Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

By G. E. Zuriff | Go to book overview
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tions. Although it may be possible to determine empirically which response is more likely to occur early in life, there is no determinant way to decide which response is "perception" and which is "interpretation." Both are responses to the plate without the intervention of copies, and both provide knowledge about the plate.

The analysis need not change if the stimulus is covert. Consider a piece of hot metal. Just as with the plate, there are many ways to respond to this stimulus, and none of them requires the mediation of copies. Now suppose that someone swallows the piece of metal. The person can still respond to this stimulus although the response is likely to be different since different receptors are now stimulated. Nevertheless, the relocation of the metal to the other side of the skin is not a sufficient reason to postulate copies to explain the response.

With secondary qualities, sensations, illusions, quale, and phenomonological experience all finding a place in behaviorist theory, the Copy Theory holds no advantage. Behaviorists can maintain an epistemology in which human reaction, and therefore knowledge, is directly in response to the environment rather than to copies of the environment. Although humans may come to know and respond to events within their bodies, this knowledge, too, is not mediate by copies of these events. Knowledge of the self and the inner world of experience arises as a social product with ties to the external world.


Behaviorist interpretations of first-person reports are attempts at exorcising conscious contents from psychology. In chapter 2 this was accomplished by excluding introspection from scientific psychology on epistemological and methodological grounds. In this chapter it is accomplished by giving plausible accounts of first-person reports without appealing to conscious contents. These accounts do not disprove the existence of conscious contents. They do, however, eliminate some of the motivation for postulating conscious contents in psychology. In the final analysis, it can always be argued that certain aspects of one's own phenomenal experience are not captured by behaviorist accounts.

If the alleged unexplained contents of consciousness entail no implications for the prediction and control of behavior, they can be safely ignored by behaviorism. Indeed, in this case, the disagreement over consciousness would not be empirically resolvable by behaviorist standards of empiricalness. If, on the other hand, conscious contents are implicated in behavior, then they would have to appear in some form within the theoretical concepts of the behavioral science. They could not appear in the behavioral data language because of behaviorist strictures against introspection and because the limits of molar


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Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction


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