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Why Self-Interest Means Less Outside of a Social Context

Aaron Wildavsky

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 1994, vol. 6, issue 2, 131-159

Abstract: Rational choice theories could be improved, their scope broadened, and their explanations made more powerful by asking not only `How do people go about getting what they know they want?' but also `Why do people want what they want in the first place?'. The advantages of combining a theory of goal direction, which is the operational base of rational choice, and a theory of preference formation are manifold: a monistic conception of cause as self-interest is replaced by a pluralistic conception of culture allowing for a variety of motives for action; master objectives, which play out over a sequence of moves, supersede immediate objectives that cover only the next act; concentration on how institutional rules influence incentives, though valuable in and of itself, gives way to a parallel consideration of how individuals shape institutions; and the overwhelming concentration on material self-interest, which discomforts so many social scientists who might otherwise be well disposed to rational choice explanations, opens up into a diversity of selves who construct a variety of interests in the service of different ways of life (or cultures).

Keywords: cultures; preferences; rational choice; self-interest selves (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 1994
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