Economics and Philosophy

Symposium on explanations and social ontology 1: rational choice theory and social explanation

John Ferejohn a1
a1 Stanford University


In the Common Mind, Pettit argues that rational choice theory cannot provide genuine causal accounts of action. A genuine causal explanation of intentional action must track how people actually deliberate to arrive at action. And, deliberation is necessarily enculturated or situated “. . . we take human agents to reason their way to action, using the concepts that are available to them in the currency of their culture” (p. 220). When deciding how to act, “. . . people find their way to action in response to properties that they register in the options before them, properties that are valued in common with others and that can be invoked to provide at least some justification of their choices” (p. 272). That people seek to make justified decisions implies that, at times, their own goals or objectives will be modified in deliberation. Something that rational choice theory cannot allow.