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Formal Theory In The Social Sciences

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Chapter Summary

Rational choice is the single most widely used type of theory construction in several of the social sciences, though its status ranges from hegemonic in economics, through contested in political science and sociology, to almost absent in areas like anthropology. This chapter begins by comparing the way in which agents are conceptualized in two broadly sketched versions of rational choice: these are sometimes called 'thin' and 'thick', or 'narrow' and 'wide' versions. It draws further comparisons between these two and the depiction of agents in what are called agent based models (ABMs). The chapter also argues that, despite their differences, there are two common criteria that should be used to assess the explanations that they provide: the author calls these criteria 'adequacy' and 'plausibility'. It makes some remarks about the role of empirical research in the development of theories that are both adequate and plausible.

Keywords: agent based models (ABMs); behavioural economics; rational choice; social sciences



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