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All Mortis, No Rigor Frank C. Zagare Like Caesar’s view of Gaul, Stephen Walt’s evaluation of the recent rational choice literature in strategic studies is divided into three parts.1 But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put his article back together again: the analysis of the second section does not follow from the ªrst, and the conclusions of the third cannot be drawn from the second. In the end, Walt’s discussion provides a clear illustration of why formal models are so valuable: they provide the strongest possible protection against improper argumentation. Walt’s ªrst section is a reasoned and balanced discussion of the underlying premises of rational choice theory and the rationale for formal modeling. In fact, Walt’s summary of the foundations of this methodological technique is refreshing. Unlike many other efforts to evaluate the contributions of game theory to international affairs, it is no caricature.2 Also uplifting is the absence of vitriol that turned one recent exchange between scholars into an intellectual food ªght.3 Walt begins by noting the usefulness of mathematical models in ensuring logical consistency, one of three criteria he lists as important for evaluating theories and bodies of literature. Insightfully, he recognizes that the formal literature is not monolithic, that there are important differences among those who use game theory to analyze international politics. As well, Walt’s discussion demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the rationality postulate. Although he does not discuss the issue explicitly, he does not fall into the International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 107–114© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 107 Frank C. Zagare is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He is author of The Dynamics of Deterrence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) and numerous articles applying game theory to international security affairs. He is currently writing a book with D. Marc Kilgour titled Perfect Deterrence (New York: Cambridge University Press). I wish to thank Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Erick Duchesne, D. Marc Kilgour, James Morrow, Stephen Quackenbush, William Reed, Paul Senese, and Catherine Zagare for their helpful comments on an earlier draft. 1. Stephen M. Walt, “Rigor or Rigor Mortis? Rational Choice and Security Studies,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Spring 1999), pp. 5–48. All subsequent citations are given by page numbers in the text. 2. See, for example, Martin Hollis and Steve Smith, Explaining and Understanding International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). 3. Speciªcally, Chalmers Johnson, “Preconception vs. Observation, or the Contributions of Rational Choice Theory and Area Studies to Contemporary Political Science,” PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 30, No. 2 (June 1997), pp. 170–174. common trap of confounding the concept of instrumental rationality, which lies at the heart of most applications of game theory, with the theoretically distinct concept of procedural rationality, used most frequently by scholars who write in the psychological tradition.4 Citing Jon Elster out of context, however, Walt (p. 11) notes that there is some disagreement among some scholars about the extent to which the rationality assumption is descriptive of actual real-world decisionmaking processes.5 But Walt seems to gloss over the fact that the vast majority of rational choice theorists, including perhaps all of those whose work he surveys, would agree with Christopher Achen and Duncan Snidal that “the axioms and conclusions of utility theory refer only to choices. Mental calculations are never mentioned: the theory makes no reference to them.”6 In other words, there is almost unanimous agreement among its practitioners that rational choice theory seeks to explain and predict a speciªc form of human behavior: the choices of real-world decisionmakers. This is one important reason why it is called “choice” theory. Game theory and other theories based on the rationality assumption are not generally viewed as theories of the cognitive process. Walt’s (pp. 11–12) suggestion to the contrary is not only beside the point (see below), it is also misleading. Walt seems to well understand the many virtues of...


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