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Is Instrumental Rationality a Universal Phenomenon? 1

By D. Scott, Bennett Allan and C. Stam


This paper examines whether the expected utility theory of war explains international conflict equally well across all regions and time-periods as a way of examining whether instrumental rationality is a universal phenomenon. In the rational choice literature, scholars typically assume that decision-makers are purposive egoistic decision-makers with common preferences across various outcomes. However, critics of the assumption have suggested that preferences and decision structures vary as a function of polity type, culture and learning among state leaders. However, there have been few attempts to directly examine this assumption and evaluate whether it seems empirically justified. In this paper we attempt to test the assumption of instrumental rationality, examining several competing hypotheses about the nature of decision making in international relations and expectations about where and when instrumental rationality should be most readily observable. In particular, we want to explore the effects of regional learning to discover if there is a difference by region and over time in the outbreak of war and the predictions of the expected utility model. We find important differences both over regions and over time in how the predictions of expected utility theory fit actual conflict occurrence

Year: 2011
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