On October 7th, Paul Erickson (Wesleyan University) is invited in the seminar Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on Economics (HPPE) organised at the London School of Economics (from 1:00 pm, in Tower 2, room 2.03). The title of his presentation will be “The Uses of Theory and the Study of Human Behavior”.
Abstract: This paper reflects on the uses of game theory and related theories of rational choice in the social and behavioral sciences during the later 20th century. These theories have been extensively critiqued – even by some of their most prominent practitioners – for their perceived descriptive, predictive, or normative failings, and this suggests we should look elsewhere to understand their widespread embrace in the years following World War II. To date, many histories have pointed to the postwar context (the growth of military funding for the social sciences, or the great ideological debates between communism and capitalist democracy) to explain this phenomenon, but have been less specific in explaining the precise nature of these theories’ appeal to practicing social scientists. By contrast, this paper examines the way the theory served an essential function in structuring a brand of cross-disciplinary research into human behavior that flourished, for a variety of reasons, in the postwar era.