Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

By G. E. Zuriff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Behavioral Epistemology

Behaviorists suggest a variety of behavioral epistemologies (i.e., theories of knowledge based on theories of behavior) which analyze science as the behavior of the scientist. The psychologism of these theories implies that knowing, including scientific knowing, can be seen as an instrument in the human organism's adaptation to the world. This notion associates behaviorism with pragmatism, the philosophy that knowledge is an implement to satisfy human needs. For behaviorism these needs are best satisfied through the prediction and control of natural events. Therefore, in psychology, only those methods which promote the prediction and control of behavior possess pragmatic validity.

This behaviorist pragmatism can be understood as a version of positivism, the intellectual tradition characterized by its varied attempts to distinguish between positive knowledge and metaphysics (i.e., questions which do not lend themselves to progress and resolution). For behaviorism, positive knowledge is science. Science is defined in behaviorism as those methods which the behavioral science determine to be the most effective in enhancing the knower's ability to predict, control, and therefore adapt to the environment.

The positivist emphasis on direct experience underlies molar behaviorism, peripheralism, externalism, and behaviorist attitudes toward theoretical concepts, causation, and explanation. The positivist search for positive methods is expressed in Hull's hypothetico-deductive method, Skinner's experimental analysis of behavior, and the behaviorist insistence on precision and intersubjective consistency in verbal behavior. Positivist nominalism appears in behaviorist opposition to hypostatization and in behaviorist relational theories of mind. Behaviorism also shares positivism's rejection of metaphysics and defends its positions on consciousness on pragmatic rather than ontological grounds. Along with positivists, behaviorists reject the distinction between reality and appearance. They view the laws of nature as human inventions serving human purposes.

Because behaviorist positivism is based on an advancing science, it may retain more flexibility than other forms of positivism. This flexibility derives, in part, from the

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