The critics of rationalchoicetheory (RCT) frequently build on the contrast between so-called thick and thin applications of RCT to argue that thin RCT lacks the potential to explain the choices of real-world agents. In this paper, I draw on often-cited RCT applications in several decision sciences to demonstrate that despite this prominent critique there are at least two different senses in which thin RCT can explain real-world agents’ choices. I then defend this thesis against the (...) most influential objections put forward by the critics of RCT. In doing so, I explicate the implications of my thesis for the ongoing philosophical debate concerning the explanatory potential of RCT and the comparative merits of widely endorsed accounts of explanation. (shrink)
Authoritative rationalchoice theorists continue to argue that wide variants of rationalchoicetheory should be regarded as the best starting-point to formulate theoretical hypotheses on the micro foundations of complex macro-level social dynamics. Building on recent writings on neo-classical rationalchoicetheory, on behavioral economics and on cognitive psychology, the present article challenges this view and argues that: neo-classical rationalchoicetheory is an astonishingly malleable and powerful analytical (...) device whose descriptive accuracy is nevertheless limited to a very specific class of choice settings; the ‘wide’ sociological rationalchoicetheory does not add anything original to the neo-classical framework on a conceptual level and it is also methodologically weaker; at least four alternative action-oriented approaches that reject portrayal of actors as computational devices operating over probability distributions can be used to design sociological explanations that are descriptively accurate at the micro level. (shrink)
The paper addresses the ‘rationalchoice only’ reconstruction, characterization, and interpretation of classical and neoclassical economics. It argues that such a reconstruction is inaccurate failing to do justice to the dual theoretical character of classical/neoclassical economics. The paper instead proposes and shows that the latter involves not only elements of ‘rationalchoicetheory’ but also those of an alternative conception. It identifies various and important ideas, observations, and implications of irrational choice and action within (...) classical/neoclassical economics. One class of such ingredients involves forms, expressions, and cases—i.e. specification and classification—of irrational choices in the economy. Another class comprises the social and other factors—i.e. economic sociology or social economics—of irrational choices in the economy. The paper’s intended contribution is to help identify and clarify the extant sources and alternatives of rationalchoicetheory in conventional economics.... (shrink)
Although rationalchoicetheory has enjoyed only modest predictive success, it provides a powerful explanatory mechanism for social processes involving strategic interaction among individuals and it stimulates interesting empirical inquiries. Rather than present competing theories to compare against rationalchoice, Don Green and Ian Shapiro have merely alluded to alternative explanatory variables such as culture, institutions, and social norms, without showing either how these factors can be incorporated into a more powerful theory, or how (...) they are inconsistent with rationalchoicetheory. It is likely that any eventual theory of the origin and maintenance of social institutions, norms, and values will have to reserve a central place for rational action. (shrink)
In this paper, I review the literature on rationalchoicetheory 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 choicetheory—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. (shrink)
In public political deliberation, people will err and lie in accordance with definite patterns. Such discourse failure results from behavior that is both instrumentally and epistemically rational. The deliberative practices of a liberal democracy cannot be improved so as to overcome the tendency for rational citizens to believe and say things at odds with reliable propositions of social science. The theory has several corollaries. One is that much contemporary political philosophy can be seen as an unsuccessful attempt (...) to vindicate, on symbolic and moral grounds, the forms that discourse failure take on in public political deliberation. Another is that deliberative practices cannot be rescued even on non-epistemic grounds, such as social peace, impartiality, participation, and equality. To alleviate discourse failure, this book proposes to reduce the scope of majoritarian politics and enlarge markets. (shrink)
The most common argument against the use of rationalchoice models outside economics is that they make unrealistic assumptions about individual behavior. We argue that whether the falsity of assumptions matters in a given model depends on which factors are explanatorily relevant. Since the explanatory factors may vary from application to application, effective criticism of economic model building should be based on model-specific arguments showing how the result really depends on the false assumptions. However, some modeling results in (...) imperialistic applications are relatively robust with respect to unrealistic assumptions. Key Words: unrealistic assumptions economics imperialism rationalchoice as if robustness. (shrink)
The value of rationalchoicetheory for the social sciences has long been contested. It is argued here that, in the debate over its role, it is necessary to distinguish between claims that people maximise manifest payoffs, and claims that people maximise their utility. The former version has been falsified. The latter is unfalsifiable, because utility cannot be observed. In principle, utility maximisation can be adapted to fit any form of behaviour, including the behaviour of non-human organisms. (...) Allegedly 'inconsistent' behaviour is also impossible to establish without qualification. This utility-maximising version of rationalchoicetheory has the character of a universal 'explanation' that can be made to 'fit' any set of events. This is a sign of weakness rather than strength. In its excessive quest for generality, utility-maximising rationalchoicetheory fails to focus on the historically and geographically specific features of socio-economic systems. As long as such theory is confined to ahistorical generalities, then it will remain highly limited in dealing with the real world. Instead we have to consider the real social and psychological determinants of human behaviour. (shrink)
This article attempts to assess Jon Elster's contribution to rationalchoice in Ulysses and the Sirens and Sour Grapes. After reviewing Elster's analysis of functional versus intentional explanations, the essay moves on to the crucial distinction between the thin and broad theories of rationality. The former elabo rates on the traditional economist's preference / feasible set apparatus; the latter is the more demanding theory which inquires into the rationality of beliefs and preferences. Elster's approach to the broad (...)theory normally consists in using the thin theory as a reference point and in making purposefully limited departures from it. The essay illustrates the method while commenting on Elster's discus sion of autonomous preferences in Sour Grapes. It goes on to stress some impor tant analogies between Elster's use of the thin and broad theories, on one hand, and Weber's ideal-typical method, on the other. The final assessment is phrased in terms of these analogies; it is suggested that Elster is at his best when the ideal-typical method and his own separate from each other, that is, when he comes to grips with the broad theory in its own terms. (shrink)
The descriptive viewpoint in rationalchoice has generated an important Standard RationalChoiceTheory revision. This viewpoint has meant the introduction of relevant psychological considerations that RationalChoiceTheory tied to the neoclassical economics is unable to heed In this paper I suggest a way to expand the descriptive viewpoint by theorizing how some factors, coming from the social and cultural environment, operate within rationalchoice. That troublesome issue concerning the (...) overall validity of economic laws is also a question here; specifically, if these descriptive proposals expand the explanation of the disturbing causes of economic laws, or if they actually call into question their fundamental principles, encouraging consideration of some economic issues in a quite new, different manner. (shrink)
James Coleman attempted to reconcile rationalchoicetheory with the classical sociological concerns: the relationship between the individual and society, and the historical and normative status of rationality. He identifies limits to the rationalchoice model, and suggests some promising but ultimately unconvincing ways around them. His project does, however, offer an important critique of Weber's theory of bureaucracy, which is of value in analyzing relationships between corporate actors and particular persons.
The paper argues that the philosophical underpinnings of rationalchoicetheory are vitiated by consideration of the phenomenon of backward-looking motives, such as gratitude, fidelity, and many forms of honesty. Attempts to describe the actions and decisions of those acting from such motives in the terms of rationalchoicetheory fail, and the model of human conduct which is implicit in the theory is both inadequate in itself and pernicious in its general influence. (...) A picture may emerge of the human person as a repository of atomistic ‘experiences’, inhabiting a present from the vantage-point of which his relations to past and future ‘selves’ are contingent, and his responsibilities and commitments correspondingly fluid. And in economics, a supposedly ‘neutral’ account of rationalchoice in fact encourages and sustains a simple-minded utilitarian ethic. (shrink)
Donald Green and Ian Shapiro discover a curious gulf between the prestige of rationalchoice approaches and the dearth of solid empirical findings. But we can understand neither the prestige of rationalchoicetheory nor its pathologies unless we see it as a variant of the equilibrium analysis found in physics, economics, and biology. Only such a global perspective on rationalchoicetheory will reveal its core assumptions and the likely shape of (...) its future in political science. In this light, the growing dominance of rationalchoicetheory in political science is all but inevitable and its pathologies are all but inescapable. (shrink)
Because it consists of an entire family of specific theories derived from the same first principles, rationalchoice offers one approach to generate explanations that provide for micro-macro links, and to attack a wide variety of empirical problems in macrosociology. The aims of this paper are (1) to provide a bare skeleton of all rationalchoice arguments; (2) to demonstrate their applicability to a range of macrosociological concerns by reviewing a sample of both new and classic (...) works; and (3) to discuss the weaknesses of current rationalchoicetheory and the possibilities for its future development. (shrink)
Green and Shapiro's critique of rationalchoicetheory underestimates the value of unification and the necessity of universalism in science. The central place of intentionality in social life makes both unification and universalism feasible norms in social science. However, ?universalism? in social science may be partial, in that the independence hypothesis?that the causal mechanism governing action is context independent?may hold only locally in certain classes of choice domains.
This book offers a rigorous, concise, and nontechnical introduction to some of the fundamental insights of rationalchoicetheory. It draws on formal theories of microeconomics, decision making, games, and social choice, and on ideas developed in philosophy, psychology, and sociology. Itzhak Gilboa argues that economic theory has provided a set of powerful models and broad insights that have changed the way we think about everyday life. He focuses on basic insights of the rational (...)choice paradigm--the general conceptualization rather than a particular theory--that survive recent critiques of economic theory's various failures. Gilboa explains the main concepts in language accessible to the nonspecialist, offering a nonmathematical guide to some of the main ideas developed in economic theory in the second half of the twentieth century. Chapters cover feasibility and desirability, utility maximization, constrained optimization, expected utility, probability and statistics, aggregation of preferences, games and equilibria, free markets, and rationality and emotions. Online appendixes offer additional material, including a survey of relevant mathematical concepts. (shrink)
This paper focuses on Sen?s concept of contrapreferential choice. Sen has developed this concept in order to overcome weaknesses of the rationalchoicetheory. According to rationalchoicetheory a decision-maker can be always seen as someone who maximises utility, and each choice he makes as the one that brings to him the highest level of personal wellbeing. Sen argues that in some situations we chose alternatives that bring us lower level of (...) wellbeing than we could achieve if we had chosen some other alternative available to us. This happens when we base our decisions on moral principles, when we act out of duty. Sen calls such action a commitment-based action. When we act out of commitment we actually neglect our preferences and thus we make a contrapreferential choice, as Sen argues. This paper shows that, contrary to Sen, a commitment-based action can be explained within the framework of rationalchoicetheory. However, when each choice we make can be explained within the framework of rationalchoicetheory, when in everything we do maximisation principle can be loaded, then the variety of our motives and traits is lost, and the explanatory power of the rationalchoicetheory is questionable. (shrink)
Left freely to themselves, a group of rational individuals often fail to cooperate even when the product of social cooperation is beneficial to all. Hence, the author argues, a rule of collective decision making is clearly needed that specifies how social cooperation should be organised among contributing individuals. Suzumura gives a systematic presentation of the Arrovian impossibility theorems of social choicetheory, so as to describe and enumerate the various factors that are responsible for the stability of (...) the voluntary association of free and rational individuals. Among other topics covered are an axiomatic characterisation of the concept of a rationalchoice, the simple majority decision rule and its extensions, the social choice implications of the concept of equity as nonenvy, the constrained majoritarian collective choice rules and the conflict between the Paretian ethics and the libertarian claims of individual rights. (shrink)
Is it rational to be moral? How do rationality and morality fit together with being human? These questions are at the heart of David Schmidtz's exploration of the connections between rationality and morality. This inquiry leads into both metaethics and rationalchoicetheory, as Schmidtz develops conceptions of what it is to be moral and what it is to be rational. He defends a fairly expansive conception of rationalchoice, considering how ends as (...) well as means can be rationally chosen and explaining the role of self-imposed constraints in a rational life plan. His moral theory is dualistic, ranging over social structure as well as personal conduct and building both individual and collective rationality into its rules of recognition for morals. To the "why be moral" question, Schmidtz responds that being moral is rational, but he does not assume we have reasons to be rational. Instead, Schmidtz argues that being moral is rational in a particular way and that beings like us in situations like ours have reasons to be rational in just that way. This approach allows him to identify decisive reasons to be moral; at the same time, it explains why immorality is as prevalent as it is. This book thus offers a set of interesting and realistic conclusions about how morality fits into the lives of humanly rational agents operating in an institutional context like our own. (shrink)
Contemporary discussions of the positive relation between rationalchoice and moral theory are a special case of a much older tradition that seeks to show that mutual agreement upon certain moral rules works to the mutual advantage, or in the interests, of those who so agree. I make a few remarks about the history of discussions of the connection between morality and self-interest, after which I argue that the modern theory of rationalchoice can (...) be naturally understood as a continuation of this older tradition. I then go on to argue for a controversial three-fold thesis: (1) that grounding a theory of morality in terms of rational self-interest is the only epistemologically respectable way to proceed with the justification of moral principles; (2) that despite this, most of the contemporary explorations of rationalchoice foundations for moral principles do not work—that the models of rationalchoice to which they appeal yield less than the substantial results that they are intended to yield; but (3) that if one rethinks just what it means to be rational, one can find in fact a promising way to connect the two—specifically through the development of a theory of genuinely cooperative activity. (shrink)
I critically discuss a recent innovation in the debate surrounding the plausibility of rationalchoicetheory : the appeal to evolutionary theory. Specifically, I assess Gigerenzer and colleagues’ claim that considerations based on natural selection show that, instead of making decisions in a RCT-like way, we rely on ‘simple heuristics’. As I try to make clearer here, though, Gigerenzer and colleagues’ arguments are unconvincing: we lack the needed information about our past to determine whether the premises (...) on which they are built are true—and, hence, we cannot tell whether they, in fact, speak against RCT. (shrink)
People of the western world now have unprecedented freedom to choose their religion. In this book, the world's leading sociologist of religion argues that the liberty and freedom to choose religion corrodes faith and that religion remains most vital when it is part of ethnic and national identity.
J. Howard Sobel has long been recognized as an important figure in philosophical discussions of rational decision. He has done much to help formulate the concept of causal decision theory. In this volume of essays Sobel explores the Bayesian idea that rational actions maximize expected values, where an action's expected value is a weighted average of its agent's values for its possible total outcomes. Newcomb's Problem and The Prisoner's Dilemma are discussed, and Allais-type puzzles are viewed from (...) the perspective of causal world Bayesianism. The author establishes principles for distinguishing options in decision problems, and studies ways in which perfectly rational causal maximizers can be capable of resolute choices. Sobel also views critically Gauthier's revisionist ideas about maximizing rationality. This collection will be a desideratum for anyone working in the field of rationalchoicetheory, whether in philosophy, economics, political science, psychology or statistics. Howard Sobel's work in decision theory is certainly among the most important, interesting and challenging that is being done by philosophers. (shrink)