Karl Popper, who were not dealt with directly during the course. In his diploma thesis he already dealt with value judgments in economics (Albert 2003). For him, Karl Popper and his epistemological program became the most important tool for critically examining the formation and impact of ideologies, which he considered indispensable in view of his experiences with National Socialism. That is his life theme (1968; 1996; 2010). ›The Treatise on Critical Reason‹ (1968) and the collection of articles ›Market Sociology and Decision Logic‹ (1998) present his position in the important ›Value Judgment or Positivism Controversy‹ [1] and form the basis of the empirically oriented social sciences to this day. According to Hans Albert, their core task is to find, precisely formulate and empirically test general statements about relationships in the world. The social world is viewed as being objective and structured independently of human knowledge. The core program of ›Critical Rationalism‹ is still based on the assumption of a fundamental human capacity for knowledge and the possibility of recognizing causal relationships, but also takes into account the possibility of human error and the openness of the future, from which it follows that no absolute knowledge is possible and therefore no justified final or value judgments are possible. On the one hand, this results in the rejection of the use of normative judgments in scientific statements and the rejection of ideologies and criticism of religion. Hans Albert has translated the complex dispute about value judgments, not least taken over by Max Weber, into three very helpful questions: 1. Can the social sciences make judgments, decisions or norms an object? 2. Can the social sciences be based on normative statements? And 3. Can the social sciences make evaluations or value judgments about the content of their statements? Hans Albert answers the first two questions with a decided yes. On the other hand, he answered the third question with a resolute no. The social sciences can empirically investigate the norms and values ​​of a group (1st question) and they can also give themselves standards and norms for their work such as the search for truth (2nd question), but they cannot justify values ​​scientifically and logically because this leads to a hermeneutical recourse: Münchhausen Trilemma (3rd question).

In addition to the postulate of freedom from value judgments, this also means a plea for precise terms, theses and theories (economic theory work) in order to be able to critically examine knowledge again and again (falsification principle). These basic rules of critical rationalism are still used today in social science work: 1. Establishing abstract, precise models, 2. Finding general causal relationships, 3. Using the most realistic assumptions and precise terms and theories possible, 4. Examining and systematising theories and 5 Impossibility of final normative statements in scientific work (Albert 1956; 1957; 1965).

The ›idea of ​​rational practice‹ or social technology

With the early representatives of the European Enlightenment, ›Critical Rationalists‹ like Hans Albert are connected with the concern to present as true, comprehensive and precise explanations of social reality as possible and thus to enlighten about the world and scientifically tested proposals for shaping society, economy, politics and law etc. based on knowledge. This gave birth to the somewhat ambiguous term ›social technology‹, which, however, definitely stands for an understanding of the task of social and social sciences that is still important today: to pursue science as a rational practice, the task of which is to make knowledge available, always has to be regarded as provisional and does not feed on political wishful thinking, but instead repeatedly questioned and criticized powerful decision-makers in society, culture, politics, and the economy (cf. Albert 1968; 1976; 1978); In view of the coping with Corona, a clear statement today.

Hans Albert stands for the pursuit of knowledge and the critical-rational weighing of problem solutions supported by knowledge.

The relationship between the social science sub-disciplines

Hans Albert's advocacy of the unity of the social sciences is based on the assumption of an integrating methodological foundation. This is supported by the work on explanations that use general statements, but, compared to the natural sciences, take into account the importance of the subjective exploration of the world and, above all, of cognitive knowledge. Albert's criticism of the model platonism of economic theory (1964; 1995), which is unfortunately too little perceived, and his proposal to use highly abstract theories of action, such as the theory of rational action, as a special form or as a situation-related maxim for action (Albert 1995) feeds from this. On this basis, Hans Albert pointed out early on that the model of the competitive market is not associated with assumptions that are too simple, but rather that forms of social relationships and interaction are faded out, which, however, would be the subject of a market sociology. This is why Hans Albert promoted a market sociology early on in the 1950s, which takes institutions and situational interpretations into account for the explanation and analysis of the economy; that is exactly what distinguishes economic sociology, behavioral economics, socio-economics and political economy today and which are actually honored with the Nobel Prize for this.

The mentor, colleague, friend, companion, dancer, interlocutor ...

Hans Albert is not only a special scientist - I would like to write a sociologist, but I am not sure whether he (like Max Weber and others before him) has long had a distant relationship with sociology in its organized and professionally practiced form (see e.g. Albert 1996). Rather, he is still a mentor, colleague, friend, companion, dancer, conversation partner, husband and father. Those who have been able to work and discuss with him, but also those who have only met him at conferences and have known him from the meetings in Alpbach or Tutzing, for example, know that he lives critical rationalism, that he is extraordinarily capable of criticism and that he is happy and that he doesn't conceive, but rather likes to talk to the young people. This type - combined with the uncomplicated you - seemed so unbelievable to me that it was only after many meetings at the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing that I dared to think of him as Hans Albert; Admittedly, I never succeeded in addressing him directly. But I still appreciate and admire his open and critical style and the great zest for life, quite apart from the idea of ​​doing sociology as a science. To see him floating across the floor with his colleagues, accompanied by friends at the piano, surrounded by small groups deep in discussions, is the image that comes to me today. This picture also includes his stories about his beautiful wife, Gretel Albert, his sons Max, Kurt and Gert Albert and the many friends who keep coming back to Albert's house in Heidelberg and who will hopefully be there for a long time to come.

Thank you and happy 100th birthday! Happy birthday to you Hans!

Andrea Maurer


  • Adorno, T.W., Dahrendorf, R., Pilot, H., Albert, H., Habermas, J., Popper, K.R. 1975 [1969]: The Positivism Controversy in German Sociology. 4th edition, Darmstadt, Neuwied: Luchterhand.
  • Albert, H. 1956: The problem of value judgments in the light of logical analysis. Journal for the whole of political science, 112th year, issue 3, 410–439.
  • Albert, H. 1957: On the problem of norms in the social sciences. Soziale Welt, 8th year, issue 1, 5–9.
  • Albert, H. 1964: Problems of Theory Building. Development, structure and application of social science theories. In H. Albert (ed.), Theory and Reality. Selected essays on the science of the social sciences, Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 3-70.
  • Albert, H. 1965: Value freedom as a methodological principle. On the question of the need for a normative social science. In E. Topitsch (ed.), Logic of the Social Sciences. Cologne, Berlin: Kiepenheuer and Witsch. 181-210.
  • Albert, H. 1968: Treatise on Critical Reason. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
  • Albert, H. 1976: Enlightenment and Control. Essays on social philosophy and the science of the social sciences. Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe.
  • Albert, H. 1978: Treatise on Rational Practice. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
  • Albert, H. 1995: The Idea of ​​Rational Practice and the Economic Tradition. Walter Adolf Jöhr lecture 1995. St. Gallen: Research Association for Economics.
  • Albert, H. 1996: My detour into sociology. In C. Fleck (ed.), Paths to Sociology after 1945. Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 16–37.
  • Albert, H. 1998. Market Sociology and Decision Logic. To the criticism of pure economics. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
  • Albert, H. 2003: Weltanschauung, science and practice. Remarks on the science and value theory of Max Weber. In G. Albert, A. Bienfait, S. Sigmund, C. Wendt (eds.), The Weber Paradigm. Studies on the further development of Max Weber's research program, Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 77-96.
  • Albert, H. 2010: Entangled in controversy. From cultural pessimism to critical rationalism. 2nd Edition. Vienna: Lit.

[1] The debate reached its preliminary climax in the 1960s in the so-called positivism dispute (Adorno et al. 1975). This was preceded by various discussions, in which first Karl Popper and later Hans Albert met with Horkheimer and Adorno, who had returned from exile.