Herbert Alexander Simon: 15th June, 1916–9th February, 2001 A Life

  • K. Vela Velupillai
  • Ragupathy Venkatachalam
Open Access


We present a concise summary of the personal and professional life of Herbert Alexander Simon.


Herbert Simon Bounded rationality Satisficing Behavioural economics Heuristics 

The bare-bones of the logistics of the personal life of Herbert Alexander Simon are as follows. He was born on the 15th of June, 1916, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and died on the 9th of February, 2001, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. His Parents were Arthur Simon (born 21st May in Ebersheim, Germany and emigrated to Milwaukee in 1903) and Edna Maguerite, née Merkel (born on 20th January, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri). He was Jewish on his Father’s side and (partly) Lutheran, Jewish and Catholic, on his Mother’s side. He described himself as an atheist.

The only sibling was an elder brother, Clarence Joseph, who was 5 years older.

Herbert Simon married Dorothea Pye, on Christmas day, in 1937 (Simon, op.cit, p. 66); she died in 2002. They had three children: Katherine, Peter and Barbara.

Simon’s ‘higher’ education, both as an undergraduate (B.A. in 1936) and graduate student (Ph.D. in 1943, in Political Science), was at the University of Chicago and he acknowledges that the main influences, as teachers, were Nicholas Rashevsky, Henry Schulz and Rudolf Carnap (although there were others under whom he studied).

His professional academic career, if we are to summarise it concisely, was largely (1949–2001) spent at what was then Carnegie Tech., which later—became Carnegie Mellon University, where he was Richard King Mellon Professor (till death); but there were shorter spells at the Illinois Institute of Technology (he was, at IIT, a Professor of Political Science and also department chairman), UC-Berkeley and the Cowles Commission (when it was located in Chicago).

His ‘life-long’ collaborator and friend, Allen Newell thought Simon ‘had put together the central idea’, of all his research, viz., bounded rationality, ‘at least 40 years ago’—i.e., 1939 (Newell 1989, p. 400). This ‘central idea’, together with ‘satisficing’ (Simon 1957, p. 204), were the two fulcra on which Cognitive agents, computationally constrained, as Information Processing Systems (IPS), heuristically searching through a vast space of possibilities, tackled Human Problem Solving (HPS) issues of Discovery, Causality, Evolution, Identification, Learning and much else.

Almost all of this research is encapsulated in the numerous ‘Models’ books he wrote, collecting many of his separate essays, lectures and Prize talks. There was, in addition, Administrative Behavior (six editions, from 1947), Organizations (jointly with James March—two editions) and his Raffaele Mattioli Lectures of 1993 (Simon 1997), on An Empirically Based Microeconomics.

The essays and chapters in these—and other—volumes are a testimony to Newell’s pithy characterization of Herbert Simon’s professional research record. However, neither bounded rationality, nor satisficing, ‘emerged’ from a vacuum; they solidified gradually.

We are convinced that boundedly rational agents, satisficing (not optimising), were culled from Simon’s affectionate and serious study of De Groot (19781—but the much earlier Dutch edition of 1946). This underpins Simon’s analogical, computational and metaphorical studies of Chess, the Tower of Hanoi (Hinz et al. 2013) and Cryptarithmetic (Newell and Simon 1972, especially part 2, chapters 4, 5 & 6)—which he called the Sweet Peas, E-coli and Drosophila of cognitive science—to obtain clues, and learn lessons of, and for, Human Problem Solving by Information Processing Agents.2

Herbert Simon was the recipient of many prestigious prizes. However, we single out two as deserving praise, and of them he was justly proud: The ACM Turing Award of 1975 (which he shared with Allen Newell) and the Swedish Riksbankens Award in Memory of Alfred Nobel—also known, somewhat inaccurately, as the Nobel Prize in Economics—of 1978.

We do not think it is an exaggeration to claim that Herbert Simon was the ‘father’ of (Cognitive) Behavioural Economics; but in developing the computable basis for Information Processing Systems, searching vast spaces, naturally constrained by boundedly rational agents, satisficing in the logic of decision-making, he was able to free the framework of Human Problem Solving from reliance on the Church-Turing Thesis; nor was the logic of decision-making that Simon subscribed to, orthodox mathematical logic (Simon 1996).


  1. 1.

    Simon learned the Dutch language to read the book; he later learned enough of the Swedish (for example, Simon 1996, p. 323) and Japanese languages to be able—at least—to lecture in them tolerably well!

  2. 2.

    We maintain, with textual substantiation, that Simon’s IPA’s are implemented by the same digital computable rules of Alan Turing and the analogical computable precepts of Claude Shannon (none of which depend on the validity of the so-called Church-Turing Thesis).


  1. De Groot, A. D. (1978). Thought and choice in chess (2nd ed.). The Hague: Mouton Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Hinz, A. M., Klavžar, S., Milutinović, U., & Petr, C. (2013). The tower of Hanoi—Myths and maths. New York, NY: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Newell, A. (1989). Putting it all together, chapter 15. In D. Klahr & K. Kotovsky (Eds.), Complex information processing—The impact of Herbert Simon (pp. 399–440). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  4. Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1972). Human problem solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
  5. Simon, H. A. (1957). Models of man—Social and rational. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Simon, H. A. (1996). Models of my life. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Simon, H. A. (1997). An empirically based microeconomics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Velupillai, K. V. (2018). Models of Simon. London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SolnaSweden
  2. 2.Institute of Management StudiesGoldsmiths, University of LondonLondonUK

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