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Rationality and the Foundations of Positive Political Theory

Rebaiasan [Leviathan], Vol. 19, pp. 7-32, Autumn 1996

39 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2007  

Mathew D. McCubbins

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University

Michael F. Thies

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science

Abstract

In this paper, we discuss and debunk the four most common critiques of the rational choice research program (which we prefer to call Positive Political Theory) by explaining and advocating its foundations: the rationality assumption, component analysis (abstraction), strategic behavior, and theory building, in turn. We argue that the rationality assumption and component analysis, properly understood, can be seen to underlie all social science, despite the protestations of critics. We then discuss the two ways that PPT most clearly contributes to political science (i.e., what distinguishes it from other research programs), namely the introduction of strategic behavior (people do not just act; they interact) and PPT's more careful attention to the theory-building step within the scientific method. We explain the roles of theory-building and of empirical "testing," respectively, in scientific inquiry, and the criteria by which theories should and should not be judged.

Keywords: rational choice, positive political theory, rationality assumption, strategic behavior, theory-building

JEL Classification: D78

Suggested Citation

McCubbins, Mathew D. and Thies, Michael F., Rationality and the Foundations of Positive Political Theory. Rebaiasan [Leviathan], Vol. 19, pp. 7-32, Autumn 1996. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1002963

Mathew D. McCubbins (Contact Author)

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Michael F. Thies

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Political Science ( email )

405 Hilgard Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472
United States
310-825-1976 (Phone)
310-825-0778 (Fax)

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