Peter C. Fishburn

September 2, 1936

Brief Biography

Peter C. Fishburn is a John von Neumann Theory Prize recipient who has made significant contributions to the foundations of making choices under uncertainty. Fishburn studied industrial engineering at Pennsylvania State University prior to pursuing graduate degrees at the Case Institute of Technology, where his Ph.D. thesis advisor was Russell Ackoff, a founder of Operations Research. Following his degree, he spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and then he spent 24 years  at Bell Labs (Murray Hill, NJ), carrying out research on economics and mathematics.  During this time time he published eight books on utility theory and decision making.  After retiring from  Bell Labs, Fishburn was a Research Professor of Management Science at the Pennsylvania State University. 

In 1970, Fishburn’s Utility Theory for Decision Making received an honorable mention from the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize selection committee. The text was lauded for its contribution to the advancement of knowledge of a concept at the heart of many complex socio-technological problems. In 1987, the Decision Analysis Society (DAS) presented Fishburn with the third annual Frank P. Ramsey Medal to recognize his contributions to field of decision analysis and the seven books he had written up to that point. Four years later, the DAS named the special Annals of Operations Research issue, “Choice Under Uncertainty” (Vol 9.1),  co-edited by Fishburn and Irving H. Lavalle the best publication on decision analysis published in the second preceding calendar year. In 1992, he co-authored an important article on the future of multiple criteria decision making and multiattribute utility theory with James Dyer, Stanley Zionts, Jyrki Wallenius, and Ralph E. Steuer.

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) honored Fishburn with the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1996. He was recognized for his several books and numerous articles that have made contributions to: axiom foundations of linear preference and utility theory, including choice risk under uncertainty, plus axiomatic investigations on subject probability; the theory of measurements; multiattribute preference/utility theory; stochastic dominance and risk analysis; and axiomatic development of nonlinear utility theories under risk. The prize committee pointed to Fishburn’s contributions to group decision making, especially in the voting process, through his books The Theory of Social Choice (1973) and Interprofile Conditions and Impossibility (1987).

In his career, Fishburn published more than 500 articles, including over 80 with co-authors, in a great variety of Mathematics and Operations Research journals.   Nine of the papers were co-authored with Paul Erdos, an incredibly prolific Hungarian mathematician whose many collaborations led to the concept of Erdős number.  The Erdős number measures, via the shortest chain of co-authorship,  the "collaborative distance" between Erdős and other mathematicians - hence Fishburn's Erdős number is 1. 

Fishburn was named a Fellow of INFORMS in 2002.

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Peter C. Fishburn

Bram S. J., Gehrlein W. V.. and Roberts, F.S. (2009) Preface to The Mathematics of Preference, Choice and Order: Essays in Honor of Peter C. Fishburn,  Springer Verlag, Heidelberg


Pennsylvania State University, BS 1958

Case Institute of Technology, MS 1961

Case Institute of Technology, PhD 1962


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS


Awards and Honors

Frederick W. Lanchester Prize 1970

Frank P. Ramsey Medal 1987

Decision Analysis Publications Award 1991

John von Neumann Theory Prize 1996

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Selected Publications

Fishburn P. C. (1964) Decision and Value Theory. Publications in Operations Research. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Fishburn P. C. (1970) Utility Theory for Decision Making. Publications in Operations Research. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Fishburn P. C. (1972) Mathematics of Decision Theory. Methods and Models in the Social Sciences. Mouton: The Hague.

Fishburn P. C. (1973) The Theory of Social Choice. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Fishburn P. C. (1977) Mean-risk analysis with risk associated with below-target returns. The American Economic Review, 67(2): 116-126.

Fishburn P. C. (1982) The Foundations of Expected Utility. Theory and Decision Library. D. Reidel: Dordrecht.

Brams S. J. & Fishburn P. C. (1983) Approval Voting. Birkhäuser: Boston.

Fishburn P. C. (1985) Interval Orders and Interval Graphs: A Study of Partially Ordered Sets. Wiley-Interscience Series in Discrete Mathematics. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Fishburn P. C. (1988) Nonlinear Preference and Utility Theory. Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, MD.

Dyer J. S., Fishburn P. C., Steuer R. E., Wallenius J., & Zionts S. (1992) Multiple criteria decision making, multiattribute utility theory: the next ten years. Management Science, 38(5): 645-654.