Bounded Rationality

Humans are resource-bounded agents. In action and inquiry we must ration scarce cognitive and physical resources to achieve desirable outcomes. Herbert Simon coined the term bounded rationality to cover theories of rationality which pay special attention to the resource constraints facing bounded agents.

As the term caught on, bounded rationality came to mean many things to many different people. My research focuses on a traditional notion of bounded rationality with five core commitments:


Process-focus: Resource constraints bear not only on action, but also on the process of inquiry itself. A complete theory of bounded rationality should focus on the processes of practical and theoretical inquiry by which actions and beliefs are produced.

Heuristic inquiry: Bounded agents have access to a toolbox of heuristic strategies for practical and theoretical inquiry. Boundedly rational agents learn to flexibly apply heuristics in appropriate contexts. In many contexts, heuristic strategies are more appropriate than their Bayesian counterparts.

Ecological rationality: Most heuristics perform well in some environments and poorly in others. Heuristics are not rational or irrational in themselves, but only in an environment.

Modest anti-intellectualism: The purpose of inquiry is not to construct cognitive models of choice situations. Inquiry aims to produce good decisions and correct, helpful beliefs. Inquiries should be judged primarily by their results and not by their internal cognitive structure.

Vindicatory epistemology: Human cognition is, on balance, fairly rational.