Theory and Society

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 805–841 | Cite as

The limits of decision and choice

  • Gabriel AbendEmail author


Concepts of decision, choice, decision-maker, and decision-making are common practical tools in both social science and natural science, on which scientific knowledge, policy implications, and moral recommendations are based. In this article I address three questions. First, I look into how present-day social scientists and natural scientists use decision/choice concepts. What are they used for? Second, scientists may differ in the application of decision/choice to X, and they may explicitly disagree about the applicability of decision/choice to X. Where exactly do these disagreements lie? Third, I ask how scientists should use decision/choice concepts. What are they correctly and incorrectly used for? I argue that scientists must responsibly attend to a methodological demand: you have to have a principled, non-ad hoc, well-argued-for way of telling where decision/choice applicability ends. Thus, I aim to minimize the risk of conceptual stretching and foster responsible conceptual practices in a large body of scientific work.


Choice Decisionism Decision-making Logic of inquiry Philosophy of social science Social theory 



Being thankfully free to choose, I am thankfully free to choose whom to thank and whom not to thank for their help with this article. I would like to choose to thank the Theory and Society editors, reviewers, and managing editor Karen Lucas. Thanks also to Avner Baz, Michael Brownstein, Carrie Figdor, Nicholas Mark, Nigel Pleasants, Michael Sauders, Patrick Schenk, Stephen Turner, and graduate students in my theory seminar at New York University. People who did not help me with this article and therefore I choose not to thank are too many to list here. I wish I could say, paraphrasing Jon Elster, that any defect or fault in this article is intentional and part of the design. They are not.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität LuzernLuzernSwitzerland

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