Micro-Macro Transitions : Limits of Rational Choice Theory in James Coleman’s Foundations of Social Theory
This text analyzes certain contributions and limits of rational choice theory with regard to the problem of links between the micro and macro levels. Coleman’s criticisms of Weber’s theory in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism are examined and certain of his misreadings of Weber brought to light, together with their meta-theoretical bases. An attempt is made to show not only that Weber’s theory identifies the mechanisms for moving from micro to macro but also that it accounts more effectively than expected utility theory for macrophenomena such as capitalism, while helping us understand not the emergence of a single norm, which rational choice theory can explain, but a constellation of integrated norms. It also shows how the theory of instrumental rationality merely contributes to a particular perspective in sociological tradition’s understanding of norm emergence, namely the Hobbesian one, and recalls a number of problems that rational choice theory has not convincingly resolved.