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Behaviorism is not generally considered

a philosophy in the same sense that

idealism, realism, pragmatism, and other
such thought systems are. It is most
often classified as a psychological
 Realism
 Materialistic Philosophy
Behaviorism’s connection with realism is
primarily with modern realism and its
advocacy of science.

One of the realist elements of

behaviorism includes going from
particular, observable facts (particular
behaviors) to “forms”, or the laws of
By understanding particular behaviors and
how they are caused by environmental
circumstances, we can detect the patterns
and processes by which behavior comes

Thus, it is possible, the behaviorists maintain,

to discern the laws of behavior and thereby
come to exercise control over human behavior.
Behaviorism holds that we should cease
accentuating the mind, consciousness,
or soul as the casual agent of behavior
and look rather to the facts of behavior,
or that which is observable and capable
of empirical verification. This
consideration is not only Baconian but is
representative of contemporary realism.
Basically, materialism is the theory that
reality can be explained by the laws of
matter and motion. We can see that
behaviorism is definitely a kind of
materialism, for most behaviorists view
human beings in terms of their
neurological, physiological, and
biological contexts.
For the materialist, human beings are not
partially supernatural beings above nature (as
some religious persons might hold), but rather,
they are a part of nature; and even though they
are one of the more complex natural
organisms, they are capable of being studied
and are governed by natural law just as any
other natural creature.
 He was an earlier exponent of
mechanistic materialism
 Hobbes was a thorough-going
 He rejected the elements of
self-determination and free
will in the thought of
 He was more at home with the
thinking of Galileo and Kepler.
 Life is simply motion, one can say a
machine has life, even an artificial one. By
the same token, an organized society is like
a machine: it has an artificial life that has to
be maintained.
 Even biological natural life is mechanistic in
the sense that it operates according to its
own design.
 All that truly exists is matter and
motion, and all reality can be
explained in terms of mathematical
 Both materialists and behaviorists
believe that we behave in certain
ways according to our physical make
 The significant thing is to observe
behavior (motion) of a body in an
environment (supporting material
 The difference however on a behaviorist
perspective and to that of mechanistic
materialism is that for the behaviorist,
human behavior or motion is the
significant datum, and knowledge of
matter is crucial because it helps us
understand behavior itself.
 Pavlov was an eminent experimental
psychologist and physiologist in pre-Soviet
 He was noted for his studies of the reflex
reaction in humans and animals and devised a
number of conditioning experiments.
 His studies show how both realism and
materialism are related.
 Modern behaviorists hold that Pavlov was
headed in the right direction, but that his
explanations were too simplistic.
 The modern view tends more toward a two-
way flow while Pavlov showed it only one
 He repudiated the introspective method in
psychology as delusive and unscientific.
 He relied solely on an observational
technique restricted to behavior.
 He believed that the fears people have are
conditioned responses to the environment.
 The behaviorists believe that there is
nothing within to develop. If you start with a
healthy body, the right number of fingers
and toes, and the few elementary
movements that are present at birth, you do
not need anything else in the way of raw
material to make a man, be that man a
genius, a cultured gentleman, a rowdy, or a
 He thought the chief function of the
nervous system is simply to coordinate
senses with motor responses.
 Watson also rejected concepts such as
purpose, feeling, satisfaction, and free will
because they are not observable and
therefore not capable of scientific
treatment or measurement.
 One movement that has given a
philosophical basis to positions
such as Watson’s and
Thorndike’s is known as
 Philosophical positivism was
initiated by Auguste Comte.
 Comte thought that by applying scientific
principles to social conditions
systematically, we would be able to
recognize the laws constituting the social
order, their evolution, and the ways to apply
them more systematically.
 Comte’s thought influenced subsequent
thinkers to use science in devising social
 No longer is science the province of
intellectuals and individuals of leisure, but
it is now viewed as the key to the better

 While earlier positivism was founded on the

science of the nineteenth century,
contemporary positivism has been more
interested in the logic and language of
scientific concepts.
 Positivism is primarily known for its work
on the logic of propositions and the
principle of verification.

The connection of this philosophical

“school” of thought with behaviorism is that
behaviorists seek a language framework
that more accurately reflects the facts of
behavior to them.
 Rather than using the word “self” to signify
personal identity or the characteristics of
an individual, the behaviorists speak of
“conditioned” or “reinforced behavior”,
“repertoire of behavioral responses”, or
perharps “operant conditioning” in regard
to the specific organism we may call John
 Behaviorists maintains that because we do
not know very much about behavior and
because of our lack of knowledge we
wrongly impute meaning to behavior by
reference to an “inner being”, a self, mind,
consciousness, soul, or some such hidden
entity that “causes” the behavior.
 Coupled with their concern for more
linguistic precision, logical positivists have
also championed what is called “the
principle of verifiability”.
 Logical positivists try to discourage
nonsense statements and promote
language and thought that is more
controllable and rigorous.
 Skinner is sometimes referred to as “the
high priest of behaviorism”.
 He thinks a great deal of error and
misunderstanding have come about
because philosophers have tried to deduce
an understanding of human beings from a
priori generalizations, or they have been
“armchair scientists” content with
 Human nature has been central to the
metaphysics of many great philosophers
and has been of considerable influence in
the philosophical treatment of ethics.
 Skinner attacks what he calls the traditional
views of humanity.
 From a Skinnerian point of view, we could
say that however deplorable the behavior,
finding a guilty culprit and punishing him
does not get at the real problem.
 Too often we think knowing is a cognitive
process, but it is behavioral and
environmental, neurological and even
 In response to his critiques saying that
Skinner is destroying or abolishing
humanity, he said that what is too often
destructive is actual human behavior, not a
 Skinner believes that the importance lies in
human behavior and how it makes us what
we are.
 It is Skinner’s position that we have
developed through two processes of
evolution: one is the biological process
from which we evolved, and the other is the
cultural process of evolution that we have
largely created.
 We may say that we are our own makers,
and while we are doing the making, we are
being made or we are in the making.
 Basically, behavior carries the ideas and
values of a culture, and it transforms,
alters, and changes a culture.
 We may say that in cultural that in cultural
evolution, what actually evolves are
practices set in a social context.
Reinforcement follows behavior: it does not
precede it (even though most human
behavior is conditioned by previous
 Control lies at the crux of sensitivity to the
consequences of our behavior.
 If we want to change culture or individuals,
we must change behavior; and the way to
change behavior is to change the
contingencies, that is, culture or social
 Contingencies are the conditions in which
behavior occurs; they reinforce it and
influence the future direction and quality of
 Skinner maintains that contingencies are
accessible (even if with difficulty), and as
we progressively come to understand the
relation between behavior and
environment, we will discover new way of
controlling behavior.
 It is possible, as further understanding is
developed, to design and control not just
isolated behaviors and their contingencies,
but a whole culture.
 Skinner views the educational process as
one of the chief ways of designing a
culture, and his attention is also directed at
numerous other institutions.
 Good consequences are positive
reinforcement and bad consequences are
negative or aversive reinforcement.
 It is easier to change particular teaching
practices than a whole educational
establishment, and it is easier to change
one institution than a whole culture.
“If a scientific analysis can tell us how to
change behavior, can it tell us what changes to
 People act to effect changes for reasons,
and among these reasons are behavioral
 We can see that, for Skinner, the good
society and values are within the domain of
the behavioral scientist precisely because
those goods and values are involved in
behavior, even based in it and coming out
of it.
 “personal goods”
 “goods of others”

 “the good of culture”

 Change does not occur simply because of the

passage of time, but because of what occurs
while time passes.
 If we are reinforced by human survival, and if
human survival depends upon the cultural and
physical environment in which we exist, then
we will work for human survival by designing
culture to that end.
 The good society is one that gives personal
satisfaction, supports social interaction,
and furthers our survival.
 The goods society is valuable, and the way
to achieve it is through the proper design of
the culture; that is , through the proper
arrangement and development of the
contingencies of reinforcement.
 Skinner maintains we need a sophisticated
science and technology of human behavior.
Although such a development would be
morally neutral and could be misused and
abused, he believes that it has a definite
survival value.
 Although many people disapprove of the
concept of behavioral engineering, it has
increasingly become a part of our
educational process.
 Skinner believes that extrinsic rewards are
necessary when other methods do not
work, or do not work so well, though they
should be replaced by more intrinsic
rewards at a later date.
 Behaviorists have a conception of the child
as an organism who is already highly
programmed before coming to school.
 Skinner believes that one of the reasons of
people having trouble in making moral
decisions is that the programming they
have received on morality has been very
 Skinner maintains that one of our
obligations as adults, and particularly as
educators, is to make educational
decisions and then to use whatever
methods we have at our disposal,
conditioning being the best, to achieve
 He believes we should try to create a world
of brotherhood and justice, and if
conditioning can help, it should be used.
 One of the points of contention between
Skinner and many other people is that they see
education and conditioning as two different
 Skinner does not draw any distinction between
education and conditioning. He does not feel
that the mind is free to begin with.
 Whatever kinds of critical judgment or
acceptance of ideas students make are
already predicated on ideas with which they
have been previously conditioned.
 Since so much of our education at present
involves rote or memory learning, Skinner
feels that mechanical electronic devices
also have a very useful part to play.
 Teaching machines may take very different
forms but they are all based on the theory
that we should reward the kinds of
responses we want, and we should do it
 In terms of behavioral engineering,
although it has been heavily based on
experiments with laboratory animals it can
still be applicable to humans and to human
 Skinner argues that the human being is an
animal, although more advanced, and the
basic difference between humans and
other animals is one of degree and not of
 The primary aim of behavioristic
techniques is to change behavior and point
it in more desirable directions.
 Skinner does away with the concept of
innate freedom by saying that people have
always been controlled, though we have not
always been aware of the control and the
direction in which it leads.
One thing primarily wrong with control is
not that it has always existed, but that it has
been random and without any real
 Skinner advocates control and thinks that a
new society can be shaped through
 Skinner is a strong advocate of education,
although many critics argue that what he
means by education is not education but
“training”. He charges that much of what
passes for education is not good education
because it is not reinforcing, it does not
properly motivate students to progress and
does not deal with immediate
 Skinner maintains that the children should
know immediately when they are right or
wrong, and this is why he has championed
such methods of immediate reinforcement
as programmed learning and teaching
Skinner advocates positive reinforcement.
Aversive (or negative) reinforcement,
although it may be effective, often has
many bad side effects.
 Skinner maintains that the most effective
procedure is to withdraw reward. It could
be construed that depriving is a form of
punishment but he argues that it is simply a
matter of ceasing to reward a specific
 Many people argue that the aim of
behavioral engineering is to turn out
robots. But Skinner counters that this is not
true, for when we look around at our
present world we find that most people are
controlled by forces of which they are
 Skinner points out that one who is
conditioned may not assent to or be aware
that he or she is conditioned.
 We are all conditioned anyway, and we
could even assist in our own conditioning.
 The development of personal habits
depends to a large extent on conditioning
techniques that we ourselves use.