Commentaries on Goldiamond's "Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problems"

By Knapp, Terry | Behavior and Social Issues, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Commentaries on Goldiamond's "Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problems"


Knapp, Terry, Behavior and Social Issues


THE CONSTITUTION AS SOURCE AND MODEL: THE ETHICAL CONSTRUCTION OF NEW REPERTOIRES THROUGH CONTINGENCY CONTRACTING

Behaviorism had been inaugurated with great effort by Willard Day based on a suggestion by B. F. Skinner that a forum was needed to discuss the conceptual and critical aspects of radical behaviorism. In the early volumes many of the manuscripts were solicited by Willard directly, or invited after he heard them in oral form at a conference. Other manuscripts had originally appeared elsewhere. One by David Wexler discussed legal constrains on token economies; it was reprinted from the California Law Review (Wexler, 1973). Wexler's later visit to the Reno campus was the occasion for an expanded discussion of the law and behavior analytic procedures, and conceptually more important, for a consideration of how the law functioned as a system to control behavior. These same issues were more fully addressed at a conference held at West Virginia University in June of 1975, and later published as Behaviorism and Ethics (Krapfl & Vargas, 1976). The papers in the book were not only an attempt to address the then current attacks on behavior modification by courts, legislatures, and ethicists, but also a discussion of the more general debates among professionals about the ethical treatment of human subjects in researches of all sorts, a matter which deeply concerned Goldiamond (1975; 1977).

I mention these events as a context for understanding Goldiamond (1974). In fact, David Wexler's paper is the second citation by Goldiamond in his text, the first is Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Skinner, 1971). The publication of BFD was the critical event which had brought about extensive discussions of the moral and ethical aspects of Skinner's behaviorism, particularly in connection with issues of mental health (for a cumulative record displaying the increased number of publications on these themes in the early to mid-1970s, see Knapp & Downs, 1977). A full appreciation of Goldiamond's contribution requires a recollection of this period in the history of behavior analysis when so many important changes were introduced in institutional policies, and state laws governing those in total institutions.

Though I have not checked by actual count, it seems certain that Goldiamond (1974) is the longest paper (with a more generous font, and line-- spacing, it could be a small book) to have appeared in the pages of then Behaviorism (now Behavior and Philosophy). Of course, this is only one of its distinguishing features, but it does tell us about the author's love of talk. And what distinguished his talk was not just quantity, (which was enormous, with never a loss of energy, as though it had all been saved up for whatever the occasion), but its originality and complexity. These are the outstanding characteristics of his paper and analysis. The topics are familiar: the United States Constitution, social contract theory, the experimental analysis of behavior, the medical model, programmed instruction, civil liberties, signal detection theory, and so on. But how few among us was prepared to have these integrated into a formulation that is conceptual and theoretical, which directs one's therapeutic activities at the general level of problem formulation and solution generation, but which also creates an interview procedure leading to a treatment (teaching) program with accompanying clinical records (manifest in specific forms), and all of it rationalized with an integrated ethic. A small book indeed. These are big thoughts.

Consider for a moment the typical manner in which ethical principles are presented to students in psychology, social work, counseling, and related programs. This is often done as a set of principles taught in a separate course devoted to ethics in which the student is to learn how to apply the principles to the content (assessment and intervention procedures) taught in other separate courses.

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Commentaries on Goldiamond's "Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problems"
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