A preference for selfish preferences: The problem of motivations in rational choice political science

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38 (3):361-378 (2008)
This article analyzes the problem of preference imputation in rational choice political science. I argue against the well-established practice in political science of assuming selfish preferences for purely methodological reasons, regardless of its empirical plausibility (this I call a preference for selfish preferences). Real motivations are overlooked due to difficulties of imputing preferences to agents in a non-arbitrary way in the political realm. I compare the problem of preference imputation in economic and political markets, and I show the harmful consequences of the preference for selfish preferences in the field of collective action. Key Words: rational choice theory • preference • functionalism • collective action.
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DOI 10.1177/0048393108319470
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