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Empiricism in Herbert Simon: “Administrative Behavior” within the evolution of the Bounded Procedural Rationality Model

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The following article contextualizes the role of Herbert Simon’s first book, Administrative Behavior, within the framework of the evolution of his ideas. Some authors have already seen in this first work a strong criticism to classical and
   1 The following article contextualizes the role of Herbert Simon‟s first book  ,  Administrative Behavior  , within the framework of the evolution of his ideas. Some authors have already seen in this first work a strong criticism to classical and neoclassical elements. A different position is sustained here. Simon‟s first book, far from being extremely critical and opposed to mainstream economics, did share some of its fundamental ideas. The common element that unites  Administrative Behavior   with the rest of Simon‟s work is  not the criticism of the classical approach, but an epistemological frame based on empirical methodology, which led him to introduce psychological factors in the economical explanation of subjects in the context of organizations. What was constant during his research career and what pushed Simon to a complete rejection of the classical paradigm years later was this philosophical empiricism, which was at the foundation of his model of bounded procedural rationality. The constant use of a  positivist approach allowed the development of other concepts (satisficing, etc.) that eventually introduced a new paradigm in rational theory within the larger context of a behavioral revolution (Mingus, 2007). This new paradigm was yet to be seen in Simon‟s first book. INTRODUCTION In the history of social sciences and economics, some authors (Callebaut, 2007, p. 77; Dequech, 2001; González, 2004; Sent, 2005) have written about the importance of Herbert Simon in criticizing the standard (classical and neoclassical) economical model, even considering him a point of inflexion in how the theory has changed when describing and explaining economic decisions. Many of them pay little or no attention to the evolution of this   2 criticism. Other authors (Barros, 2010) have argued that the first writings of Simon are in line with the neoclassical tradition in economy, as opposed to those written later, which are centered on the idea that neoclassic postulates are unrealistic. The objective of this article is to contextualize Simon‟s  Administrative Behavior   within the epistemological evolution of his research, analyzing some of the elements of his criticism to mainstream economics that were  present then, while shedding light on other elements that were absent. This will clarify the role of his first book within the general scope of his empirical philosophy, the true and constant foundation of his theoretical building that gave birth to the model of “  bounded rationality. ”  This model, which appeared for the first time in his book  Models of Man , (Simon, 1957) and its parallel concept of “  procedural rationality ”  (Simon, 1976) were used by Simon to criticize the theory of rationality of neoclassical economics, accusing it of being an ideal generalization of how agents really  behave. During Simon‟s extensive research career, this model appears and reappears with the same intention and powerful criticism. Considering that Simon ‟ s doctoral thesis was published as a book in 1947 (Simon, 1947, 1997a), the question this article answers is if, in that first book, we can implicitly see the above mentioned model, as Simon himself posits, (Simon, 1991, p. 87) or if it would be an anachronism to see such work as the birth of this model (Barros, 2010, p. 459). It‟s argued here that a lthough there are elements in  Administrative Behavior that depart from the neoclassical tradition, there are also ideas in line with it. The important element that has  been constant during his career is the empirical frame of his research, not his deep opposition to classical economics. Simon ‟s  logical evolution goes from the introduction of empirical methodologies that gave birth to his theory of rationality and its limits, to a new alternative model of rationality. It is important to clarify in what way this work, with several elements that   3  belong to the neoclassical and mainstream economics, helped him to craft his future position about rationality and how this evolution is deeply linked to his empiricism. Simon, in his first  book   ,  challenged parts of mainstream economics, but kept and used some of its central terminology e.g. “ maximization ”  or the “ criterion of efficiency ” . It would be in subsequent articles (Simon, 1955, 1956) that he later introduced new concepts (satisficing, and administrative man) that would replace those belonging to the neoclassical paradigm. In  Models of Man (Simon, 1957, p. 198) he used the concept of bounded rationality for the first time, almost giving closure to his theory, which will arrive with the concept of “procedural rationality”  (Simon, 1976). That last term, the epicenter of his empirical methodology, although not explicitly present in his first book, was implicitly used. Simon‟s empiricism led him first to accept certain limits of rationality, but his goal then was just to call attention to some limitations of the economical theory, without proposing a new model. The alternative model arrived later, as mentioned above.  Administrative Behavior  , therefore, is the initial criticism, a negative exposure of the epistemological limitations of a theory, but not a constructive criticism. This empiricism is what took Simon to a new model of rationality, an empiricism that was already present from the beginning and a foundation for his entire career (Dasgupta, 2003, p. 687). The first steps in the evolution of Simon‟s theory , from his partial defense of some neoclassical elements, to his rupture with the mainstream model in economics, started with the criticism of the “linguistic and conceptual tools”  (Simon, 1997a, p. xi) of the standard administration theory. On his journey he revised the description of human decisions proposing a different model of rationality and an alternative model to understand economical behavior and decisions.   4 Simon‟s fir  st book is essential to understand his theory, not because we see in it his most important concepts, but because with it, Simon puts in motion some of the elements that took him to the deepest criticism of mainstream economics, which did not fully happen until the late fifties, with the introduction of concepts such as “ administrative man ” , “ satisfice ” , “  bounded rationality ”  and, in the seventies, “  procedural rationality. ”  Relying on the work of Chester Barnard, the objective of  Administrative Behavior   was to  build a vocabulary and a framework to describe, from a psychological and logical point of view, the decisions processes of administrative organizations (Simon, 1997a, p. 131). In his autobiography he explained that although  Administrative Behavior   lies within the classical tradition, it is almost wholly empirical (Simon, 1991, p. 59). This empirical methodology pushed him to use these two disciplines, mainly Psychology, to describe the phenomena in organizations. William James (for the traditional topics in Psychology) and Edward C. Tolman ‟s  behaviorism influenced Simon‟s first work   (Simon, 1997a, p. 93 n.). Tolman specially, whose  book  Purposive Behavior of Animal and Men  (1932) included a theory based on means and goals (purposive behaviorism) based on experiments with rats and mazes, helped Simon with his instrumental approach to rationality as goal oriented (Simon, 1991, p. 190). According to Crowther-Hyeck “this notion of purposeful behavior as being characterized by the selection of alternatives was fundamental, for it provided an avenue for observing the „choice which prefa ces all action‟. Choice, understood as decision -making, would be the keystone for the reconstruction of administrative science”  (2005, p. 102). When Simon introduced the topic of rationality in chapter IV of A dministrative Behavior  , he described choice as a cognitive rational decision under an instrumental framework. Therefore, once psychology became part of the investigation, he also had to admit that humans did not always follow the rational predicament. This statement,   5 as he recognized (Simon, 1997a, p. 72), contradicted a large part of the classical and neoclassical economical theory. On the one hand, we had a “classical” Herbert Simon that us ed an instrumental idea of rationality, suffered from a rationalistic bias, and supported the idea that the objective of any organization was to maximize according to the criterion of efficiency, recognize by neoclassical theory as profit maximization or cost minimization; on the other hand, he accepted that humans were not always rational, and that such rationality had limits (Simon, 1997a, p. 45). As Joseph Mahoney explains: Simon is consistent with the logic of economics and uses the familiar language of information, efficiency, implementation, and design. Unlike neoclassical economics, however, Simon also insists on coming to terms with cognitive limitations, which are discussed in terms of co nstraints, authority, routines…  (2004, p. 6) INSTRUMENTAL (AND LIMITED) RATIONALITY: A MATRIX OF PROCEDURAL AND SUBSTANTIVE ELEMENTS IN  ADMINISTRATIVE BEHAVIOR  The instrumental approach is the default (Nozick, 1993, p. 133) theory of rationality and it is the only one that does not need justification (but it is not the only theory). For Simon, reason is entirely instrumental (Callebaut, 2007, p. 80). His definition of rationality as it is given in his first book was conceived under a means-end frame: “r  ationality is correct if it selects appropriate means to reach designated ends”  (Simon, 1997a, p. 72). A few years later, in 1964, in an article he wrote for a dictionary of the Social Sciences , the concept had not changed much: “In a broad
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