Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

By G. E. Zuriff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Observation: The Case
Against Introspection

For behaviorism, psychology is to be based on scientific observation, but introspective observation of the phenomenal world is not acceptable. Behaviorists offer a variety of objections to introspection; one is that introspection is especially prone to error and distortion. However, proponents of introspection reply that it can be as objective as any other kind of observation when carried out properly. A second objection is that introspection's subject matter, consciousness, is not objective. This criticism, however, is not decisive because it is based on unsupported metaphysical notions of objectivity.

Another objection is that introspective observations are private and unverifiable. One reply to this objection is that introspective observations can be verified indirectly. However, this reply can be rejected because introspective observations logically do not lend themselves to indirect verification in the way other kinds of observations do. A second reply is to deny the private-public distinction and argue either that all observation, including introspection, is public, or that all observation, including observation of the physical environment, is ultimately private.

A fourth objection is that introspective reports do not achieve intersubjective agreement. The distinction between subjective and objective is thus replaced by the distinction between subjective and intersubjective. Introspection's lack of intersubjectivity may be an empirical contingent fact, or it might be a necessary truth based on the logical impossibility of a private language. A fifth objection is based on a theory of how verbal reports of private events are learned and maintained. This theory suggests that such reports are unreliable.

The joint criteria of objectivity and empiricalness discussed in the preceding chapter are intended to exclude psychological methods such as intuition, empathy, anthropomorphism, and psychoanalytic interpretation as means of data collection. 1 How then is the mind to be studied? One traditional answer to

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