The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why is it so unexpected that Protestants would be more economically successful than Catholics, in Weber’s time?

    Weber points out that this trend does not seem to make sense based on historical or national explanations. He explains that, historically, Protestants have more accumulated wealth. However, how this began in the first place is difficult to explain, because one would expect that stricter religion would mean less participation in economic pursuits. Instead, Weber will go on to show that, actually, stronger piety is correlated with stronger economic performance, as well.

  2. 2

    How does Benjamin Franklin’s treatise differ from an encouragement of hedonism?

    Weber explains that Franklin’s text does not actually encourage hedonism, although it does support the accumulation of wealth as an end in itself. Because Franklin views this accumulation of wealth as a duty, however, he does not intend it to encourage people to pursue only their pleasure. Rather, he transforms the idea of making money into something that is not necessarily pleasurable, but simply a necessity. Thus, his philosophy is not a hedonistic one.

  3. 3

    Why is Luther not a direct inventor of the capitalist spirit?

    Luther contributed to the early development of the capitalist spirit by encouraging the idea of labor as a duty. However, he also believed that this duty was passed on by God, and not something that was chosen by men or done for their own sake. In his model, people should follow their calling according to the station of life into which they were born. This does not allow for social mobility, and thus is not an exact reflection of the capitalist spirit as Weber defines it.

  4. 4

    According to Weber, what is a primary difference between the Catholic and Protestant attitude toward sin and salvation?

    Weber points out that Catholics tend to treat sin as something to be atoned for by the individual after the fact. For Catholics, repenting by doing good deeds that are supposed to make up for their past bad deeds is a central part of their approach to the relationship with God. Weber explains that Catholics tend to believe that by completing enough positive actions to outweigh their bad ones, they can be forgiven and go to heaven. Protestants, on the other hand—especially Calvinists—are more continuous in their striving to do good. They do not complete good deeds in order to make up for bad ones and be forgiven by an outside source, but rather constantly check in with themselves to make sure they are contributing positively to the world around them. In this way, they are more individualist in their approach to sin and salvation.

  5. 5

    Why does Weber consider different religious denominations when trying to determine the origins of the spirit of capitalism?

    At the end of the third section of the first part of the text, Weber explains to readers that he will be moving into a more specific analysis of different religious denominations in order to explore the development of the spirit of capitalism. Thus far in the text, he has spoken mainly in general terms about the Reformation and its impact on developing a more individualist approach to religion that emphasizes the importance of a “calling.” However, he believes that the Reformation is not actually a direct link to the spirit of capitalism—it may have contributed in part to this spirit, but cannot fully explain it. Thus, he moves into a more specific discussion of different religious denominations in order to determine the ways in which these religious beliefs contributed, to some degree, to the capitalist spirit. It is important to note that he intends only to draw loose connections between these beliefs and this spirit.

  6. 6

    What does Weber believe Calvinists contributed to the capitalist spirit, thanks to their emphasis on predestination?

    Weber believes that Calvinism played a large part in introducing a more negative form of individualism. Calvinists believe that one’s salvation is determined beforehand by God, and cannot be affected by one’s deeds on earth. Weber claims that this kind of attitude led Calvinists to develop a certain sense of loneliness, since no one can help them with their eternal salvation—not even their Church. This loneliness in turn is connected to a certain kind of individualism unique to Calvinists. More specifically, they tend to be mistrustful of others and focused only on their own good deeds, since they believe that no one else can help them but themselves.

  7. 7

    How does Weber present the differences across Protestant denominations to his readers?

    Weber begins his section on these different denominations by clarifying that they are actually quite similar. Although they may have developed differing ideas about salvation and the exact relationship between men and God, Weber claims they all share common roots and often intermingled their ideas. This means that, although they can and should be considered individually, it is also important to keep in mind that they all ultimately fall under the umbrella of “Protestantism.”

  8. 8

    How does Weber believe the relationship between Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism developed?

    Weber is careful to specify that he does not believe Protestants ever consciously considered their connection to capitalism. In fact, he states that most Protestants would likely reject the concept of capitalism in the first place. Luther, for example, would not support the idea of making a profit because he believed only in working to do good for society and to get by in life. However, Weber believes that Protestants incidentally and indirectly contributed to the spirit of capitalism through certain tenants of their religious beliefs.

  9. 9

    What is Weber’s criticism of Methodism and Pietism?

    For both Methodism and Pietism, Weber warns against too much reliance on emotions and not enough consistency in application. Pietists emphasize the possibility of experiencing the bliss of a connection with God even in this life on earth, and Methodists emphasize that one can demonstrate salvation simply by strongly believing that one has been chosen for salvation. Thus, both Methodists and Pietists focus more on the importance of thinking, believing, and feeling in their religion than do Calvinists, for whom only actions are important. Weber tends to support this Calvinist approach because it is more consistent and easier to follow than one based in feelings, which are changeable.

  10. 10

    What warning does Weber provide as he concludes his text?

    Weber warns readers against assuming that he intends his text to replace a materialist interpretation of history with a spiritual one. He does not want to argue that the spiritual explanation is the only valid contribution to tracing the development of capitalism and modern society. Instead, he only wants to argue that it should have more of a place in theory than it did at his time. He defends the validity of the spiritual explanation and encourages further analysis in order to trace more ways in which it shaped our modern society.