Miles Kahler, “Rationality in International Relations,” International Organization 52, 4 (Autumn 1998), pp. 919-941.
Rational action is determined by the instrumental pursuit of future outcomes. Rational and nonrational accounts share the same methodological shortcomings in that they aggregate from individual to collectivity. For some, the absence of a theory of beliefs and preferences is a failure of explanation within rational choice models that robs it of predictive power.
Realism was born out of post-war skepticism toward the power of reason. Psychoanalysis was employed to examine decision-making behavior that appeared to violate the canons of rationality by including personality variables, but it is problematic to extrapolate evidence from experimental and clinical settings to the environment of foreign policy and domestic politics. Cognitive psychology finds that preexisting beliefs drives behavior by influencing how new information is processed. Sociological approaches to international relations argue agents, whether individuals or states, are shaped profoundly by a dense institutional environment. Rational institutionalist approach in which foreign policy actions from individual rational actors are constrained by institutions leaves open the question of whether institutions are exogenous or endogenous and when political actors will opt for institutional change rather than change within institutions.