Abstracts of articles by Jon Elster


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Elster, Jon (1986), Reply to Comments (Making Sense of Marx), Inquiry (March 1986) [29 (1):65-77]

Reply to Comments

Abstract

The main theme in most of the contributions to the symposium on Making Sense of Marx is methodological individualism. In the first part of my reply I consider the objections raised to this, in my opinion, trivially true doctrine. Against Taylor I argue that social relations, seen in abstraction from their relata, have no causal efficacy. Against Wood I argue that my defence of methodological individualism and my criticism of functional explanation are less closely related than he makes them out to be. Against Slaughter I argue that he holds two inconsistent views on the importance of individual desires and beliefs in social explanation. Against Meikle I argue that his view that entities are 'real natures' with a normal path of development needs to be restated in terms of dynamically stable processes. In the second part of the reply I deal with the individual contributions one by one. The replies to the 'fundamentalist Marxists' Slaughter and Meikle are relatively brief, because of the dismissive, unscholarly nature of their comments. Similarly I do not have much to say to North and Taylor, whose brief comments do not contain much with which to disagree. I reply at greater length to Wood, conceding the point he makes in the last section of his comment but rejecting his argument concerning functional explanation.



Some unresolved problems in the theory of rational behaviour, Acta Sociologica (September 1993) [36 (3): 179-190]

Some Unresolved Problems in the Theory of Rational Behaviour

Abstract

In an article written in 1977 the author offered a survey of unresolved problems in rational choice theory. The present paper is an attempt to rethink this issue. On the one hand, it emphasizes the question of indeterminacy, i.e. situations in which the rational choice is not well defined. The paradoxes of backward induction find their place here, as do the existence and importance of genuine uncertainty (as distinct from risk). On the other hand, the article discusses the question whether preferences can be said to be rational. Examples include time preferences, attitudes to risk, regret and the 'taste for fairness'. The examples are chosen with a view to showing that rational choice theory is not a predictive theory, but essentially a hermeneutic one. As part of the enterprise of self-understanding, the construction of rationality is partly discovery and partly decision. There is no right answer to all questions.


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