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74 International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 74–83© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Contributions of Rational Choice: A Defense of Pluralism Lisa L. Martin In “Rigor or Rigor Mortis ? Rational Choice and Security Studies,” Stephen Walt warns of the dangers to the ªeld of security studies that are in store “if formal theory were to dominate security studies as it has other areas of political science.”1 He backs up these warnings by evaluating published formal work in the ªeld according to seemingly reasonable criteria, ªnding that the gain in rigor inherent in formal work is not sufªcient to offset its empirical, creative, and policy-relevance weaknesses. Although Walt ends with a plea for diversity (p. 48), the overall structure of his argument puts rational choice on trial, ªnds it lacking yet threatening to become dominant, and does little to serve the purpose of encouraging pluralism. As a consumer rather than producer of sophisticated formal theory, I ªnd Walt’s critique of formal work off target and his worries about its imminent hegemony unfounded. My own work, as well as that of many other scholars, has beneªted enormously from the theorizing of those who have better technical skills and the ability to work through complex mathematical models. Theªeld of security studies would be severely impoverished if formal work were discouraged. In this response, I make three arguments. The ªrst is to highlight a signal strength of formal work that Walt neglects: its ability to generate linked, coherent sets of propositions and insights. Walt’s analysis focuses entirely on individual, isolated hypotheses, ªnding them lacking in originality, empirical support, or policy relevance. This approach misses the importance of theory in providing insights that are logically connected to one another in an integrated analytical framework, a necessary condition for progress in social science . Second, I address the beneªts of formalizing the insights of informal Lisa L. Martin is Professor of Government at Harvard University. She is the author of Democratic Commitments: Legislatures and International Cooperation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, forthcoming). I would like to thank Celeste Wallander and Barbara Walter for discussions and comments on this piece, and Lawrence Hamlet for his able research assistance. 1. Stephen M. Walt, “Rigor or Rigor Mortis? Rational Choice and Security Studies,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Spring 1999), pp. 5–48, at p. 46. Further references appear in parentheses in the text. rational choice—the generic “Didn’t Schelling already say that?” question. These beneªts can be summarized as providing speciªcity to propositions and identifying the contingency of many hypotheses. Third, I address the “dominance ” issue by looking at the numbers of articles published in leading journals between 1994 and 1998 that use sophisticated formal models. This review shows that there is no apparent danger of formal work becoming dominant in the ªeld of security studies, calling the need for warnings such as Walt’s into question. Better empirical testing of formal models is surely desirable—as is better empirical work in international relations and security studies in general. Singling out formal modeling as a threat to the ªeld, however, is unfounded and does nothing to encourage diversity. Coherence The approach that Walt takes in his review of formal models is to single out particular hypotheses and propositions that have been derived in prominent examples of formal work. He argues that, taken individually, none of these insights is valuable enough to justify the technical complexity that went into producing them. I leave it to those authors who were singled out to respond directly to these claims, if they desire. The point I wish to make here is a larger one, however. The value of formal theory, like any theory, does not lie primarily in its ability to generate isolated propositions, however original or empirically valid such assertions might be. Generating isolated propositions does not require a theoretical framework at all, much less the relatively elaborate framework of mathematical game theory. Any thoughtful observer of international affairs is likely to be able to generate a good insight here or there. Social science...


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