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New Publication (invited book chapter): A double-edged metaphor: Simon and the scissors of bounded rationality. In Elgar Companion to Herbert Simon (pp. 131-147). Edward Elgar Publishing.

KLI Fellow Enrico Petracca contributed a chapter in a book project dedicated to famous economist and cognitive scientist of the 20th century, Herbert H. Simon. Edited by Gerd Gigerenzer, (the late) Shabnam Mousavi , and Riccardo Viale, the book, ‘Elgar Companion to Herbert Simon’ is now out, and with Enrico’s contributed chapter titled, ‘A double-edged metaphor: Simon and the scissors of bounded rationality’.

Nobel laureate Herbert H. Simon’s work was vastly influential, including the fields of computer science, economics, and cognitive psychology. His primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and he is best known for the theories of "bounded rationality" and "satisficing". The current book is a collection of chapters focusing on one aspect of Simon’s multi-faceted and rich scientific production. Enrico’s chapter addresses a much-debated topic among Simon’s scholars — why Simon’s thought has been taken as a source of inspiration by such diverse, even contradictory later schools of thought.

This chapter explores a key metaphor in Herbert Simon's thought, which portrays rationality as a pair of scissors, with one blade symbolizing agents’ cognitive limitations and the other blade representing the structure of task environments. The author illustrates how Simon's versatile use of this metaphor led to the development of three distinct versions of bounded rationality in his work. Simon1 embodies the adaptive version for which he is widely recognized, while Simon2 and Simon3 correspond to a cognitive-driven and an environment-driven version of bounded rationality, respectively. Additionally, the chapter analyzes the significant impact that this diversity of versions has had on the field of judgment and decision making.

Enrico says of his chapter, “My hypothesis, which I try to substantiate through textual analysis, is that Simon’s scientific thinking style – his tendency to think of reality as composed of nearly independent “modules” – is probably responsible for his contested legacy. Some of Simon’s followers, indeed, focused on one module of decision-making and problem-solving – cognition – and others on another module – the environment – giving birth, as said, to two traditions that could both claim to be Simonian although focusing on two different aspects of how people make decisions. I focus on the place in Simon’s oeuvre where modularity is most visible: Simon’s metaphor where cognition and environment are depicted as two blades in a pair of scissors. The metaphor has proved vulnerable to misleading reading where one blade (understood as a module) has been thought of as nearly independent from the other blade and therefore analyzed in relative isolation. For the confusion ensuing from this interpretation, the metaphor is not only double-bladed but, I argue, double-edged.”

This chapter is also accompanied by a personal note from Enrico. 


Publication: Petracca, E., 2024. A double-edged metaphor: Simon and the scissors of bounded rationality. In Elgar Companion to Herbert Simon (pp. 131-147). Edward Elgar Publishing.