Radical Behaviorism: Willard Day on Psychology and Philosophy

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Behaviorism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Boston: Authors Cooperative. DAY, W. On certain similarities between the Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein and the operationism of B. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior , 12, — The historical antecedents of contemporary behaviorism. Salzinger Eds. New York: Academic Press. CrossRef Google Scholar. On the difference between radical and methodological behaviorism. Behaviorism , 11, 89— Causal constructs and conceptual confusions. The Psychological Record , 47, 97— Acceptance and commitment therapy. New York: Guilford. Breaking the structuralist barrier: Literacy and numeracy with fluency.

American Psychologist , 47, — The morningside model of generative instruction. Gardner, III, D. Sainato, J. Cooper, T. Heron, W. Heward, J. Grossi Eds. Psychology and logic , V.

2. Three Types of Behaviorism

Chicago: Principia Press. R The logic of modern science. Scientific psychology and specious philosophy. The Psychological Record , 19, 15— The analysis of the experimental analysis of behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior , 13, — Psychological linguistics. Chicago: The Principia Press. PDP takes an approach to learning which is response oriented rather than rule-governed and this is because, like behaviorism, it has roots in associationism see Bechtel ; compare Graham with Maloney Whether PDP models ultimately are or must be anti-nativist depends upon what counts as native or innate rules Bechtel and Abrahamsen , pp.


The third reason for behaviorism's appeal, popular at least historically, is related to its disdain for reference to inner mental or information processing as a means to explain behavior. The disdain is most vigorously exemplified in the work of Skinner. Skinner's skepticism about explanatory references to mental innerness may be expressed as follows.

Behavior must be explained in terms which do not themselves presuppose the very thing that is explained. This is behavior. The outside public behavior of a person is not accounted for by referring to the inside inner processing behavior of the person say, his or her internal problem solving or thinking if, therein, the behavior of the person is unexplained.

Skinner charges that since mental activity is a form of behavior albeit inner , the only non-regressive, non-circular way to explain behavior is to appeal to something non-behavioral. This non-behavioral something is environmental stimuli and an organism's interactions with, and reinforcement from, the environment.

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So, the third reason for behaviorism's appeal is that it tries to avoid circular, regressive explanations of behavior. It aims to refrain from accounting for one type of behavior overt in terms of another type of behavior covert , all the while, in some sense, leaving behavior unexplained. It should be noted that Skinner's views about explanation are particularly extreme scientifically naive? It should also be noted that Skinner's derisive attitude towards explanatory references to mental innerness stems, in part, from his conviction that if the language of psychology is permitted to refer to internal processing in its explanations of behavior, this goes some way towards permitting talk of immaterial mental substances, agents endowed with contra-causal free will, and little persons homunculi within bodies, each of which Skinner takes to be incompatible with a scientific worldview see Skinner Finally, it must be emphasized that Skinner's aversion to explanatory references to innerness is not an aversion to inner states or processes per se.

Skinner countenances talk of inner events provided that they are treated in the same manner as public responses. This last point is worth additional discussion, since the failure to appreciate Skinner's willingness to talk of inner events has helped to produce confusion in understanding his attitude towards the mental. Skinner does not deny the existence of events such as thinking and perceiving or various other events which he sometimes classifies as mental or inner. However, set against Skinner's derision of the mental is his persistent reminder that people think, perceive and therein respond beneath their skin.

So, Skinner pictures inner events as follows. Inner events are those about which we may make introspective reports and thus they are private, observationally , but their causal explanatory force is idle.

Methodological and Radical Behaviorism

Because inner events are private observationally, their patterns of reinforcement are more elusive, less easy to deliberately regulate, than overt behavior. However, inner events are responses, ultimately, to environmental stimuli. Skinner is the only major figure in the history of behaviorism to offer a socio-political world view based on his commitment to behaviorism.

Skinner constructed a theory as well as narrative picture in Walden Two of what an ideal human society would be like if designed according to behaviorist principles see also Skinner Skinner's social worldview illustrates both his aversion to free will, to homunculi, to dualism as well as his reasons for claiming that a person's history of environmental interactions controls his or her behavior.

One remarkable feature of human behavior which Skinner deliberately rejects is that people creatively make their own environments see Chomsky , Black The world is as it is, in part, because we make it that way. Skinner protests that "it is in the nature of an experimental analysis of human behavior that it should strip away the functions previously assigned to autonomous man and transfer them one by one to the controlling environment" , p. Critics have raised several objections to the Skinnerian social picture.


One of the most persuasive, and certainly one of the most frequent, adverts to Skinner's vision of the ideal human society. It is a question asked of the fictional founder of Walden Two, Frazier, by the philosopher Castle. It is the question of what is the best social mode of existence for a human being. Frazier's, and therein Skinner's, response to this question is both too general and incomplete.

However, these values are hardly the detailed basis of a social system. There is a notorious problem in social theory of specifying the appropriate level of detail at which a blueprint for a new and ideal society must be presented see Arnold , pp. Skinner identifies the behavioristic principles and learning incentives that he hopes will reduce systematic injustices in social systems. He also describes a few practices concerning child rearing and the like that are intended to contribute to human happiness.

However he offers only the haziest descriptions of the daily lives of Walden Two citizens and no suggestions for how best to resolve disputes about alternative ways of life that are prima facie consistent with behaviorist principles see Kane , p. He gives little or no serious attention to the crucial general problem of inter-personal conflict resolution and to the role of institutional arrangements in resolving conflicts.

In an essay which appeared in The Behavior Analyst , nearly forty years after the publication of Walden Two, Skinner, in the guise of Frazier, tried to clarify his characterization of ideal human circumstances. He wrote that in the ideal human society "people just naturally do the things they need to do to maintain themselves.

However, of course, doing a hundred things humans enjoy doing means only that Walden Two is vaguely defined, not that its culturally instituted habits and the character of its institutions merit emulation. The incompleteness of Skinner's description of the ideal human society or life is so widely acknowledged that one might wonder if actual experiments in Walden Two living could lend useful detail to his blueprint. At least two such experiments have been and are being conducted, one in Virginia, the other in Mexico.

Both can be indirectly explored via the Internet see Other Internet Resources. Behaviorism is unpopular. It is dismissed by cognitive scientists developing intricate internal information processing models.

Values and the scientific culture of behavior analysis

It is neglected by cognitive ethologists and ecological psychologists convinced that its methods are irrelevant to studying how animals and persons behave in their natural and social environment. It is rejected by neuroscientists sure that direct study of the brain is the only way to understand the causes of behavior. Remnants of behaviorism survive in both behavior therapy and laboratory-based animal learning theory.

In the metaphysics of mind, too, behavioristic themes survive in the approach to mind known as functionalism. Functionalism defines states of mind as states that play particular causal-functional roles in animals or systems in which they occur. Paul Churchland writes of functionalism as follows: "The essential or defining feature of any type of mental states is the set of causal relations it bears to. Remnants, however, are remnants. Behaviorism has lost strength and influence.