Unifying Theories of institutions: a critique of Pettit’s Virtual Control Theory

Frank Hindriks*

*Corresponding author for this work

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To unify rival theories is to combine their key insights into a single coherent framework. It is often achieved by integrating the theories and forging new connections between their explanatory factors, which leads to an increase in explanatory power. Philip Pettit has proposed an alternative method that serves to establish that their key insights can be coherently combined. Instead of integrating them, he reconciles them by adjusting their domains of application so as to avoid overlap. As a result, the theories no longer compete. I argue that integration is often to be preferred to reconciliation. First, reconciliation retains the original insights, but only for part of the domain. In contrast, integration preserves and enriches the original insights across the board. Second, integration leads to a substantial increase in explanatory power, whereas reconciliation might even decrease it. I substantiate these claims by comparing Pettit’s Virtual Control Theory to the Rules-and-Equilibrium Theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-177
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Economic Methodology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14-Mar-2022


  • Equilibrium theories
  • explanatory unification
  • integration
  • reconciliation
  • rule theories
  • theoretical unification

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