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From Theories of Human Behavior to Rules of Rational Choice: Tracing a Normative Turn at the Cowles Commission, 1943-1954

History of Political Economy, Forthcoming

55 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2017 Last revised: 13 Sep 2017

Catherine Sophia Herfeld

University of Zurich

Date Written: July 1, 2017

Abstract

This article traces a normative turn between the middle of the 1940s and the early 1950s reflected in the reformulation, interpretation, and use of rational choice theories at the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics. This turn is paralleled by a transition from Jacob Marschak’s to Tjalling Koopmans’ research program. While rational choice theories initially raised high hopes that they would serve as empirical accounts to inform testable hypotheses about economic regularities, they became increasingly modified and interpreted as normative approaches offering behavioral recommendations for individual agents, organizations, government, or teams. The predefined elements constitutive of these accounts, inspired by simple rules of logic were now meant to represent the basic demands of rationality, while theories of rational decision-making specified rules of conduct that were meant to shape rather than explain behavior.

Keywords: history of rational choice theory, Cowles Commission, normative turn

JEL Classification: B00, B2, B3, B4

Suggested Citation

Herfeld, Catherine Sophia, From Theories of Human Behavior to Rules of Rational Choice: Tracing a Normative Turn at the Cowles Commission, 1943-1954 (July 1, 2017). History of Political Economy, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2990936

Catherine Herfeld (Contact Author)

University of Zurich ( email )

Rämistrasse 71
Zürich, CH-8006
Switzerland

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