Understanding Behaviorism
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Understanding Behaviorism

Behavior, Culture, and Evolution

William M. Baum

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eBook - ePub

Understanding Behaviorism

Behavior, Culture, and Evolution

William M. Baum

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About This Book

Understanding Behaviorism is a classic textbook that explains the basis of behavior analysis and its application to human problems in a scholarly but accessible manner.

  • Now in its third edition, the text has been substantially updated to include the latest developments over the last decade in behaviour analysis, evolutionary theory, and cultural evolution theory
  • The only book available that explains behavior analysis and applies it to philosophical and practical problems, written by one of today's best-known and most highly respected behaviorists
  • Explores ancient concepts such as purpose, language, knowledge, and thought, as well as applying behavioural thinking to contemporary social issues like freedom, democracy, and culture
  • Part of the new evolutionary perspective for understanding individual behavior in general and culture in particular – culminates with practical approaches to improving the lives of all humanity
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Part I
What is Behaviorism?

Behaviorism has been a controversial topic. Some objections arise from correct understanding, but misconceptions about behaviorism abound. The three chapters in this part aim to clarify what might be called the “philosophical stance” of behaviorism.
All that is genuinely controversial about behaviorism stems from its primary idea, that a science of behavior is possible. At some point in its history, every science has had to exorcise imagined causes (hidden agents) that supposedly lie behind or under the surface of natural events. Chapter 1 explains how behaviorists’ denial of hidden agents leads to a genuine controversy, the question of whether behavior is free or determined.
Chapter 2 aims to forestall misconceptions that may arise because behaviorism has changed over time. An earlier version, called methodological behaviorism, was based on realism, the view that all experience is caused by an objective, real world outside of and apart from a person’s subjective, inner world. Realism may be contrasted with pragmatism, which is silent about the origin of experience, but points instead to the usefulness of trying to understand and make sense out of our experiences. A later version of behaviorism, called radical behaviorism, rests on pragmatism, rather than on realism. Anyone failing to understand this difference is likely to misunderstand the critical aspect of radical behaviorism, its rejection of mentalism.
The behaviorists’ critique of mentalism, explained in chapter 3, underlies the remainder of the book, because it requires behaviorists to suggest nonmentalistic explanations of behavior (Part II) and nonmentalistic solutions to social problems (Part III).

Behaviorism: Definition and History

The central idea in behaviorism can be stated simply: A science of behavior is possible. Behaviorists have diverse views about what this proposition means, and particularly about what science is and what behavior is, but every behaviorist agrees that there can be a science of behavior.
Many behaviorists add that the science of behavior should be psychology. This causes contention because many psychologists reject the idea that psychology is a science at all, and others who regard it as a science consider its subject matter something other than behavior. Most behaviorists have come to call the science of behavior behavior analysis. The debate continues as to whether behavior analysis is a part of psychology, the same as psychology, or independent of psychology, but professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavior Analysis, and journals, such as The Behavior Analyst, Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, and Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, give the field an identity.
Since behaviorism is a set of ideas about this science called behavior analysis, not the science itself, properly speaking behaviorism is not science, but philosophy of science. As philosophy about behavior, however, it touches topics near and dear to us: why we do what we do, and what we should and should not do. Behaviorism offers an alternative view that often runs counter to traditional thinking about action, because traditional views have been unscientific. We shall see in later chapters that it sometimes takes us in directions radically different from conventional thinking. This chapter covers some of the history of behaviorism and one of its most immediate implications, determinism.

Historical Background

From Philosophy to Science

All the sciences—astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology—had their origins in, and eventually broke free from, philosophy. Before astronomy and physics existed as sciences, for example, philosophers speculated about the arrangement of the natural universe by starting from assumptions about God or some other ideal standard and reasoning to conclusions about the way the universe must be. For example, if all important events seemed to occur on the Earth, then the Earth must be the center of the universe. Since a circle is the most perfect shape, the sun must travel about the Earth in a circular orbit. The moon must travel in another, closer, circular orbit, and the stars must be in a sphere, the most perfect three‐dimensional form, around the whole. (To this day, the sun, the moon, and the stars are called heavenly bodies, because they were supposed to be perfect.)
The sciences of astronomy and physics were born when individuals began trying to understand natural objects and phenomena by observing them. When Galilei Galileo (1564–1642) trained a telescope on the moon, he observed that its crater‐scarred landscape was far from the perfect sphere the philosophers supposed it to be. Contributing to physics also, Galileo recorded the motion of falling objects by rolling a ball down a chute. In describing his findings, Galileo helped invent the modern notions of velocity and acceleration. Isaac Newton (1642–1727) added concepts like force and inertia to create a powerful descriptive scheme for understanding motions of bodies on the Earth as well as heavenly bodies such as the moon.
In creating the science of physics, Galileo, Newton, and other thinkers of the Enlightenment broke with philosophy. Philosophy reasons from assumptions to conclusions. Its arguments take the form, “If this were so, then that would be so.” Science proceeds in the opposite direction: “This is observed; what could be true that would lead to such an observation, and what other observations would it lead to?” Philosophical truth is absolute; as long as the assumptions are spelled out and the reasoning is correct, the conclusions must follow. Scientific truth is always relative and provisional; it is relative to observation and susceptible to disconfirmation by new observations. For a long time, astronomers thought there were only seven planets, but then an eighth and a ninth were discovered. Philosophical assumptions concerned abstractions beyond the natural universe: God, harmony, ideal shapes, and so on. Scientific assumptions used in theory‐building concern only the natural universe and the way it might be organized. Though Newton was a theologian as well as a physicist, he separated the two activities. About physics, he said, “Hypotheses non fingo” (“I do not make up hypotheses“), meaning that when studying physics he had no concern for any supernatural entities or principles—that is, for anything outside the natural universe itself. The reason the ocean has tides is not God’s will but the gravitational pull of the moon as it revolves around the Earth.
As well as physics, the ancient Greeks speculated about chemistry. Philosophers such as Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Aristotle speculated that matter varied in its properties because it was endowed with certain qualities, essences, or principles. Aristotle suggested four qualities: hot, cold, wet, and dry. If a substance was a liquid, it possessed more of the wet quality; if a solid, more of the dry. As centuries passed, the list of qualities or essences lengthened. Things that grew hot were said to possess the inner essence caloric. Materials that burned were said to possess phlogiston. These essences were considered real substances hidden somewhere within the materials. When thinkers turned away from speculation about hidden essences and began making and inter‐relating careful observations of material change, chemistry was born. Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794), among others, developed the concept of oxygen from the careful observation of weights. Lavoisier found that when the metal lead is burned and transformed into a yellow powder (lead oxide) in a closed vessel, the powder weighs more than the original metal, and yet the entire vessel retains the same weight. Lavoisier reasoned that this could occur if the metal combined with some material in the air. Such an explanation contained only natural terms; it left out the hidden essences suggested by philosophy and established chemistry as a science.
Biology broke with philosophy and theology in the same way. Philosophers reasoned that if living and nonliving things differed, that was because God had given something to the living things He had not given to the nonliving. Some thinkers considered this inner thing to be a soul; others called it vis viva (life force). In the seventeenth century, early physiologists began looking inside animals to see how they worked. William Harvey (1578–1657) found what seemed more like the workings of a machine than some mysterious life force. It appeared that the heart functioned like a pump, circulating the blood through the arteries and tissues and back through the veins. As in physics and chemistry, such reasoning left out the hypothetical assumptions of the philosophers and referred only to observations of natural phenomena.
When Charles Darwin (1809–1882) published his theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859, it created a furor. Some people were offended because the theory went against the Biblical account of God creating all the plants and animals in a few days. Darwin even shocked some geologists and biologists. Familiar with the overwhelming fossil evidence of the rise and extinction of many species, these scientists were already convinced that evolution occurred. Yet although they no longer took the Biblical creation account literally, some of them still regarded the creation of life (hence, evolution) as the work of God. They were no less offended by Darwin’s theory of natural selection than were those who took the Biblical account literally.
Darwin’s theory impressed his contemporaries because it offered an account of the creation of life forms that left out God or any other nonnatural force. Natural selection is a purely mechanical process. If creatures vary, and the variation is inherited, then any reproductive advantage enjoyed by one type will cause that type to replace all competitors. Modern evolutionary theory arose in the first half of the twentieth century when the idea of natural selection was combined with the theory of genetic inheritance. This theory continues to arouse objections because of its godless naturalism.
Just as astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology, and evolutionary biology broke with philosophy, so psychology broke with philosophy. Psychology’s break was relatively recent. Until the 1940s few universities had a separate department of psychology, and professors of psychology were usually to be found in the philosophy department. If evolutionary biology, with its roots in the mid‐1800s, is still completing its break with theological and philosophical doctrine, it is no surprise that today psychologists still debate among themselves about the implications of calling psychology a tr...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Understanding Behaviorism
APA 6 Citation
Baum, W. (2017). Understanding Behaviorism (3rd ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/992412/understanding-behaviorism-behavior-culture-and-evolution-pdf (Original work published 2017)
Chicago Citation
Baum, William. (2017) 2017. Understanding Behaviorism. 3rd ed. Wiley. https://www.perlego.com/book/992412/understanding-behaviorism-behavior-culture-and-evolution-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Baum, W. (2017) Understanding Behaviorism. 3rd edn. Wiley. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/992412/understanding-behaviorism-behavior-culture-and-evolution-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Baum, William. Understanding Behaviorism. 3rd ed. Wiley, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.