The natural realm of social law

Sociological Theory 21 (2):175-190 (2003)
Abstract
This paper proposes criteria for distinguishing those types of social forms that are susceptible to lawlike explanation from those that are susceptible to interpretive accounts. The main criterion concerns the rankability of choice alternatives. The choice process is modeled as having two subprocesses. The first subprocess is a rational one in which unacceptable decision alternatives are eliminated, reducing the universe of alternatives to the set of interchangeably acceptable options, termed the admissible set. In the second subprocess, an arbitrary choice is made from the admissible set. In rational-choice settings, the admissible set consists of just one element, the optimum. However, this is clearly not the only possibility, as the example of language, with its plurality of interchangeable phonemic options, bears witness. The fundamental concept: At one extreme-the extreme of language-the admissible set is large and the arbitrary-choice subprocess dominates the rational-choice subprocess. At the other extreme-the extreme of rational-choice theory-the admissible set consists of a single element and the rational-choice subprocess dominates the arbitrary-choice subprocess. Social law has its proper home in those territories of human activity where the admissible set is small; social interpretation has its proper home in those regions where the admissible set is large
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