rational choice theory? -Reply

Lisa Rogers EQDOMAIN.EQWQ.LROGERS at email.state.ut.us
Tue Apr 4 09:10:13 MDT 1995


Fascinating - in my [sub]field, I don't call it RCT, and it doesn't
seem to have all the same baggage attached (we don't use "utility" or
"preference".  But we do make the (well-thought-out, reasonably
justifiable and useful) assumption that individuals generally try to
do things that are in their own interests.  This is not intended to
"explain everything" as some critics have said, no assumption can,
but that is not what it is for.

Don't we all make some basic assumptions, that we don't often even
mention in discussion, because they "go without saying" or they were
previously agreed upon within some group of colleagues?

Perhaps most shocking to some economists I have tried this out on is
the fact that I expect self-interested behavior from all living
things.  My specialty within my sub-field within Anthro. is
hunter-gatherers.  I don't see self-interest limited at all to
capitalism, and I have been suprised to find that some people do hold
that opinion.

Well, I anticipate enough flak that I put on my bullet-proof vest
before posting this comment, but please try to stay with the
low-calibre ammo.  I'm just curious about others' opinions on the
subject.  If the subject is inflammatory, it will be a good
opportunity for us to practice civil discussion, or practice the
delete button.

Cheers,
Lisa Rogers

>>> Justin Schwartz <jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us>  4/3/95,
11:09pm >>>
On Mon, 3 Apr 1995 fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu wrote:

>  > Just a quick observation about Justin's argument. He wrote:
>  > If I understand Justin's point correctly, he simply repeats Eric
Olin  > Wright's (or others' like Elster) argument in, for example:
>  > Erik Olin Wright, "Giddens's Critique of Marxism," _New Left
Review_,
> No. 138 (March-April 1983), pp. 5-35. (for a revised version of it:
  > "Models of Historical Trajectory: an Assessment of Giddens's
Critique of  > Marxism," _Social Theory of Modern Societies: Anthony
Giddens and his  > Critics_, David Held and John B. Thompson,
Cambridge UP, 1989, pp. 77-102).

Not at all. Wright's argument is based on a tendency towards
increasing productive efficiency and has nothing to do with class or
other group struggle. My argument is about resistance to domination
and has nothing to do with productive efficiency.

>  > This is a powerful argument (provided that 'progress' always
requires a  > 'vantage point' from which some change is assessed),
but what I don't  > like in it is that it is based on Rational Choice
Theory (RCT), albeit  > an aggregated version of it. And I believe
RCT has nothing to do with  > Marxism; we should get rid of it.

My argument isn't based on RCT, since it turns on the potentials of
group actors and persons essentially identified as members of groups.
Moreover there's nothing about maximizing expected utility. I use the
notion of interests (quite deliberately) and not preferences. The
list of differences between my (essentially Lukacsian) approach and
RCT is very long.

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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