Computer and World Picture: A Critical Appraisal of Herbert A. Simon

  • Sytse Strijbos
Part of the Philosophy and Technology book series (PHTE, volume 7)


This article is related to a broader study of systems thinking2 which investigates how this modern, influential movement of thought is related to the technical world picture that has dominated Western thought since René Descartes. The present article limits itself to a critical appraisal of Herbert A. Simon as a systems thinker and how his scientific work evinces a view of reality inspired by computer technology.


Computer Technology Artificial System Human Thought General System Theory Artificial World 
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  1. 2.
    Sytse Strijbos, Het Technische Wereldbeeld: Een Wijsgerig Onderzoek van het Systeemdenken [The technical world picture: a philosophical investigation of systems thinking] (Amsterdam: Buiten and Schipperheijn, 1988 ). Includes an English summary.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    E.J. Dijksterhuis, The Mechanization of the World Picture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961; Dutch original, 1950). In the mechanistic world picture, the artificial, technologically formed object serves as the model for reality as a whole. Mechane means artificial. One can, therefore, equally well speak of a technical (or technological) world picture. That is in fact what I prefer, since not every technical object is mechanical.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    I elaborate on this in my book cited in note 2, above. For Ackoff, see his Redesigning the Future: A Systems Approach to Societal Problems (New York: Wiley, 1974); and for Boulding, see his The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (11th ed.; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977; original, 1956 ).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Herbert A. Simon, Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization (2d ed.; New York: Free Press, 1976; original, 1947 ).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (2d ed.; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1982; original, 1969), pp. 5 and 6.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    See also Simon, The New Science of Management Decision (3d ed.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977; earlier editions, 1960 and 1965), pp. 165ff.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    These two approaches to the theoretical analysis of artificial systems agree on the distinction within systems theory between structural and functional descriptions of systems. Von Bertalanffy formulates the distinction this way: “Internal description is essentially ‘structural,’ i.e., trying to describe the system’s behavior in terms of state variables and their interdependence. External description is ‘functional,’ describing the system’s behavior by its intervention with the environment.” See Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Perspectives on General Systems Theory: Scientific-Philosophical Studies ( New York: Braziller, 1975 ), p. 163.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Simon takes up the analogy between rational adaptation and evolution as a separate subject in Reason in Human Affairs (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), chapter 2, “Rationality and Teleology.”Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Ibid., p. 166; see also Simon, Man and His Tools: Technology and the Human Condition (Amsterdam: Duijker-Lezing, Intermediair Bibliotheek, 1981), pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  10. 34.
    See Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (London: Duckworth, 1981), pp. 25–26 and 79–80, where a similar criticism is raised.Google Scholar
  11. 35.
    See Ervin Laszlo, The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in the Sciences ( New York: Braziller, 1972 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sytse Strijbos
    • 1
  1. 1.Free UniversityAmsterdamNetherlands

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