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On the Frontiers of Rational Choice

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Ermakoff, I. (2017). On the Frontiers of Rational Choice. Talk presented at Öffentlicher Vortrag am MPIfG. Köln. 2017-05-17.

Taking stock of the critiques leveled at the standard model of rational choice, the responses that these critiques elicited, and the empirical work deployed in the wake of these controversies, this essay sets forth three claims. The first conceptualizes rational choice as a mode of action identifiable in terms of specific subjective orientations. The second claim argues that we cannot appraise rational choice’s ability to sustain fire in the face of systematic empirical objections unless we acknowledge its contributions as a method of inquiry. The third claim relates a modal understanding of rational action to a systematic analysis of the processes of belief formation. Ermakoff elaborates these claims by submitting research problems that stand on the frontiers of the standard model to the rational choice approach and speaking to core sociological issues. 1. What leads agents to endorse norms that curtail their ability to realize their interests? 2. Which strategies of action do agents implement when they face situations that undercut the prospect of stable predictions? 3. How can agents deceive themselves, that is, give credence to beliefs that they know to be mistaken?