The Behaviorisms of Skinner and Quine: Genesis, Development, and Mutual Influence

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B. F. Skinner and W. V. Quine, arguably the two most influential proponents of behaviorism in mid-twentieth century psychology and philosophy, are often considered to be brothers in arms. They were close friends, they had remarkably parallel careers, and they both identified as behaviorists. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the relation between the two. The question as to how the two influenced each other often comes up, but is standardly dealt with by rehearsing the few remarks on the issue in Skinner’s and Quine’s autobiographies. How did Skinner and Quine develop their varieties of behaviorism? In what ways did they affect each other? And how similar are their behaviorisms to begin with? In this paper, I shed new light on the relation between Skinner and Quine by infusing the debate with a wide range of new and previously unexamined evidence. Examining a large set of documents—correspondence, notes, datebooks, drafts, lectures, and teaching material—from the personal and academic archives of Skinner and Quine, I reconstruct (1) how they acquired their ‘behaviorisms’ in their student years, (2) how they developed their views in the first three decades of their careers, and (3) the ways in which they were influenced by the psychologists and philosophers of their time.
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