An Introduction To Rational Choice Theory Philosophy Essay

Public administrative agencies have very distinctive styles of decision making often depending upon the type of leadership or organizational structure. The literature suggests the decision making process in the public administrative sphere involves “more complexity, dynamism, intervention, and interruption than those in their private counterparts” (Rainey, p. 160). Public administrators are primarily held accountable by the people they serve in their communities; therefore, utilizing the most logical, efficient style of decision making is sought out by public agencies. “Decision-making issues are closely related to power issues, because power determines who gets to decide” (Rainey, p.160). Bureaucracies have commonly used the Rational Choice Theory in their decision making processes. For the purposes of this assignment, the Rational Choice Theory has been chosen for examination.

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Through examining the four components of the Rational-Choice Theory Model, theorists have concluded that this style of decision making is not rational. This model has proved to be problematic because it is not realistic, too time consuming, too costly, and too strict. Theorists such as Herbert Simon opposed this style of decision making claiming that it leads to bounded rationality which ultimately leads to satisficing. Bounded Rationality and Satisfying are two public administrative terms that will be explained later on. Conducting an analysis of Rational-Choice Theory, one mainly encounters criticisms of the model in literature.

In this article Stephan clarifies rationality by providing an explanation of the embedded assumptions in Rational-Choice Theory. The embedded assumptions of rationality are the central theme of this article. Quackenbush’s central argument is that “much of the criticism of rational choice theory is based on a basic misunderstanding of the assumption of instrumental rationality-which is, after all, the rationality of rational choice theory” (Quackenbush, p. 2). In this article, the author has discusses the role of assumption in theory as well as the assumption of rationality in rational choice theory.

The author utilizes empirical research from several theorists to explain how the debate and the criticisms have evolved with Rational-Choice Theory. Quackenbush strengthens his argument with a discussion regarding “three applications of rational choice theory in international relations and demonstrates ways that rational choice theorists themselves have potentially added to confusion about the assumption of rationality” (Quackenbush, p.2).

Quackenbush presents research from political science theorists such as Donald Green and Ian Shapiro, and Walt Friedman regarding rational choice theory but makes it abundantly clear that this model has been debated in other areas of social sciences. Green and Shapiro’s research of rational choice was conducted in the realm of American politics. Green and Shapiro concluded their research with evidence illustrating the rational choice model had not advanced the empirical study of politics as it had initially promised. Walt conducted a review of several formal rational choice works in an attempt to “demonstrate that they have yielded trivial results, have not been empirically tested, and that empirical tests, when used, have been constructed poorly” (Quackenbush, p. 2).

Quackenbush attempted to clarify the role of assumptions in rational choice theory. The empirical works of Green and Shapiro assisted Walt in proving that rational choice is not simply one theory but an approach to theory. An assessment of Quackenbush’s article, generally stated, may be the fact that rational choice theory theorizes that individuals use rationality to make choices and that individual theories are more of a concern than the rational choice model itself.

In exploratory rational choice’s record, Green and Shapiro paying attention entirely upon the extent to which theorists present empirical evidence about the ‘outside’ of an event: that is evidence. Evidence, on this view, consists in a ‘fit’ between the presumptions of rational choice theory and observed institutional or behavioral outcomes in any particular case. In what follows we will refer to empirical evidence of this sort as mortal ‘external’.

However, we argue that rational choice is also conciliation by its failure to provide kind of empirical evidence, namely ‘internal’ or interpretive evidence about the beliefs of the agents whose actions comprise the phenomena to be explained. Our distinction between external and internal evidence maps on to the well-known distinction between a behavioral and ultimately positivist conception of political science and a hermeneutic or interpretive one. Internal’s explanations do not claim access to private psychological states; they are ‘internal’ only in the sense of being internal to the world of meanings inhabited by the actor.

Monk-Hampsher and Hindmoor’s research does, however, assume the devil’s advocate role towards the end of the article demonstrating how the rational choice theory is valuable in circumstances in which interpretive evidence cannot be relied.

Scholarly Themes

The idea of this article is based on the concept that the rational choice theory misses the interpretive evidence and the research to find out the reality that the empirical research does play any role in the credibility of the rational choice theory.

Green and Shapiro demonstrate that the largely achievements of rational choice theory are in fact profoundly suspect and that fundamental rethinking is needed if rational choice theorists are to supply to the indulgent of politics. Green and Shapiro show that empirical tests of rational choice theories are disfigured by a series of mechanical defects. These defects flow from the characteristic rational choice impulse to defend universal theories of politics.

An individual assessment of Hindmoor’s book review may lead to the belief that Hindmoor seems to disagree with Green and Shapiro’s thoughts that rational choice theory has been heavily criticized because it is misunderstood. Hindmoor explains that Green and Shapiro theorize that the problem lies with rational choice theorists and rational choice models, not with actual rational choice theory. Hindmoor may find Green and Shapiro’s research to be contradictory but acknowledges the importance of their work which it has been powerfully stated in the literature generating significant controversy.

The theme of this book is based on the factors of reliability, validity and empirical evidence of the Rational Choice Theory. In this article the major concerns are the study of the collective action, the behavior and attitude of political parties & politicians and phenomenon of voting cycles and the Prisoner’s problems. It has also been evaluated in this article that if rational choice theories are to contribute to the understanding of the politics then deep suspect and the fundamental rethinking is required.

This article is a scholarly work dedicated to examining the primary features of rational choice theory with respect to Lakatos’ research program and Laudan’s research tradition. The analysis in this article expose that the thin rationality assumption, the axiomatic method and the diminution to the micro level are the only features shared by all rational choice models. On these grounds, it is argued that rational choice theory cannot be exemplified as a research program. This is due to the fact that the thin rationality proposition cannot be understood as a hard core in Lakatos’ terms. It is argued that Laudan’s conception of a research tradition better differentiate rational choice theory.

Rational choice theory or rational actor theory (RCT) is a common draw near in different fields of social logical research. Broadly speaking, RCT can be differentiating as the maturity of models based on the hypothesis of rational actors. In this article, the nature of RCT is evaluated in more detail. Green and Shapiro suggest that they believe RCT should become a more coherent research program with a hard core – if Lakatos’ terms are used.

An assessment of Herne and Setela’s article reveals their motivation for conducting this research lies within the context of the actual role of rational choice theory in the political arena. Herne and Setela disagree with Green and Shapiro’s strategies and convey that the development of rational actor theory would only be hindered if it were based upon a particular definition of rationality.

Scholarly Themes

The article theme is based on Post hoc theory development and domain hoc theory development is not necessarily harmful, if conceptual clarity and testability are preserved. But on contrary, post hoc theory development can lead to innovative model building. Beside this the domain restriction is also not a goof strategy because it kills the innovative theory building by restricting the domain of application.

Librarians at the Bounds of Rationality: How Bounded Rationality Can Help Us Help Others, by Samantha Schmehl Hines

Hines, S. S. (2009). Librarians at the Bounds of Rationality: How Bounded Rationality Can Help Us Help Others. Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian, 28(3), 80-86. doi:10.1080/01639260903088927

Social Science theorist, Hebert Simon, claimed that Rational Choice Decision Making resulted in bounded rationality, a theory that explains how the rationality of decision making is limited based on the amount of information one may have. Simon’s theory is the topic in Samantha Schmehl Hines’s article, Librarians at the Bounds of Rationality: How Bounded Rationality Can Help Us Help Others.

Central Argument

In this article, Hines’s is clearly an advocate of bounded rationality describing it as a helpful concept used to identify and predict behavior with decision making. Hines’s central argument focuses on how and why bounded rationality is beneficial in predicting human behavior.

Summary of Work

Hines uses the criticisms of Rational Choice Theory to build her argument that bounded rationality is a better mode of decision making. “Bounded rationality” is a perception used in the social sciences to help classify and predict how individuals make decisions. An offshoot of rational choice theory, bounded prudence accounts for the fact that completely rational decisions are not feasible in practice and states that individuals use heuristics, or rules based on past experiences and information, to make decisions. Bounded rationality can explain how our users create heuristic shortcuts to simplify the decision-making practice and deal with the multitude of choices and information available. This concept article will describe bounded rationality, apply bounded rationality to aspects of library service, and discuss the possible use of the concept as an assessment tool for our services.

Hines uses librarians and their daily operations in an attempt to prove that Simon’s theory is helpful in two different realms of study: Social Sciences and Human Behavior. Hines explains that daily practices such as collection development and reference review are implicated in the decision making processes of our daily lives. Collection development and reviews of reference books, articles, journals etc are two elements of bounded rationality that draw attention to the resources individuals have at their clearance for making “rational” decisions. Hines argues that becoming aware of this progression will benefit the decision making process.

Scholarly Themes

The theme of this article is based on the idea that the individual’s rationality is limited because of the available information, cognitive limitation of their minds and the limited time for decision making. So they use the techniques based on their experiences in past.

Rational Decision Making in Business Organizations, by Herbert A. Simon

Simon, H. A. (1979). Rational Decision Making in Business Organizations. The American Economic Review, 69(4), 493-513. Retrieved April 8, 2010

Herbert Simon, a theorist who has analyzed Rational Choice Theory in multiple areas of study, seeks to examine the theory from an economical perspective in the article, Rational Decision Making in Business Organizations.

Central Argument

The central theme of this article is focused on the concern of the important colonial territory known as decision theory. Simon discusses the normative and descriptive aspects and its applications to business organizations linking his theories back to the core of the political economy.

Summary of Work

Simon states economics has focused on one aspect of man’s decision making and that one focus had traditionally been his “reason.” Furthermore, Simon explains man’s “reason” had typically been studied while making decisions in times of scarcity. Simon steps out of the traditional realm in his research viewing decision theory as not being limited to the domains of political science, psychology, and sociology. He explains that the classical model of rational choice calls for all the knowledge of alternatives that are open to choice. Simon explains, in compliance with most of his research on Rational Choice theory, the possession of complete knowledge is not rational or feasible.

Simon uses the works of theorists such as Henry Schultz to provide examples in explaining the more refined aspects of studies conducted within the physical sciences. From a government policy making perspective, Simon reveals the eloquence of the body of descriptive theory (i.e. descriptive statistics) and how quantitative research has been beneficial to normative economics. Although Simon is clearly an advocate of his many of his colleagues’ equilibrium theories, he offers an explanation that some of the more refined parts of this study may not be completely beneficial in the real world.

Simon says in his article that when we find the discrepancies between theory and data, we try to patch rather then to rebuild from the foundations.

He argues that we have large quantity of descriptive data from field as well as laboratory. A number of theories have been formed to account for this data. But these theories are not coherent. In one way or other, these incorporate the notions of the bounded rationality. Bounded rationality means the need to search for decisions alternatives, the replacement of optimization by targets and satisficing goals and the mechanism of learning and adaptation.

Scholarly Themes

The theme of this article is one with something can not be defeated with nothing. You cannot neat a measure or a candidate by pointing his/her defects or inefficiencies. An alternative must has to be offered.

Do Sunk Costs Matter, by R. Preston Mcafee and Hugo M. Mialon, and Sue H. Mialon

Mcafee, R. P., Mialon, H. M., & Mialon, S. H. (2007). Do Sunk Costs Matter? Economic Inquiry, 48(2), 323-336. Retrieved April 8, 2010

Central Argument

Authors R. Preston Mcafee, Hugo M. Mialon, and Sue H. Mialon present research examining how people make decisions specifically in the realm of sunk costs in the article Do Sunk Costs Matter; therefore, their research focuses on economics.

Summary of Work

In the summary to of this article the authors identify sunk costs as costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. That sunk costs are not related to rational decision-making is often accessible as one of the basic principles of economics. When people are influenced by sunk costs in their decision-making, they are said to be commend the “sunk cost fallacy.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, we argue that, in a broad range of situations, it is rational for people to condition behavior on sunk costs, because of informational content, reputational concerns, or financial and time constriction. Once all the elements of the decision-making environment are taken into account, reacting to sunk costs can often be unstated as rational behavior.

Another argument presented in this article is the idea that decisions based on future prospects, past decisions, scarce resources and infinite time, and reaction to past decisions and the sunk costs they have entailed, is often rational behavior.

Scholarly Themes

The theme of the article is when people engage in this type of behavior it is not rational and they commit a sunk cost fallacy.

Sunk cost is the basic theme of this article in which the authors have discussed that the people might rationally invest more if they have invested more in the past, because it might convince that high past investments would lead towards the closer success. The reaction of people has been discusses for investments in regard to the sunk cost.

Simon’s Revenge: or Incommensurability and Satisficing, by Michael Byron

Byron, M. (2005). Simon’s revenge: or, incommensurability and satisficing. Analysis, 65(4), 311-315. Retrieved April 9, 2010

Central Argument

Michael Byron’s article, Simon’s Revenge: or Incommensurability and Satisficing, is another analysis of the Rational Choice Theory based on Herbert Simon’s criticisms of the theory. Byron provides a discussion focused on Simon’s “solution” to the Rational Choice Model of Decision Making. The central theme of Byron’s article is about Simon’s coined term, Satisficing, and its potential in serving as an alternative model to Rational Choice Theory.

Summary of Work

Byron explains that Simon thought for large-scale decisions, the deluge of relevant information and uncertainties overload the cognitive capacity of managers to process it. Managers strive for rationality; therefore, they tend to be rational. However, Byron uses Simon’s argument to strengthen his research by explaining cognitive limits, uncertainties, and time limits cause decisions to be made under conditions of bounded rationality. They do not maximize in accordance with rationality assumptions instead they “satisfice.” To paraphrase Bryon’s argument, “satisficing” is a term meaning what we do when we make the best of what we can. This is the reality of decision making. “Satisfice” is the combination of two words: “satisfy” and “suffice”.

Byron explains Simon’s alternative model of satisficing does not require maximization such as Rational Choice Model. Simon saw maximizing had failed; therefore, his “revenge,” or model of satisficing, was designed to garner success outcomes descriptively. Byron argues Simon designed this alternative model by making it cognitive demands nominal, simplified its value function, and completely eliminated the probabilities of the model.

Scholarly Themes

The idea of this article is Satisficing. Managers try to be rational but due to limitations they have to be bound rational in their decision making to provide satisficing decision and alternatives.

A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action, by Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom. (1998). A behavioral approach to the rational choice theory of collective action presidential address, American Political Science Association, 1997. The American Political Science Review, 92(1), 1-22. Retrieved April 9, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 26931044).

Elinor Ostrom’s article, A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action, is presented in Chapter 16 of Michael Dean McGinnis’s book entitled Polycentric Games and Institutions: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.

Central Argument

Ostrom’s research regarding the Rational Choice Theory and decision making is based on her argument that the theory is effective if expanded into a behavioral model of collective action when making decisions in times of social dilemma. This is the central argument of her research.

Summary of Work

Ostrom explains that Rational Choice Theory assumes that humans are self-interested, maximizers. Her research argues that Rational Choice has been successful in predicting marginal behavior in competitive decision making but when it comes to using this theory to predict decisions that are made during social dilemmas it has proved to be ineffective. Extensive empirical evidence and theoretical events causing change in multiple disciplines motivate a need to develop the range of rational choice models to be used as an establishment for the study of social dilemmas and cooperative action.

After an introduction to the problem of triumph over social dilemmas through collective action, the leftovers of this article is divided into six sections which include theoretical predictions of currently accepted rational choice theory related to social dilemmas, challenges to the sole reliance, empirical findings that begin to show how individuals achieve results that are “better than rational”, the possibility of developing second-generation models of rationality, an initial theoretical scenario, implications of placing reciprocity, reputation, and trust at the core of an empirically tested, behavioral theory of collective action.

The implications of developing second-generation models of empirically grounded, bloodedly rational, and moral decision making are substantial. New research questions will open up. We need to expand the type of research methods regularly used in political science. We need to increase the level of understanding among those engaged in formal theory, experimental research, and field research across the social and biological sciences.

Scholarly Theme

The main themes of the article are rational choice models, empirical evidences and theoretical development. The mentioned themes can be used to expand the variety of the rational choice models so that the study of the social dilemma and collective action can be carried out.

To vote or not to vote: the merits and limits of rational choice theory, by Andre Blais

Blais, Andre. To vote or not to vote: the merits and limits of rational choice theory. 2000. USA: University of Pittsburg Press.

Central Argument

Voter turnout and our reasons for voting have been exhaustively examined in the literature; however, Blais expresses his dissatisfaction of what has been presented in the literature about voting. The central theme of Blais’s research is whether or not the decision to vote or abstain from voting evolves from a rational choice perspective.

Summary of Work

Blais strengthens his argument by pointing out that rational choice authors have admitted a problem with exist voting and rational choice perspective because voting is a paradox of irrational response. Blais concludes his argument, after two solid years dedicated to this topic, with the view that the Rational Choice Theory does make a real contribution to understanding of why people vote but the contribution is quite limited.

Blais uses Green and Shapiro’s infamous critique of the Rational Choice Theory to compare his verdict of the actual role Rational Choice plays in one’s decision to vote. Green and Shapiro’s research blatantly stated the Rational Choice Model had failed to contribute any advancement of the empirical study of politics. Blais’s verdict is not as harsh and contrary to his colleagues’ findings. Blais uses a strong example to prove his point stating that motivations that make people vote, such as civic duty, are far from Rational Choice that claims people are self-interested. In Blais comparative analysis of his verdict to Green and Sahapiro’s, he stresses that political science offers many reasons to not vote. The fact that people still make the decision to vote is irrational. After Blais’s research, he candidly reveals that he cannot make sense of why people vote without taking the Rational Choice Model into consideration. Since most citizens vote despite even when it is not in their best personal interests to do so is a fascination that only Rational Choice Theory can explain.

Scholarly Themes

In the book, the author is focusing on the reasons for the choice for casting the vote. Voting and rational choice theory are interlinked and only this theory can explain it.


The 10 articles examined for the purposes of conducting a miniature literature review of Rational Choice Theory clearly indicates that this theory is of the most powerful in the field of social sciences, especially political science. An immovable effort was made to garner research that presented different perspectives about the effectiveness and feasibility of Rational Choice Theory.

Rational Choice Theory has been criticized for being unrealistic. In decision making, Rational Choice is thought to be too time consuming, too costly, and too strict. The literature has criticized the theory for not taking human intuitive behavior into consideration. Furthermore, many theorists and researchers are not satisfied with Rational Choice Theory because it neglects empirical research.

On the other hand, many theorists believe in Rational Choice Theory to explain things such as voting phenomenon. People vote inspire of the fact it may not be in their personal best interests. Some theorists believe only Rational Choice Theory can explain and predict this type of behavior. Other theorists believe the theory can be strengthened through incorporation of behavioral models.

Overall, Rational Choice Theory has been approached with skepticism by theorists. The theory’s validity and reliability has been questioned because of its lackadaisical approach to include empirical research. This argument seems to be the central theme of a vast majority of the research on Rational Choice Models. Theorists wonder what Rational Choice should do when empirical anomalies arise. Although there are many critiques for Rational Choice Theory, but still it is helpful in many fields such as to understand the rational of voting, in business organization etc.