Choice Theory: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780192803030

Michael Allingham
144 Pages
113 x 178 mm
Pub date
Aug 2002
Very Short Introductions


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  • Lively and thought provoking book about the theory behind making decisions
  • Explores what it means to be rational, and what kind of criteria are we applying when we say that a choice is rational
  • Examines what it means to choose rationally in various settings: who to spend the rest of your life with, whether to undergo an operation if you are told that the mortality rate is 25 per cent, and whether to travel by air in the face of terrorist threats
  • Examines what strategies should be applied in making decisions which affect lots of people, including ways of electing politicians. Should a country develop a nuclear capability when it knows that others face the same choice? What are the relative advantages of 'first past the post' and proportional representation in elections?

We make choices all the time - about trivial matters, about how to spend our money, about how to spend our time, about what to do with our lives. And we are also constantly judging the decisions other people make as rational or irrational. But what kind of criteria are we applying when we say that a choice is rational? What guides our own choices, especially in cases where we don't have complete information about the outcomes? What strategies should be applied in making decisions which affect a lot of people, as in the case of government policy?

This book explores what it means to be rational in all these contexts. It introduces ideas from economics, philosophy, and other areas, showing how the theory applies to decisions in everyday life, and to particular situations such as gambling and the allocation of resources.


1: Choice and desire
2: Reason and rationality
3: Racing and roulette
4: Gambling and insurance
5: Conflict and cooperation
6: Democracy and Dictatorship

About the author: 

Michael Allingham is a Fellow and the Senior Tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford. He read natural philosophy and then political economy at the University of Edinburgh and subsequently taught at a number of universities in the United Kingdom and the United States; he has also held visiting positions at universities in Italy, France and Austria. His previous books include Equilibrium and Disequilibrium, General Equilibrium, Value, Unconscious Contracts, Theory of Markets, and Rational Choice.

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