The field of judgment and decision making has seen an explosion of research and analyses since the 1990s, notably in five closely related fields: Rational choice and its variants, the concept of intuition, “dual process” theories, the “heuristics and biases” literature, and the concept of “naturalistic” decision making. Yet none of these theories captures—by design or because of the limits of the approach—the actual mechanism by which emergent judgment occurs on complex decisions. Such decisions are non-optimizable and guided by multiple and often conflicting objectives and values; their outcomes will flow from the nonlinear interaction of many variables whose causal relationships are poorly understood. As a result, critical assumptions of many classical decision making models cannot be met in such situations, and the default approach relies not so much on calculative decision making as on instinctive judgment. This term implies a mechanism that is less calculative and consequentialist that it is imaginative, creative, and unconscious. Emergent, largely intuitive judgment is the only mechanism appropriate to such complex, nonlinear situations in which both an objective maximization of utilities and an accurate assessment of likely consequences are impossible. The concept of judgment broadly defined, as a form of unconscious, emergent, and imaginative interpretation of facts and events, offers the best model for how decision makers approach non-optimizable situations.
Michael J. Mazarr
For much of the history of the study of international relations, and of foreign policy as a distinctive subfield, scholars have debated the relative weight of agency and structure in shaping the course of international events. Often, the significance of agency versus structure depends on the scope of inquiry. Efforts to identify broad patterns of social interaction tend to play up the significance of structure, while studies of specific events bring agency to the fore. International relations theory is typically associated with the former, and foreign policy analysis (FPA) is more closely linked to the latter. That association suggests that the question of agency versus structure in international outcomes is settled in FPA in favor of agency. An assessment of the literature in FPA shows such a suggestion to be wide of the mark. Not only does FPA struggle with the question of agency versus structure that pervades the study of international relations generally, but also it wrestles with how to reconcile agency and structure in the context of psychological constraints on human cognition. Thus, rather than resolving the debate between agency and structure, the literature on FPA shows that it extends down to the level of individual policymakers. The debate over the role of agency and structure occupies two axes. The first is the engagement of FPA with broader debates over agency and structure in international relations scholarship. The second is the tension between agency and structure in FPA that emerges once psychology is incorporated into the analytical matrix. In both cases, the significance of structure in the actual analysis of foreign policy is far greater than common conception recognizes. This reality means that FPA represents the cutting edge for theoretical and analytical efforts to understand the relationship between structure and agency in international outcomes.