Sociology Index

Herbert Alexander Simon

Herbert Alexander Simon (1916 – 2001) was an economist, political scientist and cognitive psychologist, whose primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theories of Bounded Rationality and Satisficing. Herbert Alexander Simon received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 and the Turing Award in 1975. His research spanned across the fields of cognitive science, computer science, public administration, management, and political science. He was at Carnegie Mellon University for most of his career, from 1949 to 2001.

Herbert Alexander Simon was among the pioneers of several modern-day scientific domains such as artificial intelligence, information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, organization theory, and complex systems. He was among the earliest to analyze the architecture of complexity and to propose a preferential attachment mechanism to explain power law distributions.

Simon received his B.A. and his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago, where he studied under Harold Lasswell, Nicolas Rashevsky, Rudolf Carnap, Henry Schultz, and Charles Edward Merriam. After enrolling in a course on "Measuring Municipal Governments," Simon became a research assistant for Clarence Ridley, and co-authored Measuring Municipal Activities: A Survey of Suggested Criteria for Appraising Administration in 1938. Simon's studies led him to the field of organizational decision-making, which became the subject of his doctoral dissertation.

From 1949 to 2001, Herbert Alexander Simon was a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1949, Simon became a professor of administration and chairman of the Department of Industrial Management at Carnegie Institute of Technology, which became Carnegie-Mellon University. Simon later also taught psychology and computer science in the same university.

Herbert Alexander Simon became best known for his theory of corporate decision in his book Administrative Behavior. He based his concepts with an approach that recognized multiple factors that contribute to decision making. His organization and administration interest played a big part in the creation of the Economic Cooperation Administration in 1948, administrative team that administered aid to the Marshall Plan for the U.S. government, serving on President Lyndon Johnson's Science Advisory Committee, and also the National Academy of Science.

Administrative Behavior was first published in 1947 was based on Simon's doctoral dissertation. It served as the foundation for his life's work. The centerpiece of this book is the behavioral and cognitive processes of humans making rational decisions. By his definition, an operational administrative decision should be correct, efficient, and practical to implement with a set of coordinated means.

Herbert Alexander Simon recognized that a theory of administration is largely a theory of human decision making, and as such must be based on both economics and on psychology. He states: [If] there were no limits to human rationality administrative theory would be barren. It would consist of the single precept: Always select that alternative, among those available, which will lead to the most complete achievement of your goals.

Contrary to the "homo economicus" stereotype, Simon argued that alternatives and consequences may be partly known, and means and ends imperfectly differentiated, incompletely related, or poorly detailed.

Herbert Alexander Simon followed Chester Barnard, who stated "the decisions that an individual makes as a member of an organization are quite distinct from his personal decisions". Personal choices may be determined whether an individual joins a particular organization and continue to be made in his or her extra–organizational private life. As a member of an organization, however, that individual makes decisions not in relationship to personal needs and results, but in an impersonal sense as part of the organizational intent, purpose, and effect. Organizational inducements, rewards, and sanctions are all designed to form, strengthen, and maintain this identification.

Simon was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, creating with Allen Newell the Logic Theory Machine and the General Problem Solver programs. General Problem Solver may possibly be the first method developed for separating problem solving strategy from information about particular problems. Both programs were developed using the Information Processing Language (IPL) (1956) developed by Newell, Cliff Shaw, and Simon. Donald Knuth mentions the development of list processing in IPL, with the linked list originally called "NSS memory" for its inventors.

In the early 1960s psychologist Ulric Neisser asserted that while machines are capable of replicating "cold cognition" behaviors such as reasoning, planning, perceiving, and deciding, they would never be able to replicate "hot cognition" behaviors such as pain, pleasure, desire, and other emotions. Simon responded to Neisser's views in 1963 by writing a paper on emotional cognition, which he updated in 1967 and published in Psychological Review.

Simon was interested in how humans learn and, with Edward Feigenbaum, he developed the EPAM (Elementary Perceiver and Memorizer) theory, one of the first theories of learning to be implemented as a computer program. EPAM was able to explain a large number of phenomena in the field of verbal learning.

Simon has been credited for revolutionary changes in microeconomics. He is responsible for the concept of organizational decision-making as it is known today. He was the first to rigorously examine how administrators made decisions when they did not have perfect and complete information. It was in this area that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978.