Rational Choice Theory

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A field of economic theory that is notorious for many pathologies. See also Public Choice Theory, which uses rational choice methodologies.


Human Sacrifice [More...]
Peter Leeson argues that "that human sacrifice is a technology for protecting property rights." A wild-ass theory that ignores other possible social explanations, relying on pre-anthropological stories. Amusingly, this article claims the voluntary acceptance of British dominance as a means of ending local wars in exchange for ending human sacrifice.
Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science (book, online)
A serious, scholarly study of the intellectual failures of Rational Choice Theory.
Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory [More...]
Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen rejects the simple egoism of economic man, as well as universal moral systems, and points out that "Groups intermediate between oneself and all, such as class and community, provide the focus of many actions involving commitment."
Why Behavioral Economics Needs Behavioral Biology [More...]
"Traditional models of rational choice typically ignore Darwin’s central insight—that life is graded on the curve." Behavioral Economics identifies cognitive errors and game-theoretic problems with supposed rational choice.


There are substantial parts of ordinary human activity that don't make sense if we think of rationality as egoistic maximization of utility. Collective action, group mobilization, religious sacrifice, telling the truth, and working to the fullest extent of one's capabilities are all examples of activity where narrow egoistic rationality would dictate different choices than those ordinary individuals are observed to make. And yet ordinary individuals are not irrational when they behave this way. Rather, they are reflective and deliberative, and they have reasons for their actions. So the theory of rationality needs to have a way of representing this non-egoistic reasonableness.
Daniel Little, "Amartya Sen's commitments"
… Economic doctrines always come to us as propaganda. This is bound up with the very nature of the subject and to pretend that it is not so in the name of ‘pure science’ is a very unscientific refusal to accept the facts.
Joan Robinson, in Marx, Marshall And Keynes