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Soziologisches Institut

The Many Faces of Rational Choice Theory

It is no novelty that during the second half of the twentieth century, substantial attacks have been raised from various sides against the way in which economists have conceptualized human behavior. At the same time, not only have formal theories of rational choice been extensively employed by social scientists; they have also conquered important niches in philosophy, computer science, psychology, international relations, anthropology, etc. Rational choice theories have been regarded in those different disciplines as capable of solving a variety of conceptual, methodological, and epistemic problems. This project aims at providing a new perspective on persistent debates about the epistemic potentials and limitations of rational choice theory in philosophy and the social sciences alike. We approach the topic by engaging with the two opposed camps not only from a philosophical perspective, but also from a historical perspective. By tracing the intellectual roots of rational choice theory, the various modifications it has undergone in economics, and the justifications it has been defended with by economists, this project provides a comprehensive and innovative account of rational choice theory in terms of its history.

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