More Easily Done than Said: Rules, Reasons, and Rational Social Choice

Posted: 24 Feb 1997

See all articles by Bruce Chapman

Bruce Chapman

Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Date Written: August 1, 1996


This paper offers an account of the important role which an obligation to provide reasons can play in avoiding some of the systematic difficulties encountered in the theory of rational social choice. The paper builds on some of the insights offered by theories of structure-induced equilibrium. It argues that the obligation to provide reasons for certain choices, reasons which must be articulated and structured around a set of generally shared and publicly comprehensible categories of thought, can serve to make the space of possible choices "concept-sensitive" in a very useful way. Concept-sensitivity has the effect of restricting certain movements within the choice space so that some of the difficulties for achieving an equilibrium in social choice, difficulties which arise out of an excess of rational doing, are avoided. The resulting equilibrium is path dependent, of course, but because it is dependent on a choice path which "makes sense" (or is ordered by thought precisely because it is concept-sensitive), it is not the sort of arbitrary path dependent social choice which was of such concern to Kenneth Arrow in his original Nobel prize winning work. The paper illustrates its points with examples taken from the law. The law is a method of making social choices which emphasizes (in a very self-conscious way, and one which has no parallel either in politics or the market) the justificatory significance of the obligation to give publicly accountable reasons which attend to those issues arising in an ordered way out of a highly structured adjudicative process. Thus, the paper has as one of its ambitions the bringing together of two accounts of rational decision-making which, to this point at least, have not had much contact, namely, the theory of rational social choice and the theory of legal reasoning.

JEL Classification: D7, K0, K4

Suggested Citation

Chapman, Bruce, More Easily Done than Said: Rules, Reasons, and Rational Social Choice (August 1, 1996). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol.18. pg. 293, 1998. Available at SSRN:

Bruce Chapman (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of Toronto ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-978-6911 (Phone)
416 978 2648 (Fax)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics