Behaviourism
Thomas (Janice L.)
Source: Thomas (Janice L.) - Mind and Person in the Philosophy of Religion
Paper - Abstract

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Contents

  1. Essential reading – 47
  2. Further reading – 47
  3. Works cited – 47
  4. Introduction – 47
  5. Behaviourism in psychology – 48
  6. Wittgenstein – 49
  7. Ryle – 49
  8. Why not behaviourism? – 50
  9. Conclusion – 51
  10. Learning outcomes – 52
  11. Sample examination question – 52
Full Text
  1. Essential Reading
  2. Further reading
  3. Works Cited
  4. Introduction
    • By now you may feel that you have looked at the major and further arguments in favour of substance dualism and the existence of immaterial substances and found them all flawed or deficient in one way or another. Also, like many philosophers of mind writing in the middle third of the 20th century, you may have been impressed by the apparent intractability of the main arguments against substance dualism discussed in the previous chapter.
    • Again and again, thinkers come to view as completely insuperable the difficulty of giving an account of how a material body could possibly interact with a mind conceived as immaterial substance. Since most of us are also convinced that mind and body do actually interact constantly, the tension between these two conclusions has often been enough to make someone reject substance dualism.
  5. Behaviourism in psychology
    • In the 1940s and 1950s, this sort of dissatisfaction with and scepticism about immaterial substance coincided with a behaviouristic trend in psychology and the dominance of positivism in philosophy.
    • Behaviourism in psychology is, roughly speaking, the view that psychology's proper business is explaining, predicting and controlling behaviour. Psychology must be scientific, which means the only proper data of psychology are people's actions and other publicly observable behaviours (including verbal behaviour). Whereas earlier psychologists had relied on introspection (especially their own) to supply the data which they hoped would lead to an understanding of thought, perception, emotion, motivation etc., behaviourist psychologists felt that the only path to understanding involved the collection of observations of subjects' behaviour viewed as responses to stimuli. Any speculation about the subject's (inaccessible, if not non-existent) inner states was considered valueless. Appealing to inner states of which no one could ever have certain knowledge was thought unscientific and explanatorily pointless.
    • Positivism in philosophy was a movement in which reports of what could be objectively, publicly observed were prized and subjective data were despised. Terms for items that could not be inspected or observed (like inner, mental states) were held to be meaningless or else the entities those terms were supposed to stand for were dismissed as, at best, useless posits or hypothetical entities and, more likely, simply non-existent.
    • Behaviourism in the philosophy of mind is the view that words for mental or ‘inner' states (states of mind) mean nothing but the behaviour which common sense usually regards as associated with those states. So a behaviourist view of pain is that pain just consists in crying out and wincing, saying ‘that hurt' and pulling away from the injurious object. There is no role for an inner state of ‘being in pain'. There is just the pain behaviour. And what goes for pain goes for all psychological states. ‘Seeing something blue' is nothing but saying ‘that's blue'. Having the belief that there is a bear in your path is nothing over and above taking appropriate evasive measures, saying ‘Yes' to the question ‘Is there a bear on the path?', warning your companions and so forth.
    • If you think about the extremely crude sketch of behaviourism in the last paragraph you are likely to spot one flaw immediately. If all there is to pain is saying ‘ouch' and pulling away, surely that means a stoic, who does not cry out or evade the hurtful thing when injured, is not rightly said to be in pain. On the other hand, an actor who portrays someone who is hurt is rightly said to be in pain. If pain behaviour is all there is to pain, the unhurt actor is providing all the pain behaviour needed for an attribution of pain.
    • Behaviourists responded to this objection by amending their theory (or claiming that it had always contained a qualification). ‘In pain' means, not just ‘actually crying out and evading the hurtful thing', it also means ‘being inclined or disposed to do these things'. The stoic conquers his inclination to cry out and pull away, but the pain is still there. The actor is not really in those dispositional states: he is only acting.
    • What behaviourists wanted to avoid was the apparently unscientific and ultimately fruitless hypothesising of entities like immaterial Cartesian egos1 or non-physical causal events or forces. Such things, both their friends and their detractors agreed, could not ever be observed. So how could reference to them help with understanding the behaviour of persons?
    • Wittgenstein maintained that if mental states like sensations were things, they could in any case never be the entities which gave meaning to words or phrases like ‘pain' or ‘sensation of blue'. Gilbert Ryle went further and said that regarding such things as ‘my pain' or ‘my sensation of blue' as immaterial things or objects (in another immaterial object, ‘my mind') was to make what he described as a ‘category mistake'. There are no such entities.
  6. Wittgenstein
    • Reading:
      "Priest (Stephen) - Theories of the Mind", 1991, pp. 56-64.
    • Wittgenstein was - as far as can be discovered from his writings - an agnostic about immaterial substances and entities in the mind. He thought that it did not matter for all practical purposes whether there were mysterious, private, internal immaterial entities called feelings (e.g. pains) and sensations or not. No one could ever see or otherwise experience anyone else's immaterial entities. So these things, if they existed, could not be the things which were labelled by words like ‘pain' and ‘sensation of blue' and in turn furnished the meanings of those words and phrases in the language we all share and use to communicate with each other.
    • Wittgenstein used the analogy of a beetle in a box (Philosophical Investigations Sec. 293). Suppose you have what you call a beetle and you keep it in a match box. Your friends all have match boxes too and say that they have beetles. Perhaps you all agree never to show each other the contents of your boxes. Then ‘beetle' for your community of friends just means ‘whatever is in the box', and it does not really matter whether they are alike or different or even present at all.
    • So it is with pains and sensations of colours on Wittgenstein's view. ‘Pain' or ‘sensation of blue' is not a label for a certain sort of inner entity: each is a bit of language which has been taught in the public world of sunlit ocean vistas and burnt fingers. Children are taught that ‘pain' is ‘whatever you are feeling now' when a finger gets burnt; that ‘the sensation of colour you have when you look at that' is a ‘sensation of blue'.
    • My feeling when burned could differ in felt quality from yours, my sensation of blue could be, in fact, just what you sense when looking at ripe tomatoes. The meanings of ‘pain' and ‘sensation of blue' are not constituted by our several, individual, private sensations. You cannot ever see my beetle, feel my pain or have my sensation - or I, yours.
    • The vocabulary of psychological states is a vocabulary of public practices like identifying the colours of things in the world or applying ointment to burns. It is not a vocabulary of labels for private entities.
  7. Ryle
    • Reading
      "Priest (Stephen) - Theories of the Mind", 1991, pp. 43-56.
    • In his highly influential book, "Ryle (Gilbert) - The Concept of Mind", Ryle went even further than Wittgenstein. Ryle was not just agnostic about the existence of immaterial substances and states. He maintained that such things were creatures of our imagination fed by our ordinary linguistic habits and assumptions.
    • Words like ‘bat' and ‘ball' are nouns and they refer to discrete, countable, physical objects. Words like ‘mind', ‘pain' and ‘sensation' are also nouns but we are mistaken if we take them, in the same way, to designate discrete, countable — perhaps ghostly immaterial — private entities. For Ryle, Descartes' account of man is a misleading picture of ‘a ghost in a machine'. Actually, humans are intelligent, thoughtful, feeling and sensing subjects (i.e. they have/are minds) not in virtue of possessing a superadded immaterial substance but in virtue of what they (can) do and say. To possess a mind (or have a sensation) is not to have got hold of some kind of strange entity, metaphysically utterly different from the physical body each of us has (or any of its organs or parts). Rather, to possess a mind is to be capable of what we would call intelligent action, sympathetic behaviour, self-control, whimsy, industry, perception and so forth. In the category of subjects there are only animals of certain sorts with certain capacities. The ones with a capacity for intelligent behaviour (evidenced by their actual intelligent behaviour) are the ones with minds. But ‘human animal2 body' and ‘mind' are not two separate entities on an equal footing and in the same category - of subjects: to understand the words ‘mind' and ‘intelligent' is to understand this.
    • Priest gives an excellent, sympathetic account of Ryle's anti-Cartesian theory of mind, including a full explanation of the meaning of his phrase ‘category mistake' (45-46). It would be worth following up Priest's references to Ryle if you think you might like to answer an examination question in this area.
    • Priest also gives a very good account of Wittgenstein's argument against the possibility of a private language, including its philosophical significance. Since, as Smith and Jones say, this argument would take several chapters to deal with adequately, I have simply given the very brief uncontroversial account of Wittgensteinian views which appears above: you can find further, helpful accounts (additional to Priest's) in Pears Chapter 8 and Brown Chapter 4.
    • If you want to pursue the private language argument on your own, it is recommended only if you are keenly attracted by the more technical and difficult corners of philosophy of mind and feel you have sufficient understanding of the rest of this subject to afford the time for further reading in an area which is unlikely to figure in detail in any examination questions.
  8. Why not behaviourism?
    • Surprisingly, many writers who share the behaviourists' scepticism about substance dualism seem equally dismissive of behaviourism too. Why? There are three main reasons, all having to do with behaviourism's repudiation of the inner:
      … an intuitive conviction that we do have inner states
      … the possibility that our psychological states could differ although our behaviour and dispositions do not
      … the impossibility of defining mental states in exclusively physical terms.
  9. Intuitive conviction that we do have inner states
    • Despite the efforts of Ryle and others to cast doubt on the possibility of introspection and the evidence it might give us, people continue to feel perfectly sure that they know from introspection that there are actual, occurrent mental states which they experience and which do not simply boil down to impulses towards characteristic behaviour and dispositional facts about how they would behave in these or those circumstances.
    • Surely, sometimes, our mental states cannot be equivalent with our behaviour since they cause our behaviour, and it seems counterintuitive to say a thing causes itself. Often, also, when you are aware of being in a particular mental state, you are also aware that it is what causes your behaviour. For example, your desire for a drink is felt first and it causes you to go and get something to quench your thirst.
  10. Our psychological states could differ although our behaviour and dispositions do not
    • Second, as Wittgenstein appears to a have maintained, it seems perfectly possible that two people whose behaviour and dispositions to behave are identical should be psychologically different in certain respects. Looking at the same sunlit ocean vista, for example, you and I both say, ‘I am having a sensation of blue'. What we both say is true, but your sensation could be qualitatively exactly like the sensation I experience when I see ripe tomatoes. If our behaviour (including verbal behaviour) and our behavioural dispositions are identical but our psychologies differ (even only slightly), mental states cannot simply reduce to (be equivalent to) behaviour and dispositional states. (This is sometimes called the ‘inverted spectrum objection', which will be examined in detail in Chapter 7, where it is even more relevant.)
  11. The impossibility of defining mental states in exclusively physical terms
    • Finally, and perhaps most damningly of all, the relationship between mental states and behaviour is seldom as simple and straightforward as the behaviourist could wish. Pain may be fairly naturally expressed as (and viewed as equivalent to) moaning and pulling away from the hurtful thing. But a more complex mental state like a belief — whatever belief you choose as an example — will translate into very different actions and dispositions to act depending on the overall state of mind of the believer.
    • Say you form the belief that there is a bear in your path. You may run away (or be disposed to) or you may stand stock still and try to keep from running. Both behaviours — running and keeping still — express the same belief, depending on what else you believe about the best way to deal with the sudden appearance of a bear. Desire to prove yourself might make you suppress your concern for your personal safety. A recent disappointment might make you reckless. Hopes of giving the children time to escape might make you stay and face the bear. The point is that the dispositions supposedly definitive of your belief that there is a bear are partly defined in turn by your other mental states. References to the mental cannot be eliminated from the account of the behaviour appropriate to the belief that we began by trying to understand in non-mental terms.
  12. Conclusion
    • In psychology, behaviourism has not remained the dominant ideology. In Philosophy of Mind what has been called philosophical or logical behaviourism never commanded large numbers of followers because it fails to deal with the three objections just outlined, although it does mark an advance over dualism by dealing with the problem of mind/body interaction.
    • In fact, behaviourism views this problem of interaction not as a real problem which it can solve but as a pseudo-problem which can be exposed and wholly disarmed. As Churchland points out (24), to talk of ‘the mind of Marie Curie' (for example) is not to talk of a thing she possesses and has a relationship with but to talk of certain of her extraordinary capacities. There can thus be no problem about the nature of that relationship since no such interactive relationship exists.
    • If behaviourism is flawed, we need to replace it with a theory which avoids, if possible, the errors and weaknesses of dualism. In particular, it would be good if it were possible to avoid the interactionism problem as behaviourism does. But also our new theory should avoid the completely counterintuitive denial that mental states have an intrinsic qualitative nature that is revealed in introspection. We need a theory that accepts that the mind, however closely connected with what we do, is also grounded somehow in our own, individual, internal states.
    • Historically, the first candidate to offer itself as this rival to behaviourism was the identity theory, and this is the subject of the next chapter.
  13. Activities
    • As an exercise, take some ordinary belief which you hold about yourself (like the belief that you were born on such and such a date). Now ask yourself what behaviour or dispositions to act correspond to that belief. Try putting your thoughts into the behaviourists' standard form:
      … believing that I was born on such and such a date is nothing more than my disposition to ........
      Possible phrases to fill in the blank might include:
      … answer ‘Yes' if asked ‘Were you born on such and such a date?'
      … put that date in the appropriate space on a passport application.
    • When your list seems complete, ask yourself whether that is all your belief amounts to or consists in. In other circumstances might it not lead you to yet different behaviour? Could the same belief not be attested to by completely different behaviour? (For example, in circumstances where you wanted to appear younger than your age, your belief that you were born on that [correct] date might be expressed by naming a much more recent date as your birthdate.)
    • Now imagine you are part of a team designing a super-robot. The cunning wiring and programs you devise for the machine mean that it can do most domestic chores. It has sensors to tell it, among many other things, when the weather is suitable for dry laundry and also when the dirty laundry hamper is full. So one way to describe this robot is that it is in a state (when switched on) such that it will (on a good drying day) check for dirty laundry, wash it and hang it out to dry. We could describe the robot as being behaviourally disposed to do the laundry in appropriate circumstances.
    • If you were responsible for writing up a report on the robot-building project after it was completed, would you feel comfortable describing the robot as having (or having been given) various mental states (i.e. believing it is a good drying day, believing the hamper is full, wanting to get the clothes clean and then wanting to get them dry)? Are mental states more than behavioural dispositions? Would you be more or less inclined to describe the robot's dispositional states as genuine, full-blooded mental states because they are definitely the result of (or perhaps equivalent to) known internal states either hardwired or programmed into the robot?
  14. Learning outcomes: Having read about Wittgenstein and Ryle and behaviourism, you should be able to
    • Outline what logical behaviourism is.
    • Detail several arguments supporting it.
    • Explain the standard criticisms of behaviourism.
  15. Sample examination question
    • What is right and what is wrong with behaviourism as an account of mind and mental states?

Comment:

Part 1 (The Metaphysics of Mind and Body); Section 2 (Varieties of anti-dualism and materialism)3; Chapter 5. Hard Copy filed in "Various - Papers on Religion Boxes (Heythrop)".

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
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