Simon on Social Identification: Two Connections with Bounded Rationality

The twelfth in a series of excerpts from Minds, Models and Milieux: Commemorating the Centennial of the Birth of Herbert Simon.

Rouslan Koumakhov

Social identifications are one of Herbert Simon’s most recurrent themes. Starting with Administrative Behavior (hereafter, AB) (Simon, 1947/1997), he investigates that theme throughout his scientific work on an impressive number of occasions. Perhaps it is section 3, entitled Perception and identifications, of chapter 6 (“Cognitive Limits on Rationality”), in March and Simon (1958/1993), that symbolizes Simon’s main concern in this issue – its connection with human rationality and emphasis on every individual’s multiple “belongings” to social groups (in the broad sense, i.e. from primary groups to formal organizations to the whole of society). From this general standpoint, “identification with groups is the major selective mechanism controlling human attention in organizations (and elsewhere) (…)” (Simon, 1993, p. 137). Accordingly, social identification is a process allowing people to stabilize their anticipations, to coordinate perceptions and interpretations of reality. While this tendency to identify with groups appears necessary to build and maintain social systems, it also leads to mimetic opinions and behavioral conformity.

Compared with the notion of bounded rationality, however, Simon’s analysis of identification was only taken up to a limited extent by the social and human sciences that he so strongly influenced. Because his analysis is complex and appeals to major concepts developed in related disciplines, this begs the question of the exact place of social identification in Simon’s account of decision process and social interaction. My argument is that, in this account, not only is there a strong connection between bounded rationality and social identification, but also that such connection implies value systems and cognitive representations. Considered in this manner, the problem of identification is central in Simon’s decision-making and social theory, with its focus on mental states and understanding reality.


Red Habanero Hot Sauce

Top-notch chili sauce made by Heartbeat Hot Sauce. Very well balanced, neither watery nor bland nor overpowering. A very classy and versatile product.


A Theory of Humor (Abridged) and the Comic Mechanisms of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

Available via  & Noble — Indigo.caIndi BoundKobo — and last but not least, if you want to take advantage of a 30% discount (code available here), go directly to Rowman & Littlefield.

Extract from Chapter 1– H. Vernon Leighton

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Spiders think with their webs

With the help of their webs, spiders are capable of foresight, planning, learning and other smarts that indicate they may possess consciousness.

New Scientist


Essays in Honour of Derek Parfit: Normative Ethics and Personal Identity

I don’t see an OUP webpage up yet for this collection but this is a good preview.


Organizational Decisions in the Lab

The eleventh in a series of excerpts from Minds, Models and Milieux: Commemorating the Centennial of the Birth of Herbert Simon.

Massimo Egidi

“Bounded Rationality” is a label that gathers the most important advancements of Herbert Simon’s scientific production. His fundamental contributions to cognitive psychology and to the theory of problem solving were developed jointly, each being nurtured by the discoveries emanating from the other discipline. I will briefly review some steps on the path to the creation of the theory of bounded rationality, in order to introduce to the issue of organizational decision making, and the associated laboratory experiments.

From the very start, Simon built the idea of bounded rationality on close observation of the behavior of employees and managers in large organizations. In Administrative Behavior, published in 1947, he came to the realization that organization’s internal mechanisms, insofar as they are characterized by division of labour and cooperation, are the product of a complex activity of goal achieving. Important progresses in this direction were achieved in the fifties, through some empirical analyses of managerial decisions that he conducted at the Graduate School of Industrial Administration of Carnegie Mellon. Among them, of primary interest is the research he conducted jointly with Cyert and Trow in which they realize that beyond the routine decisions, managers make non-repetitive decisions that require solving problems in ill-defined conditions. (Cyert, Simon and Trow, 1956, p. 238)

The field analysis of problem solving sowed the seeds of theory of bounded rationality. In Organizations (1958) March and Simon moved forward from the notion of problem solving as individual activity to the notion of organizational problem solving, with a clear recognition of the evolutionary processes of organizational adaptation and organizational learning within business corporations. The identification of these processes was enhanced by the assumption that the division of labour can be considered a collective problem solving activity. Thus, the development of a deeper theory of problem solving became crucial in explaining human decisions and for the creation of new ideas in theory of organization: in particular the notion of organizational routines within business firms, and of their evolution.

At the time he was finishing his work on Organizations, Simon began his collaboration with Allen Newell. Human Problem Solving, which they published together in 1972, is a bridge between computation, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Here Simon went beyond the notion of “computation” as a human activity that relates means to ends, replacing it with the notion of symbolic manipulation and deepening the various connected mental abilities — memorization, evocation, categorization, abstraction, judgment.


The artwork for Theology and Geometry

The most excellent illustrator, Matt Dawson, who did the cover for Theology and Geometry discusses and shows his process for this labour of love. Matt is someone who has impeccable artistic instincts — always far exceeding my highest expectations. The book is now available via  & Noble — Indigo.caIndi BoundKobo — and last but not least, if you want a 30% discount go directly to Rowman & Littlefield.