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What is the Objectivist opinon (and answer) to Behaviorology?

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Hello everyone and nice to meet you all. Although I myself am not a Objectivist I am very interested in the movements ideas. That said though I want this discussion to be the topic at hand and not about me. What is the Objectivist opinion of (and answers) to Behaviorology? For those who don't know what Behaviorology is it is also sometimes known as Scientific Psychology, Radical Behaviorism, and behavior analysis. It is field that is growing out of the ideas of B.F. Skinner and others. Plainly stated it is the adoption of a pure Natural Science perspective in the study of human beings and humanity.

Of the ideas that they reject (which they call left overs from Mysticism) is that there is no such thing as the mind, the self, the psyche, and even free will (among other things). Instead as the son of one of the former big wigs of the movement has described humans are little more then machines (biological of course) who simply are conditioned through our environment to react to certain setting in a certain way. What philosophers call the mind does not exist instead we react to our surroundings based off of data recorder in our brain. We as humans do make choices we act how we have previously been programed through our environment to act.

Or in other words man doesn't decide anything. He reacts he doesn't think. He reacts he doesn't choose. The state of his brain is constantly altered by the environment and we have no choice in that regard. Man does not choose because we are preprogrammed to make decisions based off of the environment. All of mans "ills" can be altered once we learn more about how to control the way his body reacts and functions. He will have no choice because remember man doesn't have free will and cannot choose. We only react.

Know granted I am not a Behaviorologist so I can only tell you what I know about it in laymans terms, but I will state what I do know about the ideas it holds. Now I was wondering what you all think of the idea, and what affect it will have on us all if eventually it is wildly accepted.

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What is the Objectivist opinion of (and answers) to Behaviorology?

As far as Behaviorism in psychology goes, Rand wrote an article called "The Stimulus and the Response" in her collection of essays "Philosophy: Who needs it." Some points from the essay: One of Skinner's flaws was the attempt to cast psychology as a "hard" science by denying the existence of man's consciousness. Another is the destruction of morality by reducing all of human behavior to environmental conditioning, with obvious implications in politics. She traces through the implications of these views via a critique of Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and Dignity."

Edit: I should mention I don't really have time to formulate an answer, but I recommend the article I give in this post as a good response to behaviorism.

Edited by Nate T.
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As far as Behaviorism in psychology goes, Rand wrote an article called "The Stimulus and the Response" in her collection of essays "Philosophy: Who needs it." Some points from the essay: One of Skinner's flaws was the attempt to cast psychology as a "hard" science by denying the existence of man's consciousness. Another is the destruction of morality by reducing all of human behavior to environmental conditioning, with obvious implications in politics. She traces through the implications of these views via a critique of Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and Dignity."

Edit: I should mention I don't really have time to formulate an answer, but I recommend the article I give in this post as a good response to behaviorism.

For the record I am not a Behavioroligst (in fact the implications of the idea scares the crap out me lol) but they would respond that you can't prove that man has consciousness. As I have read in the past (and I'm paraphrasing not directly quoting) "The idea of the mind, the self, man's consciousness, free will, and certain aspects of "reasoning" or left overs from Mysticism. One can not show nor prove that a man has any of them. It cannot be recorded, or measured by any known scientific measure. Therefor the idea of the mind, is the same as the idea of the soul. And since you can not prove a negative there is no purpose for having such mystic ideas in the science of Psychology. Either that or we should abandon Psychology, the same way the chemist abandoned the alchemist, and the biologist abandoned the magician."

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... but they would respond that you can't prove that man has consciousness.

First, Rand regards free will as directly observable through introspection, in that we can observe ourselves choosing to do things all the time-- the fact that Skinner regards this as unreliable or unacceptable is a consequence of his desire to use exclusively the methods of physics in psychology ("It cannot be recorded, or measured by any known scientific measure." in your quotation). However, in any given field, one must use the standards of measurement and proof appropriate to the subject. As a side note, Peikoff has a nice discussion of this in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Besides this, there is another flaw at work behind the assumption that man's thoughts and actions are entirely determined by his environment, which is the Fallacy of the Stolen Concept. That is, by accepting the position that man has no control over his thoughts and actions, you accept that your claims of knowledge are merely imprinted on you by your environment, albeit in possibly very complicated ways. But if this is so, how can you know that your original conclusion of the truth of determinism is valid to begin with? After all, we know that men make mistakes; suppose your environment lead you to accept faulty ideas which influenced your acceptance of such deterministic theories-- how could you demonstrate otherwise?

This argument is really getting at the Objectivist principle that reason entails free will (and the place to find this is OPAR, as I mentioned above).

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You are going to have to clarify. I thought you said:

Of the ideas that they reject (which they call left overs from Mysticism) is that there is no such thing as the mind, the self, the psyche, and even free will (among other things).

So if they reject that there is no free will, that means that they accept that there is free will. Is that what you meant to say?

If they reject that there is free will, then they can be dismissed out of hand as free will is self evident.

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Firstly, I am a PhD student in Experimental Psychology. As a psychologist I have studied behaviorism and found it to be a non-factor in relation to objectivism. This is because there are several flaws in the theory of behaviorism which prevent its complete acceptance and therefore it cannot be used as evidence that there is no "mind". As I am currently in a cognitive psychology class I will paraphrase most of my information from the text book I have on hand, Braisby, Nick (2005). Cognitive Psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Though this information can be found in most comprehensive psychology texts.

One interesting flaw Braisby points out is that behaviorists claim the study of unobservables is irreconcilable to hard science. However, we can see this is false when we look to the traditional hard sciences such as physics. In physics forces which are not directly observable, such as gravity have often been studied and theorized about. The reason we can do this is we can study gravity indirectly by measuring its effects and from there creating theories about how it works. The same can and is done with the study of unobservable mental processes.

Any scientific theory must be able to accurately explain and predict the phenomena it addresses. While behaviorism accurately reflects data in some simple situations it does not for complex behavior. A specific example of this is in the case of language generation. Behaviorism holds that uttering a word is a response to a stimulus and that a sentence is a chain of such relationships where each previous words causes the one that follows. A simple argument against this is subject/verb agreement in complex sentences. Though the verb may be several words down the sentence from the noun it addresses (and therefore not causally linked to the noun) we still modify it to reflect singularity or plurality (Lashley, 1951). There is also empirical evidence to show that planning sentences before their utterance takes place by certain speech errors, such as when we accidentally splice synonyms because we don't decide in time which to use (think "gruel" in Mean Girls <_< ). Noam Chomsky (1959) has also shown how behaviorism cannot accurately account for language.

Language is just one of many examples of complex behavior where behaviorism falls flat. Behaviorism in psychology is a useful theory in certain specialized instances, but to use it as evidence that we are purely a collection of learned responses with no "mind" is a major fallacy. The problem of just what consciousness is and where it comes from is still considered the "hard problem" in psychology, however, we have substantial evidence through measuring indirect effects that it exists. We just have yet to discover the graviton, to continue the earlier analogy. ;)

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