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KLI Brown Bag
Actors in Economics and Biology
Eckehart KÖHLER (University of Vienna & Lauder Business School, University of Ap
2009-11-10 13:15 - 2009-11-10 13:15
KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
I want to investigate an analogy between corporations and beehives. (Ant colonies are even better.) In economics and in biology, we have analogous questions: Are corporations separate actors like humans? Are beehives (ant colonies) individual animals? Particularly in biology, E. O. Wilson and others have been criticized for treating ant colonies, other “lower animals,” but also genes as actors for game-theoretical analysis. In economics, Hayek and Friedman have denied that corporations are actors separate from managers; from which they concluded, in particular, that corporations do not have social responsibilities like humans. The entire literature on these issues has suffered from lack of attention to concept formation. But precise definitions are possible, indeed from a field with which many of the theoreticians are at least somewhat familiar: from decision theory [systematic choice of actions]. This concept uses three basic parameters: intelligence, interests, and behaviors, and ties these together through a decision rule, which makes correct choices depend on just those three parameters. The debate in biology concerns mainly the question whether “lower animals” have enough intelligence (high enough powers of reflection) to serve as game players. The debate in economics concerns this question too, but more intensely revolves around “unbounded rationality” and “prudence.” In biology, E. O. Wilson and others have been criticized for letting animals (or even genes) serve as game players, despite the fact that these do not seem to have powers of reflection. Corporations also allegedly do not have this power. But the “homo oeconomicus” of classical economics also requires a form of rationality using optimizing and assuming pure selfishness (“prudence”). I discuss whether "lower animals" have enough intelligence to satisfy the needs of game theory. Herbert Simon is well known for his critique of optimizing and for his use of heuristics, but less so for his work showing that prudence is a suboptimal strategy for evolutionary survival. This latter result has been a major factor in my work on corporations. I argue that corporations represent artificial living beings in a full sense (perhaps like robots), and all the demands of rationality (and morality) can be made on them. Simon’s argument that altruism makes living beings evolutionarily fitter is completely general and holds for corporations as well.


Biographical note:
Eckehart Köhler was born in Darmstadt, but went to school and college in the United States. He studied philosophy with Adolf Grünbaum and Nicholas Rescher at Lehigh University (BA). He went on to study with Paul Edwards, Sidney Hook, and Richerd Martin at New York University, but then worked for a doctorate with Wolfgang Stegmüller at Munich on Carnap’s inductive logic, also learning much about logic and the foundations of mathematics. After the confusions of 1968, he finished up his doctorate in 1976 with Werner Leinfellner at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where he had become Managing Editor of the journal Theory and Decision. In 1978 Köhler organized the third Wittgenstein Symposium at Kirchberg am Wechsel on the Vienna Circle and Popper. He got involved with a project on Kurt Gödel with Peter Weibel and Werner Schimanovich (1979), and then with another project on the Vienna Circle with Friedrich Stadler and Karl Müller (1981–85). A two-volume Gödel collection was published in 2002, and his work on the Vienna Circle continues to the present. Dr. Köhler was a founding member of the Austrian Kurt Gödel Society and of the Institute Vienna Circle, for both of which he has organized several international conferences and edited their proceedings. He has taught at the "Betriebswirtschaftszentrum" of the University of Vienna (1992–2005), including Business Ethics, Foundations of Economic Science, and Foundations of Statistics and Probability Theory. He obtained a habilitation at the University of Vienna in 2000.