Study/Discussion Questions on Elster, "Marxism, Functionalism and Game Theory," pp. 453-463
1. What connection is there between methodological individualism and functionalism? Can one give functionalist explanations of social phenomena and endorse methodological individualism?
2. (454) Elster defines the "weak functionalist paradigm," the "main functionalist paradigm," and the "strong functionalist paradigm." What are these? Does Elster have objections to all three of these?
3. (454) Elster notes that "functionalist thinkers characteristically use the passive voice." Why? Is this fact symptomatic of an intellectual failing.
4. (455) What are the differences between "objective teleology," "subjective teleology," and "telonomy." Are all of these, in Elster's view, mistakes in the social sciences?
5. Elster is particularly concerned to repudiate functional explanations that purport to explain aspects of society that have short-run negative consequences in terms of their long-term consequences. Why, in Elster's view, is this sort of functional explanation particularly objectionable?
6. (459-60) Elster discusses three ways "to read meaning into behavior" (the functionalist, by the attribution of motives, or by conspiracy). What does it mean "to read meaning into behavior" and how do these three ways succeed?
7. In the long paragraph on p. 463 Elster sketches his over all view concerning scientific explanation and in particular explanation in the social sciences. What is this view, and how plausible do you find it?