Political Science | Introduction to Formal Political Theory (3 cr)
Y573 | 8855 | Ahn


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).
Grades for the course will be based on problem sets and exams.