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4.3.2 Construction of “Scientific” Knowledge of Management: Simon's Methodology

In contrast to the practical–“clinical” knowledge described earlier, H. A. Simon tried to construct a “scientific knowledge of management (administration).” When he was a graduate student of Chicago University in the 1930s, Carnap's logical positivism had a great impact on him. It is inferable that one of his methodological bases is logical positivism. In his famous book, Administrative Behavior, Simon said:

To determine whether a proposition is correct, it must be compared directly with experience—with the facts—or it must lead by logical reasoning to other propositions that can be compared with experience. But factual propositions cannot be derived from ethical ones by any process of reasoning, nor can ethical propositions be compared directly with the facts—since they assert “ought” rather than facts. Hence, there is no way in which the correctness of ethical propositions can be empirically or rationally tested. (Simon 1997: 56)

Simon also said that “factual propositions are statements about the observable world and the way in which it operates. In principle, factual propositions may be tested to determine whether they are true or false—whether what they say about the world actually occurs or whether it does not.” (Simon 1997: 55)

Simon criticized traditional management (or administrative) theories as “proverbs” that were loaded with contradiction, and he tried to construct a “scientific” knowledge of administration. This critique included both “theoretical or descriptive science” and “pragmatic or political science.” He pointed out that pragmatic science included ethical propositions; therefore, such descriptions tended to be in the form of imperatives, such as “ought to be.” However, if such descriptions were changed to an ordinary form such as a conditional sentence, that is, “if~, so~,” the ethical propositions could be changed to factual ones.

In such a point, Simon says:

In practice, the separation between the ethical and the factual elements in judgment can usually be carried only a short distance. The values involved in administrative decisions are seldom final values in any psychological or philosophical sense. Most objectives and activities derive their value from the means-ends relationships which connect them with objectives or activities that are valued in themselves. By a process of anticipation, the value inhering in the desired end is transferred to the means. The product of a manufacturing process is valued by its producers for its convertibility into money (which in turn has value only in exchange) and by its purchasers for the values to be derived from its consumption. Just so, the activities of a fire department, or a school system, are valued ultimately for their contribution to human and social life, and value they retain their value only so long as they serve those more final ends.

To the extent that these intermediate values are involved, valuation includes important factual as well as ethical elements. Since the results of administrative activity can be considered as ends only in an intermediate sense, the values that will be attached to these results depend on the empirical connections that are believed to exist between them and the more final goals. To weight properly these intermediate values, it is necessary to understand their objective consequences. (Simon 1997: 61–62)

In 1958 version of Organizations, Simon and J. March expanded the scientific methodologies of organization and management research as described above. First, they reviewed the literature of organization theory and empirical data published by social scientists, executives, and administrators. Next, they faced two problems. One was “the construction of a common language” and the other was the “scientific vilification by public testability and reproducibility.” Simon and March later described the purpose of their book as:

In two ways, however, we will try to take steps toward the empirical testing of current theories of organizations: We will restate some existing hypotheses in a form that makes them amenable to testing, giving considerable attention to the operational definition of variables; and in a number of instances we will indicate what kinds of tests are relevant and practicable. (March and Simon 1993: 23–24)

Their ultimate objective seems to be the construction of verifiable and reproducible propositions for operational programs of administrative behavior or decision-making processes. The development of this so-called “management science” methodological school was accelerated by the development of computer science. Nowadays, many people use computer simulation tools to study processes such as management strategy or administrative decision-making. This is one of the consequences of “scientific” knowledge in management. The “clinical” knowledge methodology of the Henderson and Mayo group has followed a different path.

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