Rational Choice Theory As Folk Psychology

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal 27 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Petri YLIKOSKI, University of Helsinki, Finland
Peter HEDSTROM, Linköping University, Sweden
It is common to regard analytical sociology (AS) as a version of rational choice (RCT) sociology. Given the historical connections between the two, this is not entirely surprising. However, when viewed from a more systematic perspective this is highly misleading. AS is based on a quite different view of the role of theory of action in sociological theorizing. This presentation aims to give a clear account of these differences. First, AS denies RCT any foundational role. AS does not claim that DBO (desire-belief-opportunity model) should have this foundational role. Instead it argues that there is no need for a foundational theory of action. For analytical sociologists, RCT is just one version of intentional folk psychology (FP). It does not have any special status, no matter what are its normative credentials. Similarly, DBO is just a simple version of FSP that analytical sociologists believe to be useful for many sociological purposes. Second, AS does not require that sociologists should always employ the same theory of action. Thus, while RCT may be highly useful for some purposes, there are many situations where models that pay more attention to details of human cognition are more apt in capturing the crucial facts. This more liberal view does not imply that AS is just an unprincipled and opportunistic in theory of action. In contrast to many RCT theorists, AS takes seriously the requirements of realism. While in practice sociologists have to abstract away from many details of human psychology, AS requires empirical justification for those aspects that play a crucial role for the explanation that is advanced. In other words, AS has low tolerance for instrumentalist storytelling and this seriously constrains the use of any general theory of action, RCT included.