Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction

Excerpt

This book has been brewing since 1962. As an undergraduate philosophy major at Columbia that year, I decided to learn something about psychology. But the introductory psychology course I took, the notorious one developed by Keller and Schoenfeld, could have been better entitled "An Introduction to Operant Conditioning," because that is what psychology was at Columbia in those days.

Unlike most of my classmates, who grumbled about the narrowness of the course, I found myself intrigued by the behaviorist approach to the mind. My reading of Skinner Science and Human Behavior affected me profoundly, and I chose philosophy of psychology to be my field as it has been ever since. Columbia was a particularly good place to begin, with behaviorism as an aggressive and lively ideology in the psychology department and a renewed interest in the study of mind in the philosophy department.

The next logical step seemed to be Harvard to work with Skinner. By the time I arrived at Harvard, Skinner was retired from active laboratory research, and most of my contact was with Dick Herrnstein. Dick had somehow acquired the quaint notion that psychologists should devote themselves to discovering the laws of behavior rather than fighting the ideological battles of behaviorism. If you nagged him enough, he could talk philosophy of science as well as anyone, but for the most part, my four years in his lab were spent learning how to do good science. Eventually I emerged with several completed experiments in operant conditioning, a couple of publications, a thesis, and a Ph. D.

Concurrent with my work in the lab, I managed to establish some contact with Fred Skinner and to learn about the exciting issues he was pursuing. I also took advantage of the offerings of the Harvard philosophers, including Van Quine and later, Hilary Putnam and Nelson Goodman.

In 1968 I assumed my current position in the Department of Psychology at Wheaton College. Wheaton's liberal attitudes toward research and its sup-

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