Formal and Substantive Rationality


Formaland Substantive Rationality

Webercame up with the concept of rationalization. Rationalizationdescribes the process by which emotional and traditional thoughtbecomes replaced with practicality and reason. According to Weber,most societies in history were usually governed by tradition and thetrend that is most significant in modern societies isrationalization. Examples of such trend include scientific studiesand the development of capitalism among others. There are differentmodalities of rationality, which include formal, substantive, andhermeneutic rationality. Substantive rationality concentrates oninstrumental action, while formal rationality focuses on consistency(Doubt,2000. Pp94).On the other hand, hermeneutic rationality stresses onintelligibility. The aim of this assignment is to explain what Webermeant by formal and substantive rationality, then the two conceptswould be used in analyzing whether Scientific management and HumanRelations Theory are formally rational, substantively rational, both,or neither.


Thistype of rationality is perceived to order actions into patternsdirectly. However, in doing this, it relates a present, past, orpotential postulate. Value postulate means complete clusters ofvalues, which differ in content, internal consistency, andcomprehensiveness. Therefore, this kind of rationality exists as anexpression of man’s innate ability for value-rational action. Thiskind of rationality may become restricted, organizing only adelimited part of life leaving other parts untouched (Hirst,2010. Pp68).For example, when friendship involves adherence to values such ascompassion, mutual assistance, and loyalty, it represents asubstantive rationality. Substantive rationality is considered as aunique canon against which the flow of reality of continuingempirical events can be chosen, measured and judged. According toWeber, substantive rationality always tends to exist in reference todirections or ultimate points of view. Every point of view means anidentifiable configuration of values, which determines the route of apotentially developing rationalization process (Clegget al, 2011. Pp104).Substantively rational points of view can also vary within a singlesphere. For example, in the realm of religion, ultimatevalue-standpoints and global views confront each other, where eachproclaims its rationality (Weberet al, 1999. Pp80).According to Weber, substantive rationality usually pivots on thecertainty that values are not expressed through the methods ofscience.


Thistype of rationality relates to areas of life and a structure ofauthority that acquired particular and delineated frontiers only withindustrialization legal, scientific, the economic spheres and thebureaucratic form of dominion. Formal rationality describes the‘means’ in a rationalization process. It is the purposeful andunambiguous calculation of the most effective means to an end. Formalrationality is usually a matter of fact. According to Weber,experimental scientific procedures are fully formally rational. Inthis case, calculation proceeds relative to the usual rules ofexperimentation (Boucock,2000. Pp44).These rules are likely to be carried out in a more sophisticated waythan rules in the bureaucratic form of authority or in the economicand legal fields. In formal rationality, strict empiricalobservation, systemic measurement, and quantification attain a heightof methodical control. Just like in other life-fields, the executionof all technically feasible means-end rational calculations occurswithout regard to individuals.

Webercame up with a distinction amid substantive and formal rationality.According to Weber’s arguments, formal rationality describes theextent over which action occurs as a result of quantitative andappropriate calculations. An act can be considered to be rationalsince its structure is consistent, all its elements point in the samedirection, where none counteract the other this consistency isusually helped by formalization (Weber,2004. Pp74).Formalization has the power that through a mechanical form ofsimplification, it makes certain forms of contradictions visible.Therefore, formal rationality is a kind of rationalization whichfocuses on process instead of outcome it usually addresses themanner in which decisions are made not the results to be achieved.Besides, an act can also be perceived as rational since it canpromote given ends successfully.

Onthe other hand, according to Weber, substantive rationalityemphasizes on results. It usually describes the failure or success ofeconomically oriented action in attaining some ultimate aims theobjectives may be economic or non-economic for instance equality andjustice (Webel,2013. Pp66).Despite Weber’s argument, he is not clear whether given ends lendthemselves more to formal rationality compared to others and ifcertain forms of ends such as equality and justice may compound theproblems associated with formal calculation. Weber posits that, priorto the rise of capitalism, formal rationality in the economy andelsewhere was limited. However, under capitalism formal calculationshave thrived and substantive and formal rationality have coincided toa moderately high degree. This is because competitive markets offerappropriate prices for calculation. According to Weber, only undercapitalism (under conditions of the free market economy) can formalrationality blossom since it is only the free market that canobjectively enumerate values. He further argues that rationalcalculation in the economy emerges as a historical and socialphenomenon.

Analysisof Scientific Management and Human Relations Theory

Scientificmanagement theory became founded by Frederick Taylor. This theoryseeks to enhance the efficiency of an organization throughsystemically enhancing the efficiency of task completion through theuse of engineering, scientific, and mathematical analysis. The chiefgoal is to mitigate waste, enhance the process and techniques ofproduction, and develop a just distribution of commodities. This goalis critical since it serves the basic interests of employees,employers, and society. The scientific management theory is usuallyguided by four principles. One of the principles is that managersmust collect information, make analysis, and reduce it to laws,rules, or mathematical formulas. The second principle is thatmanagers must be involved in scientifically selecting and trainingworkers, while the third principle is that managers must ensure thatthe methods created through science become used by workers. Inaddition, the fourth principle is that managers need to apply thework equally amid employees and themselves, where managers usescientific management theories to planning and employees perform thetasks in pursuant to the plans.

Throughthe use of Weber’s argument in distinguishing between formalrationality and substantive rationality, scientific management theoryis formally rational. There are different reasons that can beprovided in supporting the idea that scientific management theory isformally rational. One of the reasons for this view is becausescientific management follows a bureaucratic form of authority. Thebureaucratic form of authority is an element of formal rationality,which makes scientific management to be categorized as being formallyrational. According to Weber’s arguments, formal rationalitydescribes the extent over which action occurs as a result ofquantitative and appropriate calculations. In scientific management,the efficiency of an organization is enhanced through systemicallyenhancing the efficiency of task completion through the use ofengineering, scientific, and mathematical analysis. This implies thatquantitative and appropriate calculations are necessary in scientificmanagement since there is mathematical analysis (Koslowski,2001. Pp98).The use of calculations makes scientific management formallyrational. Besides, in scientific management, managers must be engagedin the collection of data and its analysis this utilizes the use ofmathematical knowledge, which is supported by formal rationality.

Scientificmanagement theory is also formally rational because, in formalrationality, strict empirical observation, systemic measurement, andquantification attain a height of methodical control are evident.When experiments are used, there is the use of strict observation andsystemic measurement. Since the scientific management employed theSchmidt experiment, it implies that strict observation and systemicmeasurement were evident. This makes scientific management formallyrational. Furthermore, according to Weber, experimental scientificprocedures are fully formally rational. Since scientific managementuses scientific experimentation and scientific selection in itsfunctioning, it implies that scientific management is formallyrational.

However,although scientific management can be considered to be formallyrational, it can also be considered substantively rational. Accordingto Weber, substantive rationality usually describes the failure orsuccess of economically oriented action in attaining some ultimateaims, where the objectives may be economic or non-economic. From thisviewpoint, scientific management can be considered substantivelyrational because it entails the attainment of success of aneconomically oriented action.

Alternatively,human relations theory tends to focus more on the persons in theworkplace compared to the rules, processes and procedures. Ratherthan instructions coming directly from management, human relationstheory offers communication amid managers and employees, permittingthem to engage with one another in order to help in making decisions(Henderson,1996. Pp72).Instead of employees being given quotas and requiring certainprocedures, employees are exposed to emotional and motivationaltactics so as to make them increase productivity. The chief emphasisof this style is to develop fulfilled, productive employees andhelping them invest in an organization. In increasing labourproductivity, human relations theory proposes taking into accountmoral and psychological qualities like motivation, values and goals.From the arguments presented by Weber concerning formal andsubstantive rationality, human relations theory can be categorized asbeing formally and substantively rational.

Oneof the reasons for categorizing the human relations theory as beingformally rational is because it employed the use of experiments inits development. Human relations theory became developed under theexperiments of Hawthorne. The use of experiments in coming up withthe human relations theory is an indication that the theory wasinfluenced through scientific techniques. According to Weber,scientific experimentations constitute formal rationality. This makesthe human relations theory to fall under formal rationality. Anotherreason why the human relations theory can be categorized as beformally rational is due to the involvement of bureaucracy. In orderto ensure the functioning of the human relations theory,communication must be effected to managers and employees. Althoughthis is not so bureaucratic, it needs to follow some organization.This makes this theory be categorized as being formally rationalbecause formal rationality relates to areas of life and a structureof authority that acquired particular and delineated frontiers onlywith industrialization legal, scientific, the economic spheres.

Onthe other hand, human relations theory can be categorized to besubstantively rational because it emphasizes more on taking intoaccount moral and psychological qualities like motivation, values andgoals. According to Weber, substantive rationality always tends toexist in reference to directions or ultimate points of view. Everypoint of view means an identifiable configuration of values, whichdetermines the route of a potentially developing rationalizationprocess. The use of moral and psychological qualities of employees isintended to come up with values that will help in ordering actionsinto patterns this is an element of substantive rationality. Thismakes the human relations theory to fall under substantiverationality. In addition, the human relations theory falls under thesubstantive rationality because it aims at achieving a specific goal,which may be economic or non-economic (TenHouten,2014. Pp103).The chief emphasis of the human relations theory is to developfulfilled, productive employees and helping employees in investing inan organization. This specific goal makes the theory fall undersubstantive rationality.


Accordingto Weber, formal rationality describes the extent over which anaction occurs as a result of quantitative and appropriatecalculations. An act may be considered to be rational because itsstructure is consistent and all its elements point in the samedirection, where none counteract the other this consistency isusually helped by formalization. Formal rationality is usually amatter of fact and scientific experimentation can be perceived asformal rationality. On the other hand, substantive rationalitydescribes the failure or success of economically oriented action inattaining some ultimate aims and it usually emphasizes on results.From the distinctions made by Weber concerning formal and substantiverationality, it emerges that scientific management and humanrelations theory are both formally and substantively rational.


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