Collective Action and Rational Choice Explanations


In order for traditional rational choice theory to explain the production of collective action, it must be able to distinguish between two behaviorally identical possibilities: one, that all of the agents in a group are each performing behaviors in pursuit of a set of individual actions; and two, that all of those agents are performing those behaviors in pursuit of a collective action. I argue that RCT does not have the resources necessary to distinguish between these two possibilities. RCT could distinguish between these possibilities if it were able to account for commitments. I argue that successful rational choice explanations of collective action appeal to commitments, and distinguish this way of explaining collective action from a general class of explanations called plural subject theories.

Journal of Philosophical Research