The Diversity of Rational Choice Theory: A Review Note

Topoi 39 (2):329-347 (2020)
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In this paper, I review the literature on rational choice theory to scrutinize a number of criticisms that philosophers have voiced against its usefulness in economics. The paper has three goals: first, I argue that the debates about RCT have been characterized by disunity and confusion about the object under scrutiny, which calls into question the effectiveness of those criticisms. Second, I argue that RCT is not a single and unified choice theory—let alone an empirical theory of human behavior—as some critics seem to suppose. Rather, there are several variants of RCT used in economics. Third, I propose that we think of RCT as a set of distinct research strategies to appreciate its diversity. This account implies that the effectiveness of any criticism depends on the variant of RCT we are considering.



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Catherine Herfeld
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München