The Rational Choice Controversy

The Rational Choice Controversy: Economic Models of Politics Reconsidered

Edited by Jeffrey Friedman
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bp57
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Rational Choice Controversy
    Book Description:

    Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, a book written by Donald Green and Ian Shapiro and published in 1994, excited much controversy among political scientists and promoted a dialogue among them that was printed in a double issue of the journal Critical Review in 1995. This new book reproduces thirteen essays from the journal written by senior scholars in the field, along with an introduction by the editor of the journal, Jeffrey Friedman, and a rejoinder to the essays by Green and Shapiro. The scholars-who include John Ferejohn, Morris P. Fiorina, Stanley Kelley, Jr., Robert E. Lane, Peter C. Ordeshook, Norman Schofield, and Kenneth A. Shepsle-criticize, agree with, or build on the issues raised by Green and Shapiro`s critique. Together the essays provide an interesting and accessible way of focusing on competing approaches to the study of politics and the social sciences.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14642-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION: ECONOMIC APPROACHES TO POLITICS
    (pp. 1-24)
    Jeffrey Friedman

    Politics has often been portrayed as a preeminent arena of the accidental, the emotional, the ideological, the habitual, and the traditional. Yet in recent years, growing numbers of scholars have attempted to apply to politics the postulates of rational choice theory. How can politics and, by implication, history be regarded as products of “rational choice”?

    To answer that question, a distinction should first be drawn between two terms that are often used imprecisely or synonymously:rational choiceandpublic choice. One understanding of the difference holds that public choice theory applies economic analysis to political (i.e., “public”) decision making, while...

  4. THE SECRET EXISTENCE OF EXPRESSIVE BEHAVIOR
    (pp. 25-36)
    Robert P. Abelson

    Every autumn, John Doe traveled a long distance for something he claimed was important, and this aroused the curiosity of a rational choice theorist.

    “What do you do there?” he asked.

    “I dote,” John replied. “I dote on Sally, my granddaughter.”

    “You go all that way todote? How do you benefit from it?”

    “Benefit?” asked John, puzzled. “I dunno, I just dote on her. Little Sally, she’s really something. She’ll do great things some day—make money, be famous, maybe even be president.”

    The theorist considered this. “Well, do you think your doting makes any difference?” he asked.

    “Difference?...

  5. RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY’S MYSTERIOUS RIVALS
    (pp. 37-58)
    Dennis Chong

    Donald Green and Ian Shapiro’sPathologies of Rational Choice Theoryraises serious questions about whether the growing popularity of rational choice theory in political science is based on scientific criteria. Few of the criticisms raised inPathologieshave not been aired previously (e.g., Rosenberg 1992; Blaug 1980; Cook and Levi 1990; Monroe 1991), but Green and Shapiro have, more than other critics, accompanied their arguments with an extensive review of empirical rational choice literature.

    The book starts with the premise that the value of any theory has to be measured against its empirical power. After examining research on voter turnout,...

  6. RATIONAL CHOICE AND THE ROLE OF THEORY IN POLITICAL SCIENCE
    (pp. 59-70)
    Daniel Diermeier

    If rational choice—like political science—claims to be an empirical science, then eventually its accomplishments have to be judged empirically. In this sense, a critical assessment of the empirical success of rational choice theory is an important enterprise. InPathologies of Rational Choice Theory, Don Green and Ian Shapiro conclude that a number of methodological deficiencies or “pathologies” plague empirical applications of rational choice models—“fundamental and recurrent methodological failings rooted in the universalist aspirations that motivate so much rational choice theorizing” (33). Green and Shapiro argue that these mistakes “stem from a method-driven rather than a problem-driven approach...

  7. UNIFICATION, UNIVERSALISM, AND RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY
    (pp. 71-84)
    John Ferejohn and Debra Satz

    InPathologies of Rational Choice Theory, Donald Green and Ian Shapiro argue that rational choice theory has not made a substantial contribution to our knowledge of politics. While this shortcoming might be due to the theory’s simply being false, Green and Shapiro locate much of the responsibility for this explanatory inadequacy in a “syndrome of fundamental and recurrent methodological failings rooted in [its] universalist aspirations” (33). Its “pathologies” serve simultaneously to protect rational choice theory from disconfirming evidence and to prevent it from developing testable hypotheses about the political world. The resulting insulation of theory from data threatens to make...

  8. RATIONAL CHOICE, EMPIRICAL CONTRIBUTIONS, AND THE SCIENTIFIC ENTERPRISE
    (pp. 85-94)
    Morris P. Fiorina

    InPathologies of Rational Choice Theory, Don Green and Ian Shapiro (hereafter, GS) have provided political science with a useful critical review of the far-flung rational choice (hereafter, RC) literature. Many of the critical observations they make about specific studies are on the mark. Nevertheless, I completely disagree with their bottom line. I have been working in the political science vineyards for 25 years, the bulk of that work has been empirical, and I am RC down to my DNA. But if GS are correct, I must be deluded: with perhaps one exception (190), what I have done that is...

  9. THE PROMISE AND LIMITATIONS OF RATIONAL CHOICE THEORY
    (pp. 95-106)
    Stanley Kelley Jr.

    Although it will aggravate some and inspire partisan glee in others, political scientists concerned about either their discipline’s future or their own can learn a great deal about rational choice theory from Donald Green and Ian Shapiro’sPathologies of Rational Choice Theory. Laying out a large body of ideas for scrutiny, as they have in their book, is akin to charting a large body of water: It is a valuable professional service that can increase our knowledge of the direction and character of prevailing currents and alert us to reefs and shoals. The body of ideas that Green and Shapiro...

  10. WHAT RATIONAL CHOICE EXPLAINS
    (pp. 107-126)
    Robert E. Lane

    It was a brilliant, simplifying question: Could one account for economic behavior by observing the relations of supply and demand to prices while assigning market participants only two qualities,rationality, meaning stable, transitive preferences, andgreed, meaning the attempt to maximize the achievement of these preferences? If one could do so, then by adding a few assumptions about market circumstances, budget constraints, competition, and information, one could specify the conditions for market equilibrium. Kenneth Arrow (1987, 204) reports that for the marginalists (chiefly Jevons, Walras, and Menger), the “rationality hypothesis was the maximization of [consumer] utility under a budget constraint.”...

  11. THE POVERTY OF GREEN AND SHAPIRO
    (pp. 127-154)
    Susanne Lohmann

    In recent decades, rational choice theory has become the rising star of political science. Even though rational choice scholars constitute a minority of political scientists, they publish a disproportionate number of articles in theAmerican Political Science Review; they are sought after by leading political science departments; and, after achieving intellectual dominance in some subdisciplines of the field of American politics, they are beginning to make inroads into international relations and comparative politics. Given the importance of rational choice scholarship in political science, it is clearly valuable to have a public discussion of its strengths, limitations, and philosophical underpinnings.

    The...

  12. RATIONAL CHOICE THEORYAS SOCIAL PHYSICS
    (pp. 155-174)
    James Bernard Murphy

    In their recent book,Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, Donald Green and Ian Shapiro carefully document various rhetorical strategies employed by rational choice theorists to immunize—if I may reverse the medical metaphor—their hypotheses from hazardous contact with empirical pathogens (i.e., data). These strategies range from the “high theorists’” sublime disdain for the empirical to their colleagues’ desperate attempts to modify, or to restrict the domain of, hypotheses in danger of disconfirmation. The empirical world is such a “buzzing, blooming confusion” that even carefully designed experiments rarely produce unambiguous results; in many cases we cannot trust what we think...

  13. ENGINEERING OR SCIENCE: WHAT IS THE STUDY OF POLITICS?
    (pp. 175-188)
    Peter C. Ordeshook

    InPathologies of Rational Choice TheoryDonald Green and Ian Shapiro have issued an important challenge to rational choice theorists: produce more substantively relevant work, or move aside and make room for other paradigms. Any number of responses are possible, including arguing that the research they criticize is already driven by substantive concerns. Certainly we can anticipate the rejoinder, “Show us a viable alternative!”

    My argument here is different. Green and Shapiro’s critique, although sometimes incomplete and inaccurate, nevertheless seems to me largely correct: the substantive relevance of much formal rational choice analysis is tenuous, and its empirical content lacks...

  14. RATIONAL CHOICE AND POLITICAL ECONOMY
    (pp. 189-212)
    Norman Schofield

    InPathologies of Rational Choice TheoryDon Green and Ian Shapiro contend that it is pathological for rational choice theory to attempt to provide a grand theory of political behavior. An aspect of this alleged pathology is the inattention paid by rational choice theorists to empirical falsification or confirmation of their theories. The assumption underlying this critique is that political science is fundamentally an empirical discipline. If this assumption is accepted, then practitioners of political science have reason to ignore rational choice theory.

    Green and Shapiro assume that rational choice theory has its roots in economic theory, and they suggest...

  15. STATISTICAL POLITICAL PHILOSPHY AND POSITIVE POLITICAL THEORY
    (pp. 213-222)
    Kenneth A. Shepsel

    Rational choice theory in political science is experiencing a mid-life crisis. Partly this is because many of its practitioners have reached middle age. But it is also because this body of theory has now reached maturity—in terms both of its evolution as science and its impact on political science. Twenty-five years ago a special issue of a journal like the present one would probably not have been possible; surely its contributors would have threatened to outnumber its readers.

    Theoretical mid-life crisis is the subject of the recently published book by Donald Green and Ian Shapiro. InPathologies of Rational...

  16. WHEN RATIONALITY FAILS
    (pp. 223-234)
    Michael Taylor

    As I’m sure most rational choice theorists and practitioners know, there is a great deal of real prejudice about their work: it is rejected and despised by people who know very little about it—sometimes, as I have learned at first hand, by people who have no understanding of it whatsoever. So it is refreshing to read a detailed critique of the rational choice approach by two authors who have taken the trouble to inform themselves about what they are criticizing—who have, in fact, read a substantial part of the literature of rational choice in political science, understood most...

  17. PATHOLOGIES REVISITED: REFLECTIONS ON OUR CRITICS
    (pp. 235-276)
    Donald P. Green and Ian Shapiro

    The social sciences were founded amid high expectations about what could be learned through the systematic study of human affairs, and perhaps as a result social scientists are periodically beset by intellectual crises. Each generation of scholars expresses disappointment with the rate at which knowledge accumulates and yearns for a new, more promising form of social science. The complexity of most social phenomena, the crudeness with which explanatory variables can be measured, and the inability to perform controlled experiments may severely constrain whatanyform of social science can deliver. Nevertheless, nostrums that seem to put social science on the...

  18. REFERENCES
    (pp. 277-300)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 301-307)