Rational choice as critical theory

Philosophy and Social Criticism 22 (5):43-62 (1996)
Habermas has argued that many of the endemic socio- economic problems of Western society are either symptoms or prod ucts of a 'lopsided' process of cultural rationalization, one that has emphasized instrumental forms of rationality over communicative. But other than presenting a rather general typology of lifeworld pathologies, Habermas has not done much to specify what these problems might be, nor has he provided any 'middle-range' analysis of the mechanisms through which they might be generated. This paper discusses some of the ways in which, consistent with Haber mas's general framework, rational choice theory can be used for pre cisely this task. In this analysis, rational choice theory is not presented as a comprehensive theory of action, but is employed as a critical- diagnostic tool that allows the theorist to identify undesirable social interaction patterns that arise from a broader instrumentalization of the lifeworld. Key Words: critical theory • Habermas • instrumental rationality • market failure • rational choice theory.
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