Rational Choice Theory: Advocacy and Critique

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Martin's Press, Inc. Boulder : Westview Press, An "underground classic. Also contains a nice discussion of de Finetti's exchangeability concept and its relevance for decision making. Whinston, and Jerry R. Oxford University Press.


The new bible in graduate micro courses. New York ; London : Harvester Wheatsheaf, Harvard University Press, Even-handed discussion of successes and failures of game theory; urges caution in applications of equilibrium analysis; genuflects in the direction of bounded rationality. The standard game theory text for economics grad students; lots of trees, a bit hard to see the forest. Game Theory and the Social Contract, Vol.

MIT Press, Controversial application of game theory and evolutionary arguments in defense of Rawls' theory of social justice; more entertaining reading. It is essential reading for anyone who thinks it likely that ethics evolved along with the human species.

On the cutting edge of recent developments in game theory. New York : Stockton Press, The separate volumes on "Utility and Probability" and "Game Theory" are especially relevant to this course. Free Press, Collection of articles by one of the leaders of the field of behavioral economics. See also the earlier, more technical collection Quasi-Rational Economics by the same author.

London ; New York : Routledge, Kagel and Alvin E. Roth, editors. Princeton, N. Good reference on experimental games and markets; excellent historical survey of behavioral experiments by Roth. Chichester [Eng. Wiley, New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Payne, James R. Bettman, Eric J. March, with the assistance of Chip Heath. Recommended reading for normative decision theorists.

Thanks to Chip for getting this in print! Models of bounded rationality, vol. This theory equates rationality in general and religious rationality in particular with instrumental reason in service of self-satisfaction.

Isabella Dias

Because, according to RCTR, the ultimate goal of all instrumental rationality is self-satisfaction, RCTR comes to rest explicitly on the thesis of psychological egoism—the claim that all actions are ultimately selfishly motivated. Consequently, RCTR literally defines religion and religious commitment in psychological egoist terms. With such definitions, RCTR orients the study of religion exclusively in the direction of investigating the manifestation and effects of egoism. A priori, RCTR excludes from consideration normative rationality and epistemic rationality as well as any nonselfish motivations for religious belief and religious behavior.

Instrumental rationality, which Weber termed Zweck rationality, is the calculative or problem-solving rationality that identifies the means for achieving some given end. Normative rationality is what Weber termed Wert or values ration- ality. Whereas instrumental and normative rationality both apply to actions, epistemic rationality distinctly applies to beliefs. Beliefs derive their rationality certainly not from instrumental ends and only secondarily from norms but fundamentally from warrants.

Without warrant, a belief or claim is without epistemic rationality. It is rational to hold a belief if there are good conceptual and evidentiary grounds for considering the belief true.


Rational Choice Theory is an empirical theory of human behavior.

A belief may be warranted even if its propositional content frustrates our desired ends. Conversely, the self-serving nature of a belief is no epistemic warrant for its truth. Thus, epistemic rationality enjoins us to judge and to hold beliefs according to their warrant and not according to their prudential costs and benefits. So like normative rationality, epistemic rationality is distinct from instrumental reason. It is one thing to argue that selfish motives may enter religious belief and religious behavior and quite another to define religion and religious behavior, as RCTR does, comprehensively in egoistic terms.

PHILOSOPHY - Rational Choice Theory: Collective Action Problems [HD]

Such sweeping definitions are valid only if the thesis of psychological egoism can be sustained. This paper will show that the thesis cannot be sustained on either conceptual or empirical grounds.

Rational Choice Theory and Organizational Theory: A Critique

On the one hand, it will be shown that the specific normative and epistemic rationalities associated with religion are irreducible to instrumental rationality. On the other hand, it will be shown, as in the prayer that serves as the epigraph to this paper, that not all religious motives can be reduced to self-satisfaction. Once it is clear that selfish motivation cannot be built into the very definitions of religion and religious behavior, other explanations of religion and religious behavior reemerge. Chief among these is religious experience, which is accorded a marginal position even in the latest version of RCTR.

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Because RCTR so strongly equates rationality with instrumental reason, the way RCTR frames rationality is sometimes accepted even by its critics, who concede that motivations arising from religious experience and religious emotion are nonrational Demerath ; Ammerman ; Young — Many sociologists may regard the rationality of behavior as a philosophical rather than a sociological issue and nonrational a convenient enough designation for religious behavior to get on with research. Nonrational, however, is hardly a neutral designation but one that already decides the nature of the causal process behind religious belief and religious behavior.

One virtue of RCTR is that it does not shrink from addressing the causal question as a matter just to be bracketed by sociology. This paper, however, argues that RCTR fundamentally misapprehends the kind of rationality most appropriate to the case. It is not instrumental rationality but normative and epistemic rationalities that most motivate religious belief and religious behavior.

In fact, to the extent that RCTR ignores epistemic rationality, it ultimately theorizes religion, despite its intention, as an irrational choice.

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RCTR has already been subject to much criticism, as has rational choice theory generally e. When the conceptual core of a theory remains intact, even its auxiliary propositions can evolve Lakatos RCTR in particular has been responsive to criticism. Although, as this paper will argue, RCTR still does not incorporate religious experience adequately, it has moved beyond complete neglect.

Within the sociology of religion, critics have been surprisingly prepared to accept the internal logic of rational choice theory. Likewise, just to observe that rational choice theory leaves out of account emotions Scheff ; Ammerman , norms Elster ; Munch , or epistemic rationality Bruce ; Neitz and Mueser is not to directly attack the kernel of rational choice theory.

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  4. Such objections invite the reply that although rational choice theory may not be a comprehensive explanation of behavior, it is largely correct as far as it goes Iannaccone In contrast, as we will see, for RCTR, actor self-interest is never to be discarded; instead, self-interest is ascribed ontological status as the goal to which all motives ultimately can be reduced. This is the thesis of psychological egoism. The reason is that however much the optim- ality assumption fails in practice, as long as psychological egoism remains untouched, optimality continues to appear the only way to understand rational action in theory.

    Theories, unlike vampires, can continue undead even with a stake lodged in their logic. Survival is the particularly likely prognosis in the absence of an alternative explanation. That is why this paper not only attacks RCTR but also offers the foundation for an alternative approach grounded in the epistemically rational response to religious experience. In essence, rational choice theory equates rationality with the instrumental rationality of calculation.

    However, some desired rewards are intangible or are unattainable in this world.

    To secure these rewards, RCTR maintains, humans resort to supernatural explanations. As these two definitions are not quite equivalent, they need to be reconciled. Both definitions emphasize terms of exchange with a god or gods.