The Role of Values in Rational Choice Theory

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86 Scopus citations


Most empirical applications of rational choice employ a typical value assumption—that actors are motivated to pursue private and instrumental goods. When is this typical value assumption warranted, and when is it not? This article proposes guidelines for thinking about the use of value assumptions in rational choice theory. When instrumental and immanent values are substitutable, use of the typical value assumption is justifiable. However, in cases where there is imperfect substitutability—in which actors face production constraints, significant role conflict, or in which immanent values are nonrandomly distributed—the typical value assumption should be reexamined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-333
Number of pages16
JournalRationality and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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