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positive political theory, rationality assumption, component analysis, political science


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.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Rational choice theory, Political science