Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Nature and Value of Scientific System Building: The Case of Interbehaviorism

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Nature and Value of Scientific System Building: The Case of Interbehaviorism

Article excerpt

J. R. Kantor's (1888-1984) lifelong mission was to articulate a natural science of psychology. The motivation for this work arose from two sources. First, Kantor regarded psychological events to be an important series of happenings in their own right, about which no satisfactory treatment had been achieved. Second, he felt that a more satisfactory treatment of psychological events would facilitate the work of other scientists in their inevitable encounter with psychological issues (Kantor, 1959, p. ix).

Kantor provided no justification for adopting the perspective of a scientist in contrast to that of some other type of worker. Rather, he took this perspective as a starting point from which he argued that until events were made available for scientific study by way of their incorporation into a scientific system, there could be no scientific understanding of them (Kantor, 1959, pp. 60, 80). Thus, his mission of forging naturalistic constructs for psychological events could be achieved only through scientific system building, and this was the activity that occupied his entire career. In fact, system construction is a hallmark of interbehavioral psychology.

This paper focuses on system building and its aim is threefold: (a) to clarify the nature and value of scientific system building from Kantor's perspective, (b) to articulate Kantor's system-building procedure, and (c) to outline the system of interbehavioral psychology produced in accordance with that procedure. We begin by examining a small number of presuppositions upon which Kantor's view of science and the aim of his system-building efforts were formulated as a means of general orientation to his perspective.

First, as is the case for all scientists (Hayes, 1993, 1997), Kantor assumed the existence of the natural world, in his terms, of "a manifold of events," which is subject to observers' acts of description and interpretation (Kantor, 1953, pp. 13-14). Generally, he noted that different descriptions and interpretations are possible (e.g., chemical, biological, psychological) of this manifold of events; and he argued that scientific activities of these sorts can be distinguished from similar activities characteristic of other domains of knowing (Kantor, 1953, p. 5). Second, he assumed that only the products of scientific description and interpretation can show the properties of validity and reliability, and that only valid products may be characterized as to their adequacy and usefulness (Kantor, 1959, p. 41). Third, he believed that knowledge can show progress over time, but only when it is the product of scientific activity (Kantor, 1953, pp. 6-8; 1959, p. vii). Kantor further noted that scientific constructions can be, and typically are, subject to influence from nonscientific sources. He argued that this influence undermines their validity, and thereby their significance, and is further detrimental to the progressive development of scientific knowledge (1959, p. 39).

With this preliminary orientation to Kantor's views articulated, we now consider them in greater detail. We begin by articulating Kantor's views of science, followed by his views of scientific systemization.

Characteristics of Kantor's System Construction

Kantor's interests and contributions to science, and in particular to psychology, were unique. Much like Einstein, Kantor involved himself not simply in the study of events, but in the formulation of what it means to conduct scientific activity. Recognition and fad were not his motivation; he was a serious scholar, a visionary. In his early years, he searched for a naturalistic comprehensive scientific system that addressed the psychological domain and found none. Subsequently, he devoted his life to articulating such a system to fill this void. His goal was to make a science of psychology possible and available to others who wished to study psychological events in a rigorous, naturalistic manner. …

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