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Choice-Free Rationality

A Positive Theory of Political Behavior

Robert Grafstein

Publication Year: 1999

Rational choice theory has become the basis for much of the recent work done in political science. Yet explanations of many political phenomena elude rational choice theorists. Robert Grafstein offers a modification to rational choice theory that extends its ability to explain social behavior. Grafstein argues that, instead of basing the analysis on the assumption that an actor will maximise her expected utility or her utility given the probability that the event will happen, we should define rationality as the maximisation of expected utility conditional on the probability that her act will bring the event about. This definition of utility, based on the work of Richard Jeffrey, restores the consequences of an individual's act to rational choice analysis. For example, in making a decision to vote, a conditional expected utility maximiser will compare the likelihood of victory for her preferred candidate given her own participation with the likelihood of a victory given her abstention. The author shows the theoretical implications of this new definition of rationality and then uses it to explain certain aspects of ethnic identity and mobilization, ideology, and altruism and intertemporal choice. He then explores the implications of this idea for policy analysis and econometrics. This book will provoke a debate about how work based in rational choice theories is done. Robert Grafstein is Professor of Political Science, University of Georgia.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. vii-

List of Figures

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pp. ix-

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pp. xi-xiv

Rational choice theorists have a lot of explaining to do. Among the important patterns of behavior that have resisted a satisfactory rational choice analysis are turnout in mass democratic elections; the uncoerced provision of public goods generally; the importance of ethnic identity in political mobilization; certain varieties of altruism; retaliation and other retrospective behavior; the struggle by putatively rational leaders and citizens alike-sometimes successful...

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pp. 1-11

The temptation to anthropomorphize is, fortunately, at a historic low. Rain, sunshine, lightning, and tornadoes are no longer attributed to purposeful gods and spirits lurking behind or inside these ordinary physical phenomena. Science has succeeded in removing choice and free will from nearly all the machinery of the universe. In the future, cognitive psychology, allied with...

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1. Rational Choice Inside Out

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pp. 13-45

This book defines rationality as the maximization of conditional expected utility (hereafter, CEU) in place ofthe more standard definition of rationality as the maximization of expected utility (hereafter, EU). My aim in this chapter is to develop and justify this substitution. In what is easily the most philosophical part of the book, this chapter grapples with the fact that CEU theory ultimately views human beings as full-scale objects of scientific analysis, whereas EU...

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2. Group Identity

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pp. 47-74

For purposes of exposition, chapter I largely ignored the existence of other agents in the decision maker's environment, a drastic simplification for any rational choice theory expecting to be applied within political science. This chapter remedies this deficiency by applying CEU theory to multivoter elections in which each of the individuals deciding whether and for whom to vote is...

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3. Ideology

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pp. 75-113

The decisions made by CEU maximizers are greatly influenced by the way they categorize themselves and other people. If they see the world through ethnic lenses, their decisions will not likely be the ones they would reach if they looked through religious lenses. Marxists certainly recognize that workers who unite on the basis of class must in some sense ignore or transcend both of these...

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4. Selves and Self-Interest

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pp. 115-141

To this point, we have focused CEU theory on some of the more celebrated problems in political science such as turnout and ideology. Yet ordinary human decency, honesty, and sacrifice also seem to defy the predictions of standard rational choice theory (Frank 1988). On a grander scale, there is for example evidence that presidents do try to honor their campaign commitments, notwithstanding...

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5. Political Causes

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pp. 143-166

I start by imputing a couple of concessions to an otherwise skeptical reader of the preceding portion of the book. One, I imagine this reader conceding that the first chapter shows why reasonable people can disagree over the proper definition of rationality. Two, I imagine the reader conceding that chapters 2, 3, and 4 show that the CEU definition has some empirical power. There is a case for...

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6. Reduced Expectations

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pp. 167-186

This concluding chapter begins by stressing the coherent message underlying the variegated analysis of the preceding five chapters. My aim is part summary and part reorganization. The chapter will also extend the analysis by confronting one of the awkward complaints about rational choice theory raised by Donald Green and Ian Shapiro ( 1994), namely, that its advocates do not really...

Appendix A: Supplement to Chapter 2

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pp. 187-190

Appendix B: Supplement to Chapter 3

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pp. 191-197


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pp. 199-211


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pp. 213-228


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pp. 229-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022830
E-ISBN-10: 0472022830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472110544
Print-ISBN-10: 0472110543

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 5 drawings
Publication Year: 1999