Political Science | Intro to Formal Political Theory (3 cr)
Y573 | 3443 | Monroe


Formal political theory is a generic label for a number of modeling
traditions in political science.  The dominant traditions within formal
theory are those of rational choice theory and game theory.  Rational choice
is a theory of how individuals make decisions; game theory is a theory of
how rational individuals interact.  In economics, the rational choice model
is used to characterize the behavior of consumers and firms.  In political
science, rational choice has been used to model almost every imaginable type
of political actor: voters, candidates, interest groups, parties,
nation-states, legislators, bureaucrats, and so on.  The first section of
the course is devoted to studying basic technical aspects of game theory and
rational choice, and examining how game theoretical models are constructed
and applied in political science.
Formal theory is not limited to rational choice and game theory, however.
Some types of formal theory focus model internal choice mechanisms and as a
consequence do not assume rational decision-makers (e.g., bounded
rationality models, connectionist / neural network modeling).  Others assume
that individuals are chosen rather than making choices (e.g., evolutionary
game theory).  Still others do not require individuals to be the actors at
all (e.g., computational modeling, dynamic modeling).  The second section of
the course will be spent examining a selection of these approaches.
In the final section of the course, we will try to place formal theory in
broader context.  In particular, we will also discuss the strengths and
limitations of the rational choice framework, how it might be modified to
deal with these limitations, and under what circumstances it should and
should not be applied.  Particular attention will be given to the
increasingly important interaction of formal theory and empirical analysis.
Formal theory has been applied across the subdisciplines of political
science and may, therefore, be of use to students in all subfields.  The
ubiquity of formal theory will be illustrated with applications in
comparative politics (elections, legislatures, coalitions, party systems,
democratization), international relations (alliances, deterrence, war,
international organizations, trade), American politics (elections, Congress,
interest groups, divided government, realignment), public policy (collective
action, distributive politics, political economy), and political philosophy
(constitutions, democracy, justice, Marxism).
Most students should take Y572 (Mathematical Tools for Political Science)
concurrently with, or prior to, Y573.   Grades for the course will be based
on problem sets and exams.