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2.2 Behaviorism

1. What Is It?

Behaviorism just seems loony to me. For most of the theories of the mind I can see how they could fall into their beliefs. But behaviorism, especially the more radical forms evangelized by those like B. F. Skinner, are just wacky. Behaviorism was a revolt against the process of introspection. At that time a group of psychologists, led by Wilhelm Wundt, believed that you could gain real understanding about how the mind worked by applying sensory stimulation to yourself and then writing down what you felt. Behaviorists felt this was far to subjective, and that real science was based solely on objective, empirical data. Therefore they postulated that behavior was the only thing that could be studied and they either denied or ignored the mind and internal states, feeling, and beliefs. Now, if they had simply said that at this time we don't know enough to study anything but behavior objectively so that is what we will focus on, I would be able to understand their position. But they took it much further than that in actually denying that the mind exists at all. They actually believed that all animals and humans are simply machines that respond to conditioning to produce certain behaviors. The famous example that most people are probably familiar with is Pavlov's dog, where he conditioned a dog to salivate when he rang a bell. Another example, if your girlfriend gives you a kiss when you give her flowers, you will be likely to give her flowers when you want a kiss. You will be acting in expectation of a certain reward. Or another, If John believes it is going to rain then he will take an umbrella with him when he leaves home.

2. Problems With Behaviorism.

In all truthfulness the title for this section should probably be "What's not wrong with behaviorism?" I have a mind! Ouch! I just pinched myself and felt the pain. Nothing but my own internal desire to pinch myself drove that behavior. I wanted to pinch myself. Any theory of the mind that attempts to deny that the mind exists flies in the face of reality. In one of the above examples John believes it is going to rain so he takes an umbrella. Behaviorist would say that he has been conditioned to associate rain with taking an umbrella. Just like Pavlov's dog was conditioned to salivate when he rang the dinner bell. However, what if John likes to walk in the rain and get wet. I do sometimes. Sometimes John might want to get wet, and sometimes he might not. But it is his internal desires that make that choice. Also, it is virtually impossible to even discuss conditioning and such without using the language of desire, beliefs, wants, pain, and pleasure. Another thing is that even if behaviorism is true, it really does not gain you any real understanding of how these things are happening in the mind, just that they are happening. There are several other arguments against behaviorism, but they are somewhat involved and technical, and in fact I find the common sense arguments persuasive enough that I really did not need them to believe that behaviorism was wrong. So I will simply leave this section with the arguments I have already listed. If you are interested in these further arguments then please look in the selected readings.


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