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Axiomatic Choice Theory Traveling between Mathematical Formalism, Normative Choice Rules, and Psychological Measurement, 1944-1956


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  • Catherine Herfeld
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    The following analysis is meant to contribute to a history of rational choice theory. More specifically, I provide a multi-layered account of rational choice theory in terms of its biography as a scientific object. I argue that its axiomatic version, choice theory traveled between different research sites, specified within the context of different mathematical formalisms and occupying different epistemic functions; it was being applied to prescribe rules of proper behavior, as representation of behavioral hypotheses, and as measurement device to capture individual values. New modifications of what I call ‘axiomatic choice theory’ did not fully replace old versions of it, which prevents the reconstruction of its ‘travels’ as a continuous process and acknowledges the different versions of axiomatic choice theory that are currently used in the social sciences, particularly in economics. Furthermore, by revealing the diversity of its manifestations within the context of social networks and within particular research sites, the account of axiomatic choice theory developed here will ultimately contributes to an explanation of the disunity and confusion surrounding current debates about rational choice theory and allows for providing a more nuanced picture of its nature and scope. Jacob Marschak’s professional development is used as a guide through this history of axiomatic choice theory to illustrate its journey.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Center for the History of Political Economy in its series Center for the History of Political Economy Working Paper Series with number 2013-11 4Creation-Date: 2013.

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    Length: 67
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    Handle: RePEc:hec:heccee:2013-11

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    Postal: Center for the History of Political Economy Box 90097 Durham, NC 27708-0097
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    Keywords: axiomatic method; Jacob Marschak; rational choice theory; Cowles Commission; expected utility theory; biographies of scientific objects; behavioral sciences; Ford Foundation; John von Neumann; Oskar Morgenstern; game theory;


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