Herbert A. Simon

Carnegie Mellon University

June 15, 1916 - February 9, 2001

Scientific Discipline: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1967)

Political scientist Herbert A. Simon’s long list of achievements have impacted nearly every field of social science.  His widely acclaimed Administrative Behavior, published in 1947, described the company as an adaptive system of physical, personal, and social components that were connected by a network of intercommunications and by the members’ willingness to cooperate and strive towards a common goal.  This concept, which would eventually win him the Nobel Prize in Economics, was considered radical. It rejected the classical theory of the firm as an omniscient and profit-maximizing entrepreneur.  Simon replaced the entrepreneur with cooperating decision-makers, which shifted a company’s goal from maximizing profits to finding acceptable and satisfactory solutions to acute problems.  This became known as the Theory of Bounded Rationality, and it is what modern business economics and administrative research are largely based on today.  Considered a pioneer in artificial intelligence (AI), he used the computer as a tool for both simulating human thought and augmenting it with AI.  In 1956, Simon and his colleague, Allen Newell, produced the first running artificial intelligence (AI) program (called The Logic Theorist), which proved several theorems of symbolic logic in Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica.  He also played a large role in the development of cognitive psychology; his verbal protocol analysis offered a way for psychologists to investigate mental operations. 

Simon attended the University of Chicago, receiving his A.B. in 1936 and Ph.D. in 1943. He began teaching political science as an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  He became an associate professor in 1945, a full professor in 1947, and was chairman of the Department of Political and Social Science for three years.  He left Illinois in 1949 for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering School, the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT).  Simon served as the head of CIT’s Department of Industrial Management from 1949 to 1959 and as associate dean of CIT’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration from 1957 to 1973.  He rose to CIT’s Professor of Administration and Psychology in 1962 and finally to the Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology four years later.    Along with receiving honorary degrees from over 20 different universities, Simon accumulated an impressive list of honors that included the prestigious Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, the National Medal of Science in 1986, the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science from the American Psychological Foundation in 1988, and the American Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology in 1993.

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