rational choice theory?

kevin quinn kquinn at falcon.bgsu.edu
Tue Apr 4 08:01:46 MDT 1995

Justin raises some profound questions here. I agree with Fellini that RCT
needs to be anathematized, but also with Justin that it may have
descriptive accuracy in our present circumstances. But, first, this
accuracy is limited to some parts of our narrowly economic lives, at
most. RC models of politics and of the family, e.g., are grossly
inaccurate, and economic imperialism, whether of the neoclassical or
analytical-marxist variety, is a dead end in consequence. Second, I
take issue with the view of social science implicit (I think) in Justin's
comments. When we employ RC models to analyze our behavior, we are doing
more than a simple description of an independent object. Our articulation
of our practices is "partly constitutive" of those practices, to use,
with apologies, some hermeneutic jargon. Even a gross misdescription
tends, in consequence, to be partly self-fulfilling--the inaccuracy shows
up in the way the misdescribed practices "go badly" (see Charles Taylors'
"Social Science as Practice") I think, though I would need to do lots of
work to make the case that I don't have time for right now, the Early
Marx might agree.

On Tue, 4 Apr 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:

> That said, I disagree quite strongly that RCT has no use for Marxists.
> In fact, Marx himself quite clearly uses proto-RCT models in his political
> economy,a s Elster and Little show, and even if he didn't, Elster, et al.
> show that RCT is a useful tool. Of course one musn't make it a
> philosopher's stone as Elster does. But one shouldn't dismiss as
> "bourgeois." Recall what Marx said about bourgeois political economy: it
> has objective validity for a determinate epoch, namely ours. If we live in
> a society that tends to make us into RCT actors, we can use the theory to
> see how we behave under these circumstances.
> --Justin Schwartz
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