The War between Mentalism and Behaviorism: On the Accessibility of Mental Processes

The War between Mentalism and Behaviorism: On the Accessibility of Mental Processes

The War between Mentalism and Behaviorism: On the Accessibility of Mental Processes

The War between Mentalism and Behaviorism: On the Accessibility of Mental Processes


This book considers one of the most fundamental, but only infrequently considered, issues in psychology--Are mental processes accessible by means of verbal reports and/or experimental assays? It is argues that this is the main characteristic distinguishing between behaviorism and mentalistic cognitivism. The answer posed by the author is that, with few exceptions and for the most fundamental reasons, mental processes are not accessible and that any psychology, such as contemporary cognitivism, based on a putative analysis of mind into its mental components must be fallacious.

Classic and modern arguments against both mentalism and behaviorism are reviewed. In general, it is concluded that most antibehaviorist arguments are based on second order humanistic considerations rather than those underlying the usual scientific standards. Behaviorism represents the best that can be done in a situation of fundamental immeasurability and uncertainty. A modern version is offered in the final chapter of this book.


My theoretical point of view, as a scientific psychologist, has evolved substantially over the years. I was trained as a physiological psychologist, with an interest in sensory processes, by Professors Donald R. Meyer and Philburn Ratoosh at Ohio State University, both of whom recently died. I find myself in the unexpected position of being a critic of neurophysiological and cognitive reductionism and increasingly in support of what is today, at best, a minority and, at least, a very unpopular point of view--a modern version of classic behaviorism. The change in my thinking is virtually a complete reversal of my early training. How could this happen?

It really does not matter very much why one individual (in Winston Churchill's words) "ratted." It does matter if there is a strong empirical, technical, logical, and philosophical argument to suggest the psychological community consider taking another pendular swing between reductionism and mental accessibility and molar behaviorism, that has characterized its history. I am convinced that our science is in a period of theoretical reorientation and have taken on the task of detailing why some form of behaviorism is the most plausible and scientifically coherent course to take.

New developments suggest that a discussion of basic assumptions of our science may be extremely timely, and necessary for it to survive. In the predecessor to this book, Toward a New Behaviorism: The Case Against Perceptual Reductionism (Uttal, 1998), I discussed the forces at work that have altered the answers that scientific psychology have given to some of its core questions in recent years. These forces have been the result of powerful intellectual currents driven by new technologies and perspectives emerging from computer science and neurophysiology. The successes in those fields sometimes overshadowed the application of their theories, techniques, and findings to psychological problems. This is not without its own logical, philosophical, and theoretical complications. The . . .

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