Modern Perspectives on B. F. Skinner and Contemporary Behaviorism

By James T. Todd; Edward K. Morris | Go to book overview

Introduction

James T. Todd and Edward K. Morris

The beginning of behaviorism as a distinct viewpoint within psychology is usually traced to the publication of John B. Watson's 1913 "manifesto," Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. Here, Watson argued that psychology's status as an "undisputed natural science" was threatened by the narrowness and subjectivity of structuralism on one side and the aimlessness of functionalism on the other. According to Watson, the only solution to the dilemma he described was to redefine psychology as an "objective natural science" with behavior (rather than consciousness) as its primary subject matter.

The beginning of radical or contemporary behaviorism, the focus of the present volume, may be traced to the publication in 1938 of B. F. Skinner The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. The Behavior of Organisms and Skinner's philosophy of science were clearly based on the behaviorist tradition established by Watson. The correspondences between Skinner's views and Watson's behaviorism, as expressed in the first paragraph of "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It," are obvious and fundamental (see Todd, 1994a) Skinner's social views as expressed in Walden Two ( 1948), Beyond Freedom and Dignity ( 1971), and Enjoy Old Age ( Skinner & Vaughan, 1983) seem to be deliberate extensions of Watson's own progressive pragmatic philosophy, as taken by Watson from his teachers at the University of Chicago: John Dewey, Henry Donaldson, and Jacques Loeb (see Samelson, 1994).

Skinner's intellectual family tree (Figure 1. 1) depicts the interlocking influences responsible for these correspondences (see also Michael, 1993). Skinner was not simply a modern Watson, however. Watson's manifesto, especially its first paragraph, which accurately describes the fundamental aspects of both Watson and Skinner's philosophies, should be taken as a point of divergence. Skinner went far beyond Watson's mechanistic stimulus-response conception

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