A Psychology of Freedom and Dignity: The Last Train to Survival

By E. Rae Harcum | Go to book overview

3
An Optimistic Agent

This chapter discusses the ways in which the deterministic and the humanistic schools of thought attempt to account for apparently purposeful behaviors. I say "apparently purposeful behaviors," because the determinists would deny that any behavior was truly purposeful, arguing that it was achieved by a mindless machine. They contend that the apparent purpose is merely an illusion or delusion caused by the fact that the behavior in the given situation did satisfy the prevailing motivation. Because that behavior persisted until the satisfying event occurred, the organism appeared to be purposefully seeking that event. In contrast, the humanists argue that behavior is truly purposeful and produced by an intentional agent, not just the manifestation of habits generated from previous rewards. Although the purposeful agent is influenced by environmental circumstances, it is not entirely controlled by them. Because there is a choice that is not determined by the environment, there is always an opportunity to make decisions that are favorable to self and society, but also an opportunity to make decisions with damaging consequences.

The present book assumes that people who want the best for society will tend to make good decisions. Dedicated people can learn what goals are best and then choose behaviors that will achieve those goals. Thus, the concept of a humanistic agent is an optimistic one.

Although he questioned its scientific merit, Skinner ( 1971) admitted that the literature of freedom has made practical contributions to our society: "The importance of the literature of freedom can scarcely be questioned. Without help or guidance people submit to aversive conditions in the most surprising

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A Psychology of Freedom and Dignity: The Last Train to Survival
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • 1 - The Psychology Train 1
  • SUMMARY 24
  • 2 - Bases for Belief 25
  • SUMMARY 51
  • 3 - An Optimistic Agent 53
  • SUMMARY 67
  • 4 - Skinner's Gremlins 69
  • SUMMARY 99
  • 5 - Belief in Human Dignity 101
  • SUMMARY 121
  • 6 - Motivation to Work 123
  • SUMMARY 142
  • 7 Design for a Culture 170
  • References 173
  • Author Index 183
  • Subject Index 187
  • About the Author 191
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