First published Fri May 26, 2000; substantive revision Tue Jul 27, 2010
It has sometimes been said that “behave is what organisms do.” Behaviorism is built on this assumption, and its goal is to promote the scientific study of behavior.
In this entry I consider different types of behaviorism. I outline reasons for and against being a behaviorist. I consider contributions ofbehaviorism to the study of behavior. Special attention is given to the so-called “radical behaviorism” of B. F. Skinner (1904–90). Skinner is given special attention because he is the behaviorist who has received the most attention from philosophers, fellow scientists and the public at large.
• 1. What is Behaviorism?
• 2. Three Types of Behaviorism
• 3. Roots of Behaviorism
• 4.Popularity of Behaviorism
• 5. Why be a Behaviorist
• 6. Skinner's Social Worldview
• 7. Why be Anti-Behaviorist
• 8. Conclusion
• Other Internet Resources
• Related Entries
1. What is Behaviorism?
Loosely speaking, behaviorism is an attitude. Strictly speaking, behaviorism is a doctrine.
Wilfred Sellars (1912–89), the distinguishedphilosopher, noted that a person may qualify as a behaviorist, loosely or attitudinally speaking, if they insist on confirming “hypotheses about psychological events in terms of behavioral criteria” (1963, p. 22). A behaviorist, so understood, is a psychological theorist who demands behavioral evidence for any psychological hypothesis. For such a person, there is no knowable difference between two statesof mind unless there is a demonstrable difference in the behavior associated with each state.
Arguably, there is nothing truly exciting about behaviorism loosely understood. It enthrones behavioral evidence, an arguably inescapable practice in psychological science. Not so behaviorism the doctrine. This entry is about the doctrine, not the attitude. Behaviorism, the doctrine, has causedconsiderable excitation among both advocates and critics.
Behaviorism, the doctrine, is committed in its fullest and most complete sense to the truth of the following three sets of claims.
1. Psychology is the science of behavior. Psychology is not the science of mind.
2. Behavior can be described and explained without making ultimate reference to mental events or to internal psychologicalprocesses. The sources of behavior are external (in the environment), not internal (in the mind, in the head).
3. In the course of theory development in psychology, if, somehow, mental terms or concepts are deployed in describing or explaining behavior, then either (a) these terms or concepts should be eliminated and replaced by behavioral terms or (b) they can and should be translated or paraphrasedinto behavioral concepts.
The three sets of claims are logically distinct. Moreover, taken independently, each helps to form a type of behaviorism. “Methodological” behaviorism is committed to the truth of (1). “Psychological” behaviorism is committed to the truth of (2). “Analytical” behaviorism (also known as “philosophical” or “logical” behaviorism) is committed to the truth of thesub-statement in (3) that mental terms or concepts can and should be translated into behavioral concepts.
Other nomenclature is sometimes used to classify behaviorisms. Georges Rey (1997, p. 96), for example, classifies behaviorisms as methodological, analytical, and radical, where “radical” is Rey's term for what I am classifying as psychological behaviorism. I reserve the term “radical” for thepsychological behaviorism of B. F. Skinner. Skinner employs the expression “radical behaviorism” to describe his brand of behaviorism or his philosophy of behaviorism (see Skinner 1974, p. 18). In the classification scheme used in this entry, radical behaviorism is a sub-type of psychological behaviorism, primarily, although it combines all three types of behaviorism (methodological, analytical, and...
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