Paul MacDonald RCT

Paul MacDonald’s article pits two competing ideological foundations of Rational Choice
Theory against each other. Instrumentalist-empiricism ascribes to the sentiment that theoretical
assumptions are tools that can subsequently be empirically verified. The efficacy of this
philosophy hinges on the testability and generalizability of its theoretical designs. Scientificrealism, on the other hand, posits that the instrumentalist-empiricism perspective was an
incoherent dissatisfying method for explaining Rational Choice. Instead of relying heavily on
theoretical assumptions, scientific-realists view theory as a statement regarding entities or
processes which affect nature and social phenomena.
Before divulging too much about these ideological approaches, MacDonald attempts to
explain the specifics of the Rational Choice Theory. Ultimately, MacDonald defines RCT as “a
theory of social behavior whose distinctive theoretical assumption is that actors in the theory
behave according to the rationality assumption”. The rationality assumption is threefold in
nature; it includes purposive action, consistent preferences, and utility maximization. Purposive
action dictates that most social outcomes can be adequately explained by goal-oriented action;
consistent preferences refers to the ranked of preferences that are not affected by independent
alternatives; utility maximization can be explained by actors choosing a behavior that provides
them with the most subjective expected utility.
Evidence shows that human beings rarely behave purposively consistently, and with the
goal of maximizing their expected utility. A critique of this chaotic idea is through the domain
response. Doman response argues that people often act in rational ways and are coerced into
doing so by social pressure to conform to what is considered appropriate. Another critique is
called the as-if critique where it challenges what is considered rational thought. It contends that
just because a framework is made by a theorist, does not mean humans are acting irrational if
they do not follow it.
Self-interest is another point of contention where theorists argue over whether people
always act in self-interested ways. There are two camps on this issue: the thick-objectivist and
the thin-subjectivist. Advocates of thin-subjectivist argue that actors are not required to behave
exactly the same desire for everything, they should be able to have preference for things at
different levels and be able to weigh the costs and benefits. In this case, people who collect and
assign value to strange things are acting perfectly acceptably because they choose to assign that
value to what they think is worth. So things like emotional satisfaction or immaterial satisfaction
come into play. But the thick-objectivist conception argues that people have to have an interest
for material things that will benefit them socially. It is then easy for theorists to extrapolate and
make models of human behavior from this concept of self-interest.