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Psychological Bulletin

1980, Vol. 87, No. 2, 337-350

Radical Behaviorist Epistemology
G. E. Zuriff
Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts

Radical behaviorism claims that in contrast with other varieties of behaviorism,
it alone can deal with private events in science because it rejects the doctrine of
"truth by agreement." However, several schools of behaviorism that are com-
mitted to an intersubjective agreement criterion of truth have nevertheless in-
cluded private events in their theories. Radical behaviorism has also rejected
truth criteria based on incorrigibility, either of immediate experience or of scien-
tific observation. Instead, according to one interpretation, radical behaviorism
has adopted a version of the correspondence theory of truth, and, according to
another, preferred interpretation, radical behaviorism has adopted a pragmatic
theory of truth. However, various problems arise in applying these criteria. These
problems may be resolved by interpreting the criterion of truth that is generated
by a science of behavior as logically analogous to the set of ethical values that
is generated by that science.

A science of behavior inevitably turns in- biguities in this position, and (c) to reformu-
ward on itself. Not only does it analyze the late the logical status of this epistemology.
behavior of organisms in the laboratory or in
the world at large, but it addresses itself also Truth by Agreement
to the behavior of the scientist, to the scientific
enterprise, and, indeed, to the more general In a symposium on operationism in psy-
question of how the world is known. This is chology, Skinner (194Sb) formulated his con-
necessarily an autocatalytic process, in that ception of scientific knowledge, distinguishing
although the science must begin with a it from that of other versions of behaviorism:
methodology (whether explicit or not), as the According to [methodological behaviorism] the
science develops, it generates its own method- world is divided into public and private events, and
ology that in turn promotes the further psychology, in order to meet the requirements of a
growth of the science. Distilled in this process science, must confine itself to the former. . . . The
public-private distinction emphasizes the arid phi-
is an empirical epistemology, that is, a phi- losophy of 'truth by agreement.' The public [is]
losophy of knowledge generated by the scien- simply that which can be agreed upon because it is
tific analysis of scientific behavior. Skinner common to two or more agreers. This is not an essen-
(194Sa, p. 277; 19S7, chap. 18; 1963, p. 9S3; tial part of operationism; on the contrary opera-
tionism pei-mits us to dispense with this most un-
1974, p. 236; see, also, Day, 1969, p. 320) satisfying solution to the problem of truth. . . . The
has long advocated such an empirical episte- result is that while the radical behaviorist may in
mology, based on his radical behaviorist view some cases consider private events . . ., the Boring-
of a science of behavior. It is the three-fold Stevens operationist has maneuvered himself into a
position where he cannot, (pp. 292-294)
purpose of the present discussion (a) to ex-
plicate this radical behaviorist epistemology Over the next three decades Skinner's views
through an examination of the writings of have remained consistent with this position
Skinner as well as of those who have followed (e.g., Skinner, 1953, p. 282; 1963, p. 952;
his lead, (b) to note certain problems and am- see, also, Moore, 1975). In a particularly ex-
plicit expression of this approach, Skinner
(1974) writes,
Requests for reprints should be sent to G. E.
Zuriff, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts Methodological behaviorism . . . ruled private events
02766. out of bounds because there could be no public

Copyright 1980 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/80/8702-0337S00.75


unobserved phenomena. but hypothetical. internal drive stimuli (1956. . organism and its environment. . unobserved frustration responses philosophy of truth by agreement. Under (1960. and episodic covert events. events in science is not incompatible with the Thus.338 G. described previously. p. Spence. Among the behaviorists he is one observables about which there is intersub- of the most sophisticated and articulate in his jective agreement. This compatibility is In examining the epistemologies of various possible because Spence did not insist that behaviorists. takes a different line. Moreover. p. 41). implicit trial and error activity (1951. 16) pragmatic one of which can be reliably made a matter of public record and thus taken out of the realm of private experience. 99). . By adopting the doctrine of truth by the introduction of terms designating unob- agreement. it is essential that this class of basic observ- how private events come to control verbal ables display a high degree of intersubjective agree- ment. the inclusion of private (1966. however. and internal inhibitory sets these interpretations. but criteria involving intersubjective agreement. occurring in the individual. he was responsible for the development of a On the one hand. that cal writings are contemporaneous with Skin- ner's early formulations of radical behavior. not clear exactly what is meant by the phi. . (1956. covert emotional responses (1956. behaviorists other than radical servables. adopted more liberal interpretations of a p. It does not of truth by agreement: deny the possibility of self-observation or self- knowledge or its possible usefulness. . Spence (19S6) is his version of the doctrine iorism. Among the numerous claims con- tained in the above passages. implicit processes. adherence to the criterion philosophy of truth by agreement. p. (1948. behavior: 3. behaviorists Not only did he in principle favor the intro- have adopted a number of epistemological duction of theoretical terms into science. most behaviorists have 180). 76) losophy of truth by agreement. not states. . The first point of interest concerning manner or another to the terms lower in the hier- . E. will represent. 69. Included in 1939) suggests a rather extreme form of these are unobserved intraorganic stimuli operationism for which Skinner's first claim. (p. 13-14) behavior. ZURIFF agreement about their validity. he demanded only philosophy of science. For science is concerned The way in which radical behaviorism is able only with such public knowledge. a good starting place is the work theoretical terms must also designate public of Spence. p. On the 166). Forming as it to ''consider events taking place in the private does the verification basis of all the scientist's state- world within the skin" is through a theory of ments. It does not insist upon truth by agreement and can therefore The most important criterion of what aspects of the cons. must be connected in one ism. p. three merit Although he consistently advocated intersub- special attention here: jective agreement as the foremost criterion 1. 98). theoretical concepts . IS. number of theoretical concepts. Under the influence of logical positivism. into a science of ering private events. his theoreti. The "truth by agreement philosophy" is for the basic vocabulary of psychology (Kend- incompatible with the scientific consideration ler & Spence. Instead. p. is certainly true. of private events. . other hand. . non-observable responses. The difference between radical behav- iorism and versions of behaviorism that have Each of these constructs [mentioned previously] adopted the doctrine of truth by agreement represents a hypothetical condition or state of the organism which is assumed to have resulted from is that only the former considers private and is denned in terms of the past interactions of the events. 19S7.der events taking place in the private world initial data of observation are to he included is the within the skin. this of intersubjective agreement is not incom- question inevitably leads to a consideration patible with the scientific consideration of of the second of Skinner's claims. . Radical behav. Spence nevertheless favored 2. . Stevens (193Sa. 1948. 1935b. both hypothetical state variables behaviorists have been prevented from consid. 452). Thus. for Spence. . In contrast the new A problem with the first claim is that it is theoretical constructs . p. p. (pp. 1971. however. p. . 718). .

242) writes as if pri. With this Verbal Behavior was an argument for this assertion. (1953. p. There are. . p. 9S3) agrees with Spence that private events reports of human subjects are likely to be of most use to the behavior theorist. . 19S3. although not in the sense that they In this passage Spence raises several points are "events taking place somewhere else. . . Indeed. Indeed. which and may be used as a source of information about presumably represent internal or covert activities.g. p. Here again the views of Spence and to the internal stimuli controlling verbal re- Skinner are congruent. vate events are known because the subject fined terms and sentences that have direct experien. . all abstract defined terms . p. The them as a basis for making inferences as to certain verbal response is a response to the private event hypothetical or theoretical constructs . it. (1945b. as construed. 1969. 1972d. . observational terms. Skinner (see. p. p. Skinner is in agreement. . 193). p. 70. . A surprising conclu- the occurrence of these inferred activities. 280. Spence proposes that verbal 194Sa. 98) such an interpretation leads to serious logical difficulties (cf. p. about covert events. 135. He very point. p. unde. . 258) to environmental events of the past or present. . Day (1969. for Spence. Skinner (e. (1957. 1979). . observes them. consider private events (inferentially. for presumably these enter scientific knowledge through inference reports can be made the basis on which to postulate from observed behavior. of course. he some other level of observation. 321) tial reference . report is particularly vulnerable to distortion havior comes under the control of covert (Blanshard & Skinner. 19S6. 36). p. at least. in this there Spence's final point is that verbal reports is no disagreement between Spence and Skin. the same causal analysis. p. . the thrust of Skinner's (1957) events they allegedly report about. the contingencies are defective. 19SO. and he seeks to find what relations they have to other The present analysis . The scientific consideration of private Here there is room for doubt as to the agree. 1974. that is. if at all. are often unreliable guides to the unobserved ner. Thus he stimulation from a tooth as an inference rather than attempts to discover laws relating verbal responses as a directly observable fact. many pitfalls in the use of such verbal private events are theoretical entities. and the orates in far greater detail how verbal be. and ultimately to a class of elementary. ports. p. 1963. must be traceable to a basic set of descriptive or seems to interpret Skinner this way. 260. 1971. cf. It is in this realm of theorizing that the verbal p. 1953. IS) Thus. 294) [The behavior scientist] accepts verbal response as just one more form of behavior and he proposes to use this type of data in exactly the same manner as In studying behavior we may have to deal with the he does other types of behavior variables. . 1967. Kendler & Spence. three conclusions can be drawn that rather than incorporated into the science are contrary to those derived above from through direct observation by the subject Skinner's position: (see. 2 7 5 . 76) sense that they are inferred rather than ob- served. . agreement philosophy. 25). (1948. covert private events are inferred: events accessible only to the subject and about which the subject may report: The radical behaviorist may . Thus. behavior may serve as the basis for inferences 142. too. even if only as an inference. also. described in claims that verbal behavior may be treated different terms. Third. although Skinner elab. Spence claims that verbal has consistently argued that because the behavior may be related to internal or covert verbal community does not have direct access activities. p. sion therefore follows: In Skinner's system. 282) (1948. At times. . in dif- like other forms of behavior and is subject to ferent dimensions" (Skinner. pp. First. continues to deal with the types of response variables. at relevant to the present discussion. p. also. 1. perhaps. Skinner. by Spence.. and in his more Included among Spence's theoretical con. He also makes use of private event. 328. and measured. Second. covert From this examination of Spence's episte- events are inferred by the experimenter mology. but none the less mean'ngfully). Surely. careful writing Skinner states explicitly that structs are private events. in the reports and considerable caution needs to be exer- cised in their use. Zuriff. (1953. p. 1957. events is not incompatible with the truth by ment between Skinner and Spence. RADICAL BEHAVIORIST EPISTEMOLOGY 339 archy. 271. p. p. events. However.

like Spence. attentional re- sponses (Guthrie. and Spence's methodological behaviorism. Hull et al. 26. however. 245. 183-184. held a ver- events does not differ from that of radical sion of the truth by agreement philosophy.340 G. 16). 16). Guthrie & Ed- of the terms employed in their formulation) is indi. 284-285. the behaviorism of Although this analysis is most easily car. the unobserved states or events the philosophy of truth by agreement. .infer private events. tion of primary quantitative laws (Hull.A fact is an event so described that any observer will agree to the description. 1940. 109). 1943a. p. 1949. Hull et al. and drive states (Guthrie & 1952. cated by the conformity of the deduced theorems to the observed outcomes of the antecedent condi.. & Yamaguchi. 1944. 137-138). validity. 1959. p. .Hull and Spence is not distinguishable from ried out with regard to Spence because of the radical behaviorism. 2 7 4 . 353) and that the truth of that system was ultimately verifiable through ob. ZURIFF 2. pp. Thus. italics in original) unobservable hypothetical states and events (Hull. Edwards. (Hull.the truth by agreement philosophy. 1946. Hull believed that other instructive example. 2 5 2 . (Guthrie. His views licly observable (1943a. 1949. 1974. pp.. then it is difficult to there could be no public agreement about see how radical behaviorism differs from their validity" (cf. p.1959. p. or postulates. he on an interest . 127) (Guthrie. Among the latter the criterion of the soundness. 249-252. 1930. 1959. at least.. Guthrie provides an- other behaviorists as well. 1944. or truth of are included unobserved "minimal responses" the postulates (and so indirectly. Guthrie rect observation. 130. (Guthrie. 4-13). Gladstone.. 1952. p. 1952. p. commitment to theorizing was not inconsis. Guthrie & verification of the deduced theorems (Hull. One critical test of fact and of the truth of propositions is in 1947. p. are explicit: 1952. in getting down to a factual argued that a scientific system would contain bas:s which starts with descriptions acceptable to any theoretical statements. chap. . . on and expect others to agree on. p. he postulated in the theoretical statements may nevertheless was able to include statements come to evoke verbal reports (Hull. .g. the theorems logically de. Guthrie & Powers. explicitness of his methodology. learning theory includes many references to unobserved private events. [Facts arej what description in words we can agree Hull. Nevertheless. 130. 1944. to overt behavior.The same views are repeated throughout his cal statements are not verifiable through di. 7-15. Thus Guthrie is yet . 162) tent. p. 1949. Science is founded servations of public events. 1-2. 1943b. p. 351. but cf.writings (e. pp. perceptual responses tions. 1940. 344).. p. 399.behaviorist who was strongly committed to defined terms whose references must be pub. of the definitions (Guthrie. Felsinger. Although Spence adopted a version of Furthermore. 3). Although theoreti. about private events in his psychological 152.produced stimuli and "serial responses" servables are indirectly confirmed through the (Guthrie. the same Because he was not part of the Hull-Spence conclusions can be drawn with respect to school of behaviorism. Skinner. p. the theoretical postulates about unob. E. Nevertheless. although 3. pp. Although Spence adopted a version of these reports are inadequate for the formula- the philosophy of truth by agreement. movement- Thus. in this respect. pp. Neither Hull nor Spence vate events is the distinguishing characteristic "ruled private events out of bounds because of radical behaviorism. p. Guthrie was a his scientific system rested ultimately on un. his duced from them are. Spence and Skinner agree in yet his version was not incompatible with his their treatment of verbal behavior. If Skinner's position on pri. pp. Such reports may be used to infer theory.wards. 345). 1952. 239. 42. Therefore. . and both consideration of private events and his use of agree in their inference of private events from overt behavior. 180-181). 1934. Hull. about observer. Edwards. 24). with his insistence on public observational verifiability. This terms of their acceptability among men. 1950. 178. 1950. behaviorism. pp. p. properties of the covert processes. pp.& Edwards. pp. 1952. Spence's epistemology with respect to private p. 1952. . p. 99. p. pp. including verbal reports. p. 179). 1949. Guthrie. Guthrie.

it does stand alone in its rejection ate experience claim that behavior is really a of intersubjective agreement as a major cri. In- cussed. Instead of fer from the variety of behaviorisms discussed determining the relationship between behavior previously in that it takes into account pri. a care- ments about immediate experience as protocol ful reading of Spence reveals that his treat- statements. 1953. 276. Skinner Truth Through Incorrigibility (1953. p. Second. he does not hold that immediate experi- Given this emphasis on immediate experience. p. 242) out of consideration. proponents of immedi- vate events. Spence's statement is accepted as true if it corresponds. 249) argues that the concept of immediate experience diverts the Although radical behaviorism does not dif. learn about the environment only through Despite the heavy weight of this long tra. Skinner. Experi- history in epistemology. but ner. a claim Skinner would dition and the inherent appeal of the posi. p. p. origin of knowledge. p. and the environment. This rejection is based on three objections. Thus immediate experience is What then does Skinner suggest as a substi. scientific were really the thoroughly private given it observation provides this incorrigible knowl. ment of immediate experience differs from the ments are reducible. struc. Skinner (Blanshard & Skinner. if immediate experience rigible knowledge. RADICAL BEHAVIORIST EPISTEMOLOGY 341 another example of a nonradical behaviorist. function of how the organism experiences the terion for acceptance as scientific knowledge. p. For one turalists such as Wundt and Titchener hoped thing. to what is given in immediate little more than the trivial claim that we experience. p. origin of all scientific data. tion. p. learn to know private events. and this learning mately from immediate experience has a long occurs through social contingencies. In essence. deed. It is therefore not surprising that ate experience of the observing scientist is the early versions of logical positivism used state. Skinner seems to differ One may be mistaken about whether some. known given it is claimed to be. Skinner rejects correspondence with A second traditional theory of truth re- immediate experience as a criterion of truth. Further- introspective analysis of immediate experience. Skinner argues. p. (Skinner. most notably in the ence is thus a "derived construct" (Skinner. in the second. objects to the mentalistic dimensions attrib- uted . 1969. is alleged to be. Within psychology. experimental analysis of behavior. from Spence. thing one can be certain about. 12. 255). it would be In rejecting immediate experience as the one's own immediate experience is attractive. hardly want to deny (Skinner. adhering to a truth by agreement philosophy. history of social discriminative training. 1967. p. to which all meaningful state. the sense immediate experience. 68) asserts that the immedi- sensations. 1948. more. ence constitutes a subject matter or data a criterion of truth readily suggests itself: A source for psychology. thereby other traditional theories of truth that are diverting attention away from the direct con- rejected by Skinner are examined. 293) rather than the incorrigibly Furthermore. environment. work of the 18th century British empiricists. 280). postulated as an unnecessary intermediate tute? Before this question is addressed. who nevertheless does not rule private events 325. position Skinner finds objectionable. statements about immediate experience assert in some sense. Spence does not attribute psychic to establish a science of psychology on the properties to immediate experience. First. trol exerted by the environment itself. 1969. Spence (Kendler & Spence. In the first of the theories dis. 1971. it would not be known at all edge. the view that if there is any. Third. immediate ex- to provide the ultimate foundation for all perience is itself known only through a long knowledge. In apparent contrast with Skin- thing seen in the distance is really a dog. two internal copy of the environment. An individual must The view that all knowledge derives ulti. ories have in common the attempt to establish Skinner claims that rather than serving as the some bedrock form of incorrigible knowledge fountainhead of all knowledge. 1945b. 1972c. immediate experience provides incor. 276. 1953. one would not be mistaken about one's visual Spence. jected by Skinner is the view that truth is . However. Both the.

If the description offered by the scien. reactions as "perceptual" and the second as a form of contact with the real world. there are simply various ways of tents of the mind. tersubjective agreement. . seeing a straight line in response to a curved line as a stimulus. the response of seeing a ternate criterion is suggested by radical be- straight line may be evoked by a curved line. 1974. however. objective. Responses edge have been considered and rejected by to some forms of stimulation are more likely to be radical behaviorism: (a) achievement of in- "right" than responses to others . It analogously (Skinner. 1974. responses they re- ent from the real world. . rejects these notions: to the world than are others. is simply a verbal Skinner's rejection of the distinction between repertoire . 1969. world. p. . to know is to seeing the world as it is—in this case. a formulation of knowledge should be in terms of It is a mistake . 1967. a l l behavior i s determined . They are different responses made at different times Thus far. but any sug. . 1969. scientific observation brings out of the causal stream. 1957. . knowledge is a repertoire of behavior. Although such observa. human responses to that according to this view. E. pp. more effective or less effective than stimulus had other properties? Such behavior seems to indicate that the "perceptual" world . . p. In any case. p. On the one hand scientific observation. (Skinner.342 G. p. All responses are knowledge into conformity with reality. 276-277. . then the cri- tific observation provide no ultimate criteria teria of knowledge and truth are therefore to for truth. nor is it the con- "appears to be". p. (Skinner. p. and . and (c) verifica- is out of place here. (Skinner. one another. (Blanshard & Skinner. . to say that the world described behavior. (Skinner. 156. 1974. between experience and reality. 203- nonscientist—for both are responses to the 206. 1972c. They are merely consistent or inconsistent with one What happens when an organism responds "as if" a another. pp. a way of behave in a certain way. . . . . also. (Skinner. . . . is differ. 138-139) tion through scientific observation. is the world as it is. my position that it is not. 330) Knowledge is action rather than sensing. (b) correspondence gestion that they bring us closer to the "real" world with immediate experience. I may "think" it—is our behavior with respect to the world. 140. it is as close to incor. pp. . . Thus . closer to "what is really there" . b y conse. on the other hand. Instead. be found among the features of behavior.. and human knowledge can go no f u r - actually between responses—between the responses ther: of two organisms or between the responses of one organism under different modes of stimulation from Our "perception" of the world—our "knowledge" of a single state of affairs. . It is that an object is square only to find when I shift not to be confused with the world itself. p. 270-271." There is no world as it "soaking up" of the world. 18. ZURIFF ultimately to be found in careful. p. 1968. but humans Although casual observation may be deceived cannot transcend their own behavior to step by appearance. . 255) by science is . 248- 251) parallels his rejection of the distinction We know algebra . 140. If knowing is a kind of behavior (see. pp. 127) A knowledge of history .. Human knowledge of the world con- rigible knowledge as humans can approach. 1953. . What al- Under certain conditions . 1957. 19S3. pp. p. responses to the world. What emerges from this conception is an The nature of these features that charac- . Skin. the noumenal world. their "knowledge" is quences. . . 14. not need to say that the straight line is in "the knowledge is not a passive contemplation or world as it appears to be" and the curved line in "the world as it really is. 1953. pp. sists of responses to that world. in the sense of possessing various forms of behavior with respect to [it]. 138) eliminates another candidate for a truth cri- terion. appearance and reality (see also Skinner. . . . 1972d. 451) in different ways. We do haviorism? For the radical behaviorist. . . p. Men are part of the world . three possible criteria for knowl- to a common source of stimulation. . (Skinner. 1953. 127. . 409) pp. 1972b. tist is not closer to reality than that of the Skinner. . But the difference is main. in the long run. . and tion is not always infallible. . almost Kantian metaphysics. 142-145). There is no reason to 1953. world as it is—then the principles of scien. . italics in original) regard the first . and none are "closer" ner. and the behaviors of both scientist and their behavior with respect to themselves and the nonscientist are shaped by what is really there but rest of the world.

who assumes it in the Sophist (section 263B). ner's science of verbal behavior that too. In the present ner's works. . p. 19S7. the aim of such a science would be to bring the What the correspondence theory requires behavior of the scientist." (1957. niscent of the truth by agreement philosophy Correspondence theory can be traced back that he so vehemently rejects: at least as far as Plato. by the theory. world for the observer. no method exists for deter- sion of the correspondence theory of truth. ." or "correct." "true. and it has been re. Despite its long and verbal behavior that is true is subject to in. . havior. exists prior to any effect it bly in the Austin-Strawson debate (Austin. such as some part of the natural vived in various forms throughout the inter. nota. distinguished history. . 6). p. though not another response to the world rather than necessarily linguistic. . cal behaviorism. More to the point. 147). environment . When the correspondence events. haviorism. that is. ner's system and is therefore preferred. ternal state of affairs must be determined. Woozley. Skinner belief. question. . 1950). Yet. this theory has terpretation. reinforcing system . Since such a All these passages. . and what radical behaviorism precludes is tive aspects. Within Skinner's writings can be been plagued by philosophical objections it found two different points of view on this has yet to overcome fully (cf. can be determined only by further re- sponding. . and the resulting comparison would be between one response to the world and scientific knowledge is verbal behavior. (1974. . 147) response to the external world. The canons of scientific between a response and the world. Skin- the first is inconsistent with the rest of Skin. . According to the correspondence theory. 1949. Strawson. ner's version of the theory is inconsistent ner's radical behaviorism. and each of these. Further methods are designed to maximize the control ex- complicating matters is the fact that a re- erted by the stimulus and to suppress other condi- tions. version. however. when the listener's inferences regarding the objective For radical behaviorism. (1976. 235) sponse already emitted or the response of another person is also part of the external Following Skinner's lead. and on the other hand is the external states. The vening centuries and into modern times. amount to a modern ver. 99) contact with the environment in some other way than by responding to it. . strains of the correspond- lief is true if it corresponds to the state of ence theory are to be found throughout Skin- affairs it purports to be about. the only way to do situation are most reliable. p. A system which establishes certain contingencies of reinforcement. The second is both with the basic philosophy of his radical be- consistent with and characteristic of Skin. the ex- with a stimulating situation is sharply maintained. brings the speaker's correspondence between the two classes of behavior most narrowly under the control of the current environment. However. however. a statement or be. "when the sional discussions about a world independent correspondence with a stimulating situation is of behavior. as shown previously. [isl objective and durable. more directly under the control of the behavioral facts." "valid. especially in its discrimina. Day says of Skin. mining the kind of correspondence called for According to this theory. when stripped of their transcendence of behavior is excluded in radi- behaviorist jargon. controlling state of affairs the behavior is "about. To effect such a comparison. truth is determined by a comparison of two Correspondence Theory of Truth classes of events. known in ways ironically remi- sharply maintained" (Skinner. . is by means of some "objective. such a response would merely provide more be- Similarly. RADICAL BEHAVIORIST EPISTEMOLOGY 343 terize behavior representing knowledge or 19SO. Both are discussed here. p. On the one hand is the verbal behavior or the behavior embodying a In a discussion of verbal behavior. in the case of the scientist. although chap. verbal behavior is "true" if it is under One such strain appears in Skinner's occa- sharp stimulus control. may have upon an organism and it can be observed . we call the response this." Truth depends on the degree of Generalized reinforcement .

. 409) ever. . An important mining this correspondence in ways consistent part of scientific practice is the evaluation of the probability that a verbal response is "right" or with radical behaviorist epistemology. A theory more prominent in his work and personal participation is reduced to a minimum. p. The listener can act on this response with maximal confidence if it is an The ultimate criterion for the goodness of a concept actual tact. . (1969. a help the listener responds effectively to the situation sentence .. An likely to be "right" than responses to others. Instead of asking. can operate successfully upon his material. 81-82). . a behaviorist version of Another strain of the correspondence theory the pragmatic theory of truth promoted by enters even into Skinner's very significant James (1907/1975. (1953. . p. any personal contribution or ism. and there is a special sense in which it could intrudes: The verbal behavior of the scien. pp. (1957. When many other scientists arrive at the with the basic tenets of his radical behavior- same facts or laws. . . "true"—that it may be acted upon successfully.. (1945b. (1974. is designed to enable us Thus to say that a verbal response is confirmed to handle a subject matter more efficiently.344 G. . it does not supply one. the scientist's verbal behavior a tact?" In 160) short. Again the corespondence theory covertly action. but the environment . . . whether the scientist who uses the concept tion is the generation of the response as a tact. . "When In one form or another. the appeal to the concept of the tact does not (1957. . p. in essence. 293) In this account of scientific confirmation. the concept of the tact presupposes a Knowledge is subjective in the trivial sense of being criterion of truth. the behavior of a subject. [TJhe astronomer may emit . . confirmed either as tacts or intra. With regard to scientific knowledge in par- sponse of a given form is evoked . 235) tist is confirmed when what is said corresponds to what is being responded to. How. then he theory of truth appears in Skinner's works. Verbal behavior is true if it leads . a problem arises because the tact is defined as "a verbal operant in which a re. (1974. is . . Lecture VI). 14) that a verbal response is confirmed when it is evoked by what it is supposed to be evoked Scientific knowledge is a corpus of rules for effective by. is a set of practices which again raises the unsolved problems of deter. pp. fully to the world about him just because it is the very behavior with which he does so. Thus. 144-145) one more congruent with his philosophy of science is. . p." the question becomes "When is knowledge. The constructed responses of logical and scientific behavior are . (1953. This. the Knowledge enables the individual to react success- concept of the tact plays a pivotal role. . are productive of useful behavior. Pragmatic Theory of Truth having person. Skinner writes. by a ticular. p. which determines the behavior lies outside the be. . ." In Skinner's version. particular object or event or property of an object or event" (Skinner. What we when it is emitted as a tact is merely to say call the scientific conception of a thing is not passive knowledge. .. he states facts or laws which make it possible for others to respond effectively . in the example will serve to summarize the process of sense that they are more likely to lead to effective confirmation. [A] scientist must behave as an individual. But if he analyzes the world about him. be "true" if it yields the most effective action possi- ble. . 139) tains jour hundred pages. it merely defers the question. 426-428. behavior. a statement is true if it "works.. . . . 1957. ZURIFF in the same way by two or more people. According discussion of scientific confirmation: to this theory. pp. (1953. of course. . Although a version of the correspondence and if . . . . (1974. 235) of strength: the observational data with respect to which the response is a tact and the calculations Responses to some forms of stimulation are more which construct a comparable response. this pragmatic theme is the scientist's verbal behavior ultimately is woven throughout Skinner's comments on confirmed?. as a response with at least two sources it describes. . p. 428) account for scientific confirmation. E. it produces something in which he himself is no longer is neither the dominant theory nor consistent involved. . The scientific "system" . p. What is usually meant by confirma. . . italics in original) p. Suppose someone says That book con. a proposition is "true" to the extent that with its verbals. Empirical research .

1945b. also. The process thus continues. 1957. 19S7. 1969. relationship between behavior and an external no metric has. the iorist theory of truth. p. as yet. T can- Duhem. Day. matic theory. for the prag- of an entire scientific theory. In contrast. be determined by further behavior. rather. the pragmatic criterion of generating effective 194Sa. That these objections to the pragmatic 147. 1953. 293. and making direct contact with T but can only logical theory. 141. in the tradition of Poincare. T would be dovetails neatly with the positivist philosophy the generation of effective behavior. 1974. 1957. for the the problem of justifying the truth of observa- radical behaviorist. In general. world posited to exist beyond behavior and sure effectiveness. Day. see. 421. 422. to ascertain if it meets generate its own methodological standards. tivist orientation of radical behaviorism. For one thing. 2SS. of course. it is the problem in applying the pragmatic theory necessary to determine the effectiveness of of truth in a science of behavior reduces to the behavior it generates. be tive or ineffective. only role of scientific theory is to organize it is therefore necessary to ascertain whether observations as economically as possible. 428. p. 139. truth criteria must consist of 292. knowing consists of behaving in certain ways. 1945b. pp. to assess the retical world beyond observation.) To apply the criteria. T. requiring yet more determinations. ad ventionalism. of determinations. plied. An empirical science tries to behavior. this further determi. Therefore. "expedient" (Skinner. 456. p. Thus the problem of developing . The influence of this con. ascertained. 428). 277). As such. effec. 294). 142. pp. However. p. 419. 1972a. 1969. it is convenient or inconvenient. 1957. eral problem with truth criteria in radical 14. some feature (T) that distinguishes verbal 99). 1976. "successful" (Skin. This further At the basis of this problem is the "boot- behavior is accepted as true only if it meets strap" nature of the enterprise (Skinner. p. R2 determines it is not absolutely true or absolutely false. also. This pragmatic approach to knowledge whereas for the pragmatic theory. the form of further behavior. 409. veracity of a bit of verbal behavior. Yet this pragmatic criterion of truth is not For the correspondence theory. 1945b. "useful" (Skinner. matic criterion cannot logically ever be ap- 451. standards to proceed to the point at which nation will consist only of more behavior it can do so. then. and. this determination takes tions in that science. a theory is merely an instrument to get be done only by responding to Rt with further from one observation to another. Therefore. for to do so requires an infinite series also. the behavior in question (Ri) has the feature Rather than providing a description of real. for any T. in accordance with the posi- with radical behaviorism in ways remi. theory. p. T would be strict stimulus control. 1969. the truth of R2 must. p. 235. see. or behavior that is true. 1969. 427. However. productive behaviorism. correspondence theory points to a more gen- 422. and Mach. 1974. According to the pragmatic statements provide information about a theo- theory under consideration. especially the effectiveness beyond observation. p. 409. pp. been provided to mea. T is an observed relationship rious problem is that the application of among two classes of behavior and the en- the pragmatic criterion is inconsistent vironment. infinitum. Therefore. the niscent of the problems with correspond. 318). 319). whether Rj has feature T only if R2 is true. For the radical behaviorist. 19S3. 144. of practical consequences (Skinner. Thus. theory are similar to the objections to the pp. p. see. According to this philosophy. 1953. in turn. T is a without problems of its own. 427. "workable" (Skinner. According to radical behaviorism. pragmatic theory does not postulate that true ence theory. p. 418. ner. 1957. is thus clearly manifest not be determined by transcending behavior throughout Skinner's comments on psycho. pp. this can ity. p. 144). a further determination is requiring at the same time methodological required. A more se. 430. 430). pp. "efficient" (Skinner. behavior (R 2 ). However. (For correspondence "productive" (Day. the criterion. RADICAL BEHAVIORIST EPISTEMOLOGY 345 to behavior that is "effective" (Skinner. 429. p. 319). 425. The prag- pp. Day. but the of science Skinner inherited from Mach argument is the same for any radical behav- (1893).

survival becomes effective as a prior condition in chap." may be converted into state. That is.. on Skinner's empirical ethics. consequences which are roughly described as happi- ness. of that science. . Indeed. (Skinner. Among these epistemology is addressed. it "You ought to love your neighbor" may be con.. plays a central of behavior—the relationship between the role in Skinner's naturalistic ethics system. italics in original) Good things are positive reinforcers. should be noted that the emergence of cultural verted into the two statements: (1) "The approval survival as a prior condition in cultural design of your fellow men is positively reinforcing to you" is a prediction loosely derived from a science and (2) "loving your fellow men is approved by the group of which you are a member". 19) "Group survival ought to be a prior condition in cultural design. not a recommendation derived may be demonstrated scientifically. Survival is the only ments of the form. 1971b. knowledge. This last general problem in the experimental analysis good. of individuals within a culture is the survival ined. pp. (Skinner. Nevertheless. . and any practice that furthers survival has survival value by definition. E. p. control of this consequence are most likely to able difficulty in establishing a naturalistic survive: ethics system is the problem of deriving value judgments (i. "X is an effective rein. for tingencies maintained for purposes of con.346 G. 19S3. the form of the p. (Skinner. that a science of behavior demon- . value according to which a culture is eventually to forcer for A. ." Thus for a culture in Hence.e. p. 130. The fact that a given practice is related to including both humanists (e. there are two limitations to this version of empirical ethics. or values. 122) quence. . both of which of behavior. Assume. is more likely to survive. "is" state. example. the sci- an effective reinforcer for A. even though the classes of these effective reinforcers: personal science has determined that X will enhance goods (which are reinforcing because of the the culture's survival. ments) of science. "Person A reason induces its members to work for its survival ought to do X. goods of others This conclusion raises the second limitation (which are reinforcing because of social con." be judged. First. . and so on.. human genetic endowment). 1972b. from that science. Eventually. the good of the culture. p. italics in original) ner's resolution of this problem lies in his The simple fact is that a culture which for any claim that statements of the form. statements about what A ought to do which group survival has not yet emerged as may be derived from statements about what is a prior condition for cultural design. 127) identifies three adopt cultural practice X. of that culture.g. 98-99) on the identification of "good" with "reinforc- ing" and the emergence of the survival of a What a given group of people calls good is a fact: culture as an important controlling conse- it is what members of the group find reinforcing.e. cultural design. 11) and behaviorists. 1968. However. the relationship remote consequences of the ethical behavior between science and values should be exam. "ought" statements) from Some changes in culture may be made because of the empirical descriptions (i. p. ZURIFF truth criteria is only one aspect of a more trol). and the good of the culture. The key to Skin. 433. for it emphasizes remote reinforcing conse- dards. (1971b. 1971b. descriptive empirical science and the stan. attempts to the survival of the group acquires a similar func- bridge this gap have been mounted by many. p. (19S3. tion. 429) claim is "Group survival will emerge as a prior condition in cultural design" and not Things people call good are positive reinforcers. To make a value judgment by calling something good or bad is to classify it in terms of its reinforcing effects. . Maslow. ence cannot say that the culture ought to Skinner (1971b. the survival of the culture will emerge as a re- An Empirical Science of Values mote consequence of maintaining ethical behavior because those cultures under the An intransigent and seemingly insurmount. quences and most closely corresponds to con- before this question in radical behaviorist cepts related to ethical values. According to Skinner. Thus Skinner's empirical ethics are based (Skinner. freedom.

V 2 . For a prior condition for cultural design. Thus Skinner's ingenious solution to the 111). and the process can be con- science. science cannot say truth criteria. If the loss of certain not work productively. X. 1956. If this political leader lives in a culture in 1956. p. Thus. then. pp. Do not ask me why I want mankind to survive. values they ought to have" (Graham. are conditioned reinforcers. Verbal behavior R t is true only "A ought to do X" unless X is currently an if it has feature T. (Rogers & Skinner. then example. as a existence of V3. which group survival has not yet emerged as 1973. this leader might refuse to adopt practice X and assert that a culture with practice X does an economic system is challenged when people do not deserve to survive. 262-263. Thus if "A ought to do X" If a science of behavior does not imply that means "X is an effective reinforcer for A. p. 2). But what is its answer to the question: example is not so implausible. With a different of this question represents a conceptual mud- history of conditioning. as Graham (1977) points out. and so on. and this changes only through problem discussed previously with respect to further conditioning. may predict the survival epistemology. fied by appeal to a prior. mined only by behavior R2. and thus certain value (Vi) presupposes an earlier A ought to do not-X." group survival ought to be adopted as a cri- then a science of behavior can derive what A terion for evaluating a cultural practice. pp. urge. 131) the reinforcers that maintain the behavior of individuals. 1977. people may not have the criterion. p." honest answer to that kind of question seems to be this: "There is no good reason why you should be This imaginary exchange between a behav. important here because it is analogous to the forcers for A. 1971b. then ought to do only within the context of A's on what basis is it adopted? The very asking history of reinforcement. in turn. S4S-SSO. It seems that a criterion of havior can do more than this. concerned. which is." a more general problem. so much the worse for your culture. 1978. chap. especially the members of a cul. On what basis. or persuade A to tinued indefinitely. (Skinner. To be sure. question can be asked of V2. as if it "permits truth can be applied only if there is a prior us to say that . . It thus appears that the adopt new values. 106S) forcing properties through a specific history of conditioning. and the hypo. 106S. then what is good for A depends This muddle with respect to ethical criteria is uniquely on what are currently effective rein. RADICAL BEHAVIORIST EPJSTEMOLOGY 347 strates to a political leader that group sur. that the reinforcers have acquired their rein. but if your culture has not convinced you ioral scientist and a political leader exemplifies that there is. is group of cultural practices. I ture. 1971a. This means can tell you why only in the sense in which the physiologist can tell you why I want to breathe. Skinner is usually careful muddle with respect to ethical criteria may not to overstate his claim. have important implications for behaviorist havior. That is. then the advantages. p. . true only if it can be determined that R2 Skinner often writes as if a science of be. Although there indeed is this ambiva- lence in his writings. This is a muddle because the same science of behavior may clarify for A the con. he suggests. For the most part. If what is good is what is adoption of a value can never be justified. recommend. perhaps more funda- ommend a change in values. However. possibly different dle. reinforcing. a mental. "Why should I be concerned about the survival of thetical leader's reply is a modern version of a particular kind of economic system?" The only "Give me liberty or give me death. and it may even predict survival chosen as a criterion? According to that group survival will emerge as a prior Skinner. implying the sequences of actions. but it cannot. A science of be. . Skinner. for it implies that the act of adopting a things would be effective reinforcers. but this can be deter- effective reinforcer for A. condition. It follows that this value (V 2 ) on the basis of which Vi is approach to naturalistic ethics lacks a critical adopted. but it cannot recommend what val- vival depends on adopting cultural practice ues ought to be adopted (Rogers & Skinner. has T. the adoption of Vi is justi- function of an ethical system: It cannot rec. and it may respond by sharpening its contingencies or pointing to deferred civil liberties is substituted for X.

. the truth of R 2 does not have to be condition for cultural design. will eventually emerge as an explicit prior However. . acceptance of this criterion is a as a truth criterion without the necessity for loose prediction from a science of behavior. If the truth of R 2 also specific phylogenetic and cultural history. pp. .g. 432-433. Methods generated by the science spe- terion on the basis of some other value.. . In behavior has worked to his advantage. any prior truth determinations. If R2 is carried out properly. Survival is not chosen as a cri. the science also specifies . then it is possible to apply the criteria without logical problems." But he culture. logic) but not involve the "choice of a value. In part it. does not jump because he has so chosen. this criterion emerges and is mans have evolved so that they are affected applicable only because humans have evolved in certain ways by verbal behavior. simply behave this way. Second. (1953. . does not imply that it ought to. to the point at which they already accept they believe certain verbal behavior to be certain things as true without that explicit . . ness)." A long bio- logical and cultural history has produced an indi- mostly because humans simply find them vidual who acts in a particular way with respect to acceptable. .e. ence. . the science extends its analysis particular advantage could not have operated before to verbal behavior and generates its own cri- he jumped. nite regress. to be used. . For the most part. Instead. just chap. surements are to be taken. what mea- Returning now to epistemology. so nation ends.348 G. . Instead. Because of a not a recommendation deduced from that sci- specific phylogenetic and cultural history. 3) puts it. predicts that survival will emerge as a cri. Only past advantages could have had teria of truth. and the determi- terion but does not imply that it ought to. This does not mean that R2 is empirical epistemology predicts that effective. that the tion of any explicit prior criteria of truth. But this time. for Skinner. Along an effect upon his behavior. because of a termining if Rj has T. cultural conditions. for the truth cri- pen not because a value is explicitly chosen teria are accompanied by a set of methods but because. It nothing more than that condition which operated selectively in creating and perpetuating the behavior is this circularity that generates another infi- which now seems to exemplify such a choice. what observations are to be made. This will hap. then its results are accepted. E. or as Quine (1969. people will that specify how R 2 is to be carried out (e. effective- generated. Verbal behavior RI Thus. the criteria and the In the same sense. He was likely to jump with this criterion. as survival emerges as a criterion without the Thus radical behaviorist epistemology can necessity for any prior values on which to base maintain effectiveness as a criterion of truth. The "value" which the the methods cannot be accepted on the basis individual appears to have chosen . it is obvious . a science of behavior. . . When a man jumps rather because of human nature. hu. that is. namely. he jumps develops and is accepted without the applica- because jumping is evoked by certain stimulating circumstances . methods are accepted partly on the basis of structive suggestion about a cultural practice does earlier explicit methodology (e.. Second. its adoption. so effectiveness may be applied However. epistemology is naturalized. they do so without criterion according to which a cultural practice is to applying any explicit criteria of truth but be evaluated. infallible but that science itself justifies much ness will emerge as a criterion of truth but of its own methodology. ZURIFF we need not say that anyone chooses survival as a true. are probably not represented by ness. the behavior of making a con. given human nature. too. Human behavior does not depend upon the prior choice of any value. . Those who methods for denning and measuring effective- did not jump . and under what conditions all of First. for it cify that the behavior R2 is necessary for de- is not chosen at all. italics in Once the criteria and the methods are ac- original) cepted. because his ancestors were selected from a large population just because they jumped . individuals evolve for whom group survival then the infinite regress would be generated. had to be determined in the same fashion.. the infinite regress is never is true if it has the feature T (i. out of the way of an approaching car.g. an analo. . . Now it is obvious that the criteria and contemporary descendants. effectiveness. just as a system of empirical ethics these occur). determined in that fashion. what apparatus is gous analysis can be made for truth criteria. we may say Eventually there emerges within a human that he "chooses life rather than death. . however. is therefore of the criteria and the methods themselves.

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