Behaviourism and Psychology

In Thomas Baldwin (ed.), Cambridge History of Philosophy, 1870–1945. Cambridge University Press. pp. 640-48 (2003)
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Behaviorism was a peculiarly American phenomenon. As a school of psychology it was founded by John B. Watson (1878-1958) and grew into the neobehaviorisms of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Philosophers were involved from the start, prefiguring the movement and endeavoring to define or redefine its tenets. Behaviorism expressed the naturalistic bent in American thought, which came in response to the prevailing philosophical idealism and was inspired by developments in natural science itself. There were several versions of naturalism in American philosophy, and also several behaviorisms. Most behaviorists paid homage to Darwinian functionalism; all forswore introspection and made learned changes in behavior the primary subject matter and explanatory domain of psychology. They differed in their descriptions of behavior, modes of explanation, and attitudes toward mentalistic concepts. Watson was a strict materialist who wanted to eliminate all mentalistic talk from psychology. Edward Chace Tolman (1886-1959) regarded mind as a biological function of the organism. He permitted mentalistic terms such as 'purpose' in behavioral description, and posited intervening processes that included 'representations' of the environment, while requiring such processes be studied only as expressed in behavior. Clark L. Hull (1884-1952) developed a hypothetical-deductive version of behaviorism, akin to Tolman's functionalism in positing intervening variables but without his cognitivist constructs. B. F. Skinner (1904-90) rejected intervening variables and developed his own account of the behavior of the whole organism, based on the laws of operant conditioning. The naturalism in American philosophy of the early twentieth century showed respect for the natural sciences, especially biology and psychology. John Dewey (1896, 1911), George Santayana (1905, 1920), and F. J. E. Woodbridge (1909, 1913) expressed this attitude. It animated the neorealism of E. B. Holt and Ralph Barton Perry, who gave special attention to psychology, and the evolutionary naturalism and critical realism of Roy Wood Sellars. This naturalism differed from Watson's in regarding mind as part of nature from a Darwinian and functionalist perspective, and treating behavior as the product of the mental functioning. It fed Tolman's version of behaviorism. It was not materialistic or physical-reductionist. Only later, with Quine and logical empiricism, was behaviorism seen as essentially physicalistic.

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