Idealism and Materialism as General Approaches to Understanding Society

Essay by cuetCollege, UndergraduateA-, April 2004

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Idealism and Materialism as General Approaches to Understanding Society

Both Karl Marx and Max Weber had very different ways of looking at the

societies economic system. Marx's strong beliefs in what would make society thrive were

in the materialism approach and Weber's was in the idealism approach.

Karl Marx believed that the majority of societies problems came from the industrial

capitalist system; this is the system that was making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer,

with the larger portion of society being what Marx called the proletariat (the poor

laborers)(Macionis/Gerber, 2002,p.94). Marx felt that this was a very poor way to run a

society and argued that the people themselves would have to change it. This however

could prove to be difficult, the proletariats need some sort of a wage to survive

and take care of their families and the capitalists held the jobs where they could earn that

wage, this puts the poor at an immediate disadvantage and the rich at an advantage.


capitalists believed that this was not a problem with society and that individuals

themselves were to blame for being poor or rich, this is what Marx called "false

consciousness" (p.95), he did not believe in this as the answer. What he did believe in

was that they were dominating the society by "legally protecting their wealth" (p.95).

Although Marx felt strongly about his views Max Weber (1864-1920) did too.

Max Weber had a different way of looking at the world; he believed that people "viewed

the world" through tradition or rationality. Tradition was followed mainly by pre-

industrial societies who believed that following the same beliefs and traditions that their

ancestors had followed was the right way to lead their lives. Those in the industrial -

capitalist societies took to a rationality approach, which...