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ELSTER. the Case for Methodological Individualism

ELSTER. the Case for Methodological Individualism

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Published by: Ernesto Castro on Feb 27, 2013
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The Case for Methodological IndividualismAuthor(s): Jon ElsterReviewed work(s):Source:
Theory and Society,
Vol. 11, No. 4 (Jul., 1982), pp. 453-482Published by:
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Accessed: 13/02/2013 12:40
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This content downloadedon Wed, 13 Feb 2013 12:40:41 PMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions
 
453MARXISM,FUNCTIONALISM,AND GAMETHEORYTheCase forMethodologicalIndividualism
JONELSTER
HowshouldMarxistsocialanalysisrelate tobourgeoissocial science? Theobviousanswer is: retainanddevelopwhat isvaluable,criticize andrejectwhatisworthless. Marxistsocialscience has followed theoppositecourse,however.Byassimilatingheprinciplesoffunctionalistsociology,reinforcedbytheHegeliantradition,Marxistsocialanalysishasacquiredanapparentlypowerfultheorythat infactencourages lazyandfrictionlessthinking.Bycontrast,virtuallyallMarxistshaverejectedrational-choiceheoryingeneralandgametheoryinparticular.Yetgametheoryisinvaluable oany analysisofthehistoricalprocessthatcenters onexploitation,struggle,alliances,andrevolution.Thisissue isrelated to theconflictovermethodological ndividualism,ejectedbymanyMarxistswhowronglylinkit withindividualism ntheethical orpoliticalsense.Bymethodologicalindividualism mean thedoctrine that allsocialphenomenatheirstructureand theirchange)areinprincipleexplicableonlyintermsofindividuals theirproperties,goals,andbeliefs. Thisdoc-trineis notincompatiblewithanyof thefollowingtruestatements.(a)Indi-vidualsoftenhavegoalsthatinvolvethewelfareof otherindividuals.b)Theyoftenhavebeliefs aboutsupra-individualntities thatare notreducibletobeliefsaboutindividuals. "Thecapitalistsfear theworkingclass" cannot bereduced tothefeelingsofcapitalistsconcerningndividualworkers.Bycon-trast,"Thecapitalists'profitisthreatenedbytheworkingclass"canbereduced to acomplexstatementabouttheconsequencesof theactions takenbyindividualworkers.1(c)Manypropertiesofindividuals,such as"power-
ful,"areirreduciblyrelational,so thataccuratedescriptionof oneindividual
may requirereferencetootherindividuals.2
DepartmentofHistory,UniversityofOslo.
This content downloadedon Wed, 13 Feb 2013 12:40:41 PMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions
 
454Theinsistenceonmethodologicalindividualismeadstoa search for micro-foundationsofMarxistsocialtheory.The need for such foundationsisbynowwidely,but farfromuniversally,appreciatedbywritersonMarxisteco-nomictheory.3The Marxisttheoryofthe stateorofideologiesis,bycon-trast,inalamentablestate.Inparticular,Marxistshave nottakenupthe chal-lengeofshowinghowideologicalhegemonyiscreatedand entrenchedat thelevelofthe individual.WhatmicroeconomicssforMarxisteconomictheory,socialpsychologyshouldbefor the Marxistheoryofideology.4Withoutafirmknowledgeaboutthe mechanismshatoperateatthe individualevel,thegrandMarxistclaimsaboutmacrostructuresandlong-termchangeare con-demnedto remainatthe level ofspeculation.ThePovertyofFunctionalistMarxismFunctionalanalysis5nsociologyhas alonghistory.Theoriginof functional-istexplanationisprobablyhe Christianheodicies,which reachtheirsummitinLeibniz:allis forthebest in thebestofallpossibleworlds;eachapparentevilhasgoodconsequencesnthelargerview,andis tobeexplainedbytheseconsequences.Thefirst secularproponentperhapswasMandeville,whoseslogan"PrivateVices,PublicBenefits"foreshadowsMerton'sconceptoflatentfunction.ToMandevilleweowe theWeakFunctionalParadigm:aninstitutionor behavioralpatternoften hasconsequencesthatare(a)benefi-cialfor somedominanteconomicorpoliticalstructure;b)unintendedbytheactors;and(c)notrecognizedbythe beneficiariesasowingto thatbehavior.Thisparadigm,whichwemayalso callthe invisible-handaradigm,subiqui-tous inthesocialsciences.Observethatitprovidesnoexplanationoftheinstitutionorbehaviorthat hastheseconsequences.Ifweuse"function"forconsequencesthatsatisfycondition(a)and"latentfunction"forconse-quencesthatsatisfyallthreeconditions,wecangoon to statetheMainFunc-tionalParadigm:helatentfunctions(ifany)of an institutionorbehaviorexplainthepresenceof thatinstitutionorbehavior.Finally,thereistheStrongFunctionalParadigm:allinstitutionsorbehavioralpatternshaveafunctionthatexplainstheirpresence.LeibnizinvokedtheStrongParadigmonacosmicscale;Hegel appliedittosocietyandhistory,butwithoutthetheologicalunderpinningthatalonecouldjustifyit. AlthusserseesmeritinHegel'srecognitionthathistoryisa"processwithoutasubject,"thoughforHegeltheprocessstillhas agoal.Indeed,thisisa characteristiceatureof boththe mainandstrong paradigms:topostulateapurposewithoutapurposiveactoror,ingrammaticalerms,apredicatewithoutasubject.(Functionalistthinkerscharacteristicallyusethepassivevoice.)I shallreferto suchprocessesguidedbyapurposewithout
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