Essay about Rational Choice Theory in Political Science

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Rational Choice Theory in Political Science According to one of rational choice theory’s prominent and more thoughtful contemporary exponents, Peter C. Ordeshook, “four books mark the beginning of modern political theory: Anthony Downs’s An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), Duncan Black’s Theory of Committees and Elections (1958), William H. Riker’s A Theory of Political Coalitions (1962), and James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock’s The Calculus of Consent (1962). These volumes, along with Kenneth Arrow’s Social Choice and Individual Values (1951), began such a wealth of research that political scientists today have difficulty digesting and synthesizing all but small parts of it. Consequently, the full value of this research often goes…show more content…
First I will provide an overview of what rational choice theory is and why it has staked such a prominent position in the discipline of political science. In this section I conclude that rational choice theory has indeed developed advanced methodologies at telling us how rational agents should behave. Then in my second section I will show, using the empirical case of the free-rider problem and collective action, as well as the case of suicide terrorism, that rational choice theory cannot adequately account for actual political phenomena. In my third section I will provide some reasons for why this is the case. Finally, in my concluding section I will posit a theoretical framework incorporating some refinements to the assumptions behind rational choice theory that would better aid a predictive (but not universalist) political science. What is Rational Choice Theory? Rational choice theory is actually more than one theory per se, but the basic similarities among its variants mean that they can be intelligibly amalgamated for the purposes of critiquing its implementation in political science. Therefore public choice theory, positive political science, rational actor models, and the economic approach to politics, among others, refer to what we may call rational choice theory for the purposes of this essay. (See Green and Shapiro 1994, xi.
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