The psychologist-philosopher B.F. Skinner and the physicist-philosopher P.W. Bridgman, both dedicated empiricists, initially entered into an intellectual relationship that seemed destined to be warm and fruitful. Yet, it ended up unfulfilled. Since I am now perhaps one of the few who knew both men as colleagues for many years, I might be able to throw some unique light on their interaction, and on what I consider to be one of the missed opportunities in the history of ideas.
This book is about the eminent behavioral scientist B. F. Skinner, the American culture in which he lived and worked, and the behaviorist movement that played a leading role in American psychological and social thought during the twentieth century. From a base of research on laboratory animals in the 1930s, Skinner built a committed and influential following as well as a utopian movement for social reform. His radical ideas attracted much public attention and generated heated controversy. By the (...) mid-1970s, he had become the most widely recognized scientist in America, surpassing even Margaret Mead and Linus Pauling. Yet Skinner himself was an unassuming family man from a modest middle-class background, a machine-shop tinkerer whose tastes ran to English and French literature. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and historical styles appropriate to the evidence, the authors assembled in this volume examine Skinner's remarkable rise to prominence in the wider context of America's intellectual, cultural, and social history. (shrink)
This book continues to be one of the more widely read books in psychology. Skinner's magnum opus is one of a handful of books that changed the face of modern psychology. The Behavior of Organisms provided the first example of the use of the operant method to measure behavioral effects of drugs and led to the development of teaching machines, programmed instruction and community treatment programs for juvenile delinquents. The functional unit Skinner defined in his doctoral dissertation and (...) explicated in The Behavior of Organisms remains the foundation of modern behavior analysis. The operant was defined as a class of behavior bearing characteristic probability relations with environmental events previously occurring after instances of members of that class. The Behavior of Organisms is a remarkably mature book written by the author when he was in his early 30s. The regularities and principles explicated in The Behavior of Organisms stand largely intact after half a century, and the analytic strategy has been highly effective. (shrink)
Discusses similarities and differences between James and Skinner and criticizes Skinner for failing to provide an adequate description of complex behaviors. Similarities include opposition to a dualistic approach in which mind and body are seen as qualitatively different, and to the notion that mental phenomena are causal entities. In addition, there is agreement that mental events are actions and not copies of external reality. Skinner is criticized for providing an over-simplified account of complex phenomena and translating such (...) a description to operant terms. James is seen as being more painstaking in his description and more cautious in applying general principles. In particular, James's account of the concept of interest is seen as being more cognizant of the subtleties and complexities involved, whereas Skinner's translation of the concept to operant reinforcement is faulted as too narrow. (shrink)
A century ago, a voice of British liberalism described the "Chinaman" as "an inferior race of malleable orientals."1 During the same years, anthropology became professionalized as a discipline, "intimately associated with the rise of raciology."2 Presented with the claims of nineteenth century racist anthropology, a rational person will ask two sorts of questions: What is the scientific status of the claims? What social or ideological needs do they serve? The questions are logically independent, but the second type of question naturally (...) comes to the fore as scientific pretensions are undermined. The question of the scientific status of nineteenth century racist anthropology is no longer seriously at issue, and its social function is not difficult to perceive. If the "Chinaman" is malleable by nature, then what objection can there be to controls exercised by a superior race? (shrink)
The Pseudo-Science of B.F. Skinner was Professor Tibor Machan's first book. Now, nearly forty years after its initial publication and after three dozen additional books published by Machan, it is available again through University Press of America. This study is still alive with its initial inquiry into the work of B.F. Skinner, and it is just as influential upon young students today as it was forty years ago. Was Skinner a bona fide scientist or an amateur metaphysician? (...) Was Skinner correct to hold that only what can be observed matters when it comes to understanding ourselves? Was he correct that free will is fictional and morality is pre-scientific? Professor Machan's fascinating inquiry into Skinner's radical studies is a salute and a challenge to the corpus of his work. (shrink)
Paul E. Meehl and B. F. Skinner, two of the foremost psychological theorists of the 20th century, overlapped at the University of Minnesota in the early 1940s when Skinner was a faculty member and Meehl was a graduate student. Though Skinner was well aware of, and influenced by, early 20th century physiology, he eschewed reductionism, developing his analysis of behavior without reference to concepts at another level of analysis. Meehl's theoretical approach transcended levels of analysis, drawing upon (...) data and concepts from genetics, neuroscience, and psychology. In this paper the functional components of Meehl's (1990) "Toward an Integrated Theory of Schizotaxia, Schizotypy, and Schizophrenia" paper are re-formulated substituting autism as the condition of interest. Skinner's and Meehl's theoretical frameworks are integrated with recent findings in genetics and neuroscience in an attempt to better understand the reasons why Intensive Early Behavior Therapy (IEBT) provided to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders produces enduring improvements in social, language, and cognitive functioning. (shrink)
In 2009 Alexandra Rutherford presented readers with a much-needed post-revisionist interpretation of the the behaviorist movement by elucidating the ways in which social context affected popular acceptance of, and resistance to, the central tenants of B.F. Skinner’s psychological theories. By outlining the ways in which American culture both facilitated and hindered behaviorism success, Rutherford's "Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinnner's technology of behavior from laboratory to life, 1950s-1970s" provides an alternative to strictly intellectual histories of behaviorism by examining how technological (...) approaches to behaviour were employed within a multitude of public forums, and emphasizing the importance of changing American attitudes towards technology, consumer culture and ethics. (shrink)