Making Rational Choices Based on Rational Choice Theory

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This paper discusses decision making theory in international relations with an attempt to define the theory as well as its shows how rationality should not be the main determinant of decision making but that reasoning, rationality and limited human capabilities affect effective decision making.

Decision making may be narrowly defined as the making of a choice from among alternative courses of action.

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Decision making is a dynamic function rather than static action.Gross also defines “decision making as a process consisting of the activities which lead up to or result in the choice of an alternative or the commitment to a course of action.”

Every decision making process produces a final choice, which may or may not prompt action. The choices we make can make or mar our future and it is because choices are crucial things which determine the future.

Decision makers in the course of every day running of contemporary political and institutional systems are often faced with a complexity of challenges either big or small. These challenges require decisive action in line with laid down principles and rules of behavior.


One of such theories in international relations and politics is the theory of decision making.

Researchers have delved into the study of the decision making theory in order to discover

1. Who within states make political decisions and are these decisions rational or irrational.

2. What are the distinguishing features that determine political decision making?

3. What impacts do these decisions have on the political system?

The decision making theory is a theory of how rational individuals make choices under risks and uncertainty.

From the mid-fifties to the end of fifties, Richard Snyder made several publications with an objective to propagate the importance of decision making. Decision making theory basically has as its underlying principle, suggest that people matter in international affairs.

His decision making theory or the rational choice theory emphasized on the rationality of an individual which he sees as the most important in decision making process. These suggestions are however similar to the rational choice theory which assumes that rational actors make rational choices based on rational calculations and rationally available information. 

Using rational actors as a basis for rational choice theory, this theory manifests the rationality assumption. The rationality assumption assumes that all individuals under consideration are expected to be rational actors making rational choices based on rational choice theory to achieve the very best results for themselves and their own self-interests. 

The theory of rationality in decision making has however been criticized by several scholars and theorist because of his too much emphasis on the rationality of the individual in decision making. One of such theorist is Herbert Simon who propounded the “bounded rationality theory”

The bounded rationality theory of decision making refutes the notion of human rationality portraying the limitations of rational thinking in decision making process. Rationality is bounded because there are limits to our thinking capacity, available information, and time.

It is apparent that statesmen, like people in their everyday lives, do not make decisions in accord with the rules of strict rationality. “People are less than fully rational not only in the way they process information but also in the way they choose among alternative”. State men like ordinary individuals rarely search for the best possible policy instead they “satisfice” to use Herbert Simons term, one that combines the notions of “suffice” and “satisfy”. This means that they usually take the first acceptable alternative policy they find rather than continue their search in the hope of discovering the best. . 

Herbert Simon identifies three essential limitations faced by the individual making a given choice:

1. The availability of information: since the decision maker has to make an informed decision with all the information he currently possesses, this decision is not always profound enough to provide a sound rational argument for agreeing or not to the operation.

2. Cognitive limitations: because human beings have limited knowledge and comprehension of facts, it is difficult to rationally decide about certain issues.

3. Time boundaries: not all decisions have time frame that is long enough for the individual to analyze the situation adequately to come up with the most rational solution. These boundaries limit human beings to be fully rational.

In conclusion for an effective decision, besides rationality, other elements are required such as correct and impartial facts and information, normative value of society beliefs and faith etc.

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