entry (2002) for
the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/
Behaviorism was a movement in psychology and philosophy that
the outward behavioral aspects of thought and dismissed the inward
and sometimes the inner procedural aspects as well; a movement harking
back to the methodological proposals of John B. Watson, who coined the
name. Watson's 1912 manifesto proposed abandoning
attempts to make consciousness a subject of experimental
to focus instead on behavioral manifestations of
B. F. Skinner later hardened behaviorist strictures to exclude inner
processes along with inward experiences as items of legitimate
concern. Consequently, the successful "cognitive revolution" of
nineteen sixties styled itself a revolt against behaviorism even though
the computational processes cognitivism hypothesized would be
and objective -- not the sort of private subjective processes
banned. Consequently (and ironically), would-be-scientific
of consciousness now indict cognitivism for its "behavioristic"
neglect of inward experience. The enduring philosophical interest
of behaviorism concerns this methodological challenge to the
fides of consciousness (on behalf of empiricism) and, connectedly
accord with materialism), its challenge to the supposed metaphysical
inwardness, or subjectivity, of thought. Although behaviorism as
an avowed movement may have few remaining advocates, various practices
and trends in psychology and philosophy may still usefully be styled
As long as experimental rigor in psychology is held to require
of variables, behaviorism's methodological mark remains. Recent
to revive doctrines of "ontological subjectivity" (Searle 1992) in
and bring "consciousness research" under the aegis of Cognitive Science
(see Horgan 1994) point up the continuing relevance of behaviorism's
and methodological challenges.
Table of Contents
on the links below will take you to that part of this article)
Behaviorism, notoriously, came in various sorts and has been, also
subject to variant sortings: "the variety of positions that constitute
behaviorism" might even be said to share no common-distinctive
but only "a loose family resemblance" (Zuriff 1985: 1)
Views commonly styled "behavioristic" share various of the following
Among these features, not even Zuriff's "fundamental premise" is
shared by all (and only) behaviorists. Notably, Gilbert Ryle,
Wittgenstein, and followers in the "ordinary language" tradition of
philosophy, while, for the most part, regarding behavioral
hopes as vain, hold views that are, in other respects, strongly
Not surprisingly, these thinkers often downplay the "behaviorist"
label themselves to distinguish themselves from their scientific behaviorist
cousins. Nevertheless, in philosophical discussions, they are
counted "behaviorists": both emphasize the external behavioral aspects,
deemphasize inward experiential and inner procedural aspects, and offer
broadly behavioral-dispositional construals of thought.
allegiance to the "fundamental premise ... that psychology
is a natural science" and, as such, is "to be empirically based and ...
objective" (Zuriff 1985: 1);
denial of the utility of introspection as a source of scientific data;
theoretic-explanatory dismissal of inward experiences or states
consciousness introspection supposedly reveals;
specifically antidualistic opposition to the "Cartesian theater"
of the mind as essentially a realm of such inward experiences;
more broadly antiessentialist opposition to physicalist or cogntivist
of thought as necessarily neurophysiological or computational;
theoretic-explanatory minimization of inner physiological or
processes intervening between environmental stimulus and behavioral
mistrust of the would-be scientific character of the concepts of "folk
psychology" generally, and of the would-be causal character of its
"belief-desire" pattern of explanation in particular;
positive characterization of the mental in terms of intelligent
behavioral dispositions or stimulus-response patterns.
Precursors: Wilhelm Wundt, Ivan Pavlov,
and Edward Thorndike
Wundt is often called "the father of experimental psychology." He
conceived the subject matter of psychology to be "experience in its
to the subject" (Wundt 1897: 3). The science of experience he
was supposed to be chemistry like: introspected experiential data were
to be analyzed; the basic constituents of conscious experience thus
and the patterns and laws by which these basic constituents combine to
constitute more complex conscious experiences (e.g., emotions)
Data were to be acquired and analyzed by trained introspective
While the analysis of experience was supposed to be a self-contained
Wundt -- originally trained as a physiologist -- fully expected that
structures and processes introspective analysis uncovered in experience
would parallel structures and processes physiological investigation
in the central nervous system. Introspectionism, as the approach
was called, soon spread, and laboratories sprang up in the United
and elsewhere, aiming "to investigate the facts of consciousness, its
and relations," so as to "ultimately discover the laws which govern
relations and combinations" (Wundt 1912: 1). The approach failed
primarily due to the unreliability of introspective Observation.
Introspective "experimental" results were not reliably reproducible by
outside laboratories: Observers from different laboratories failed to
for instance, in their Observation (or failure to Observe) imageless
(to cite one notorious controversy).
Pavlov's successful experimental discovery the laws of classical
conditioning (as they came to be called), by way of contrast,
positive inspiration for Watson's Behaviorist manifesto. Pavlov's
model of explanation is also paradigmatic to much later behavioristic
In his famous experiments Pavlov paired presentations to dogs of an
stimulus (food) with an initially neutral stimulus (a ringing
After a number of such joint presentations, the unconditional
food (salivation) becomes conditioned to the bell:
occurs upon the ringing of the bell alone, in the absence of
In accord with Pavlovian theory, then, given an animal's
history behavioral responses (e.g., salivation) can be predicted
occur or not, and be controlled (made to occur or not), on the basis of
laws of conditioning, answering to the stimulus-response pattern:
S -> R
Everything adverted to here is publicly observable, even measurable;
Pavlov to experimentally investigate and formulate laws concerning
sequencing and delay effects, stimulus intensity effects, and stimulus
generalization (opening doors to experimental investigation of animal
Edward Thorndike, in a similar methodological vein, proposed "that
may be, at least in part, as independent of introspection as physics"
1911: 5) and pursued experimental investigations of animal
In experimental investigations of puzzle-solving by cats and other
he established that speed of solution increased gradually as a result
previous puzzle exposure. Such results, he maintained, support
hypothesis that learning is a result of habits formed through trial and
error, and Thorndike formulated "laws of behavior," describing habit
processes, based on these results. Most notable among Thorndike's
laws (presaging Skinnerian operant conditioning) is his Law
Of several responses made to the same situation, those
are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction to the animal will,
other things being equal, be more firmly connected with the situation,
so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur; those which
are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort to the animal will,
things being equal, have their connections with that situation
so that, when it recurs, they will be less likely to occur. The greater
the satisfaction or discomfort, the greater the strengthening or
weakening of the bond . (Thorndike 1911)
In short, rewarded responses tend to be reinforced and punished
responses eliminated. His methodological innovations
his "puzzle-box") facilitated objective quantitative data collection
provided a paradigm for Behaviorist research methods to follow
the "Skinner box").
John B. Watson: Early Behaviorism
Watson coined the term "Behaviorism" as a name for his proposal to
the study of human psychology in order to put it on a firm experimental
footing. In opposition to received philosophical opinion, to the
dominant Introspectionist approach in psychology, and (many said) to
sense, Watson (1912) advocated a radically different approach.
received "wisdom" took conscious experience to be the very
of minds and hence the (only) appropriate object of psychological
Watson advocated an approach that led, scientifically, "to the ignoring
of consciousness" and the illegitimacy of "making consciousness a
object of observation." He proposed, instead, that psychology
"take as a starting point, first the observable fact that organisms,
and animal alike, do adjust themselves to their environment" and
that certain stimuli lead the organisms to make responses."
Introspectionism had, in Watson's estimation, miserably failed
its attempt to make experimental science out of subjective experience,
the laboratories of animal psychologists, such as Pavlov and Thorndike,
were already achieving reliably reproducible results and discovering
explanatory principles. Consequently, Watson -- trained as an
man" himself -- proposed, "making behavior, not consciousness, the
point of our attack" as the key to putting the study of human
on a similar scientific footing. Key it proved to be.
revolution was a smashing success. Introspectionism languished,
flourished, and considerable areas of our understanding of human
(particularly with regard to learning) came within the purview
experimental investigation along broadly behavioristic lines.
also, Watson foreshadows Skinner's ban on appeals to inner (central
processes, seeming to share the Skinnerian sentiment "that because so
is known about the central nervous system, it serves as the last refuge
of the soul in psychology" (Zuriff 1985: 80). Watson is,
loath to hypothesize central processes, going so far as to speculate
thought occurs in the vocal tract, and is -- quite literally
-- subaudible talking to oneself (Watson 1920).
Intermediaries: Edward Tolman and
Tolman and Hull were the two most noteworthy figures of the movement's
middle years. Although both accepted the S-R framework as basic,
Tolman and Hull were far more willing than Watson to hypothesize
mechanisms or "intervening variables" mediating the S-R
In this regard their work may be considered precursory to cognitivism,
and each touches on important philosophical issues besides.
behaviorism attempts to explain goal-directed or purposive
focusing on large, intact, meaningful behavior patterns or "molar"
(e.g., kicking a ball) as opposed to simple muscle movements or
behavior (e.g., various flexings of leg muscles); regarding the
level as too far removed from our perceptual capacities and explanatory
purposes to provide suitable units for meaningful behavioral analysis.
For Tolman, stimuli play a cognitive role as signals to the organism,
to the formation of "cognitive maps" and to "latent learning" in the
of reinforcement. Overall,
The stimuli which are allowed in are not connected by just
simple one-to-one switches to the outgoing responses. Rather the
incoming impulses are usually worked over and elaborated in the central
control room into a tentative cognitive-like map of the
And it is this tentative map, indicating routes and paths and
relationships, which finally determines what responses, if any, the
will finally make. (Tolman 1948: 192)
Clark Hull undertook the ambitious program of formulating an exhaustive
theory of such mechanisms intervening between stimuli and responses:
theory was to take the form of a hypothetical-deductive system of basic
laws or "postulates" enabling the prediction of behavioral responses
"output variables") on the basis of external stimuli ("input
plus internal states of the organism ("intervening variables").
such organismic "intervening" variables (O) in the
laws results in the following revised explanatory schema:
S & O -> R
The intervening O-variables Hull hypothesized included drive
and habit strength. Attributes of, and relations among,
variables are what the postulates describe: further attributes and
were derived as theorems and corollaries from the basic
Hull's student, Edward Spence, attempted to carry on with the program,
without lasting success. Expected gains in predictive-explanatory
scope and precision were not achieved and, with hindsight, it is easy
see that such an elaborate theoretical superstructure, built on such
observational-experimental foundations, was bound to fall. Hull's
specific proposals are presently more historical curiosities than live
hypotheses. Nevertheless, currently prevalent cognitivist
share Hull's general commitment to internal mechanisms.
B. F. Skinner: Radical Behaviorism
Skinner's self-described "radical behaviorist" approach is radical in
insistence on extending behaviorist strictures against inward
processes to include inner physiological ones as well.
scientific nub of the approach is a concept of operant conditioning
to Thorndike's "Law of Effect." Operants (e.g., bar-presses or
are units of behavior an organism (e.g., a rat or pigeon) occasionally
emits "spontaneously" prior to conditioning. In operant
operants followed by reinforcement (e.g., food or water)
in frequency and come under control of discriminative stimuli (e.g.,
lights or tones) preceding the response. By increasingly
reinforcement of increasingly close approximations, complex behavioral
sequences are shaped. On Skinner's view, high-level human
behavior, such as speech, is the end result of such shaping.
absence of reinforcement leads to extinction of the
Many original and important Skinnerian findings -- e.g., that
reinforced responses extinguish more rapidly than intermittently
responses -- concern the effects of differing schedules of
Skinner notes the similarity of operant behavioral conditioning to
evolutionary selection: in each case apparently forward-looking
or goal-directed developments are explained (away) by a preceding
course of environmental "selection" among randomly varying evolutionary
traits or, in the psychological case, behavioral tricks. The
which Tolman's molar behavioral description assumes, radical
thus claims to explain. Likewise, Skinner questions the
utility of would-be characterizations of inner processes (such as
such processes, being behavior themselves (though inner), are
in need of explanation themselves, Skinner holds, than they are fit to
explain outward behavior. By "dismissing mental states and
Skinner maintains, radical behaviorism "directs attention to the ...
of the individual and to the current environment where the real causes
of behavior are to be found" (Skinner 1987: 75). On this
"if the proper attention is paid to the variables controlling behavior
and an appropriate behavioral unit is chosen, orderliness appears
in the behavior and the postulated theoretical processes become
(Zuriff: 88). Thus understood, Skinner's complaint about inner
"is not that they do not exist, but that they are not relevant"
1953) to the prediction, control, and experimental analysis of
Skinner stressed prediction and control as his
desiderata, and on this score he boasts that "experimental analysis of
behaviour" on radical behaviorist lines "has led to an effective
applicable to education, psychotherapy, and the design of cultural
in general" (Skinner 1987: 75). Even the most strident critics of
radical behaviorism, I believe, must accord it some recognition in
connections. Behavior therapy (based on operant principles) has
proven effective in treating phobias and addictions; operant shaping
widely and effectively used in animal training; and behaviorist
methods have proven effective -- though they may have become less
-- in the field of education. Skinnerian Behaviorism can further
boast of significantly advancing our understanding of stimulus
and other important learning-and-perception related phenomena and
Nevertheless, what was delivered was less than advertised. In
Skinner's attempt to extend the approach to the explanation of
human behavior failed, making Noam Chomsky's dismissive (1959) review
Skinner's book, Verbal Behavior, something of a
On Chomsky's diagnosis, not only had Skinner's attempt at
verbal behavior failed, it had to fail given the insufficiency
the explanatory devices Skinner allowed: linguistic competence (in
and language acquisition (in particular), Chomsky argued, can only be
as expressions of innate mechanisms -- presumably, computational
For those in the "behavioral sciences" already chaffing under the
methodological constraints Skinnerian orthodoxy imposed, the transition
to "cognitive science" was swift and welcome. By 1985 Zuriff
write, "the received wisdom of today is that behaviorism has been
its methods have failed, and it has little to offer modern psychology"
(Zuriff 1985: 278). Subsequent developments, however, suggest
matters are not that simple.
Externalism and Connectionism
Several recent developments inside and beside the mainstream of
science" -- though their proponents have not been keen to style
"behaviorists" -- appear to be rather behavioristic. Semantic
externalism is the view that "meanings ain't in the head"
1975: 227) but depend, rather, on environmental factors; especially on
sensory and behavioral intercourse with the referents of the
thoughts or expressions. If emphasis on the outward or behavioral
aspects of thought or intelligence -- and attendant de-emphasis of
experiential or inner procedural aspects -- is the hallmark of
semantic externalism is, on its face, behavioristic (though this is
remarked). Emphasis (as by Burge 1979) on social (besides the
or sensory-behavioral) determinants of reference -- on what Putnam
"the linguistic division of labor" -- lends this view a distinct
flavor besides. Such externalist "causal theories" of reference,
although far from unquestioned orthodoxy, are currently among the
cognitive scientific contenders. Less orthodox, but even more
is the procedural externalism
advocated by Andy Clark (2001), inspired
by work in "Situated Cognition, Distributed and Decentralized
Real-World Robotics, and Artificial Life" (Clark 2001: abstract);
identifying thought with "complex and iterated processes which
loop between brain, body, and technological environment"; according to
which the "intelligent process just is the spatially and
extended one which zig-zags between brain, body, and world" (Clark
132). Perhaps most importantly, the influential
that the brain does parallel processing of distributed representations,
rather than serial processing of localized (language-like)
also waxes behavioristic. In parallel systems, typically, initial
programming (comparable to innate mechanisms) is minimal and the
systems are "trained-up" to perform complex tasks over a series
trails, by a process somewhat like operant shaping.
Precursors, Preceptors, &
Travelers: William James, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell
In opposition to the "Structuralist" philosophical
of introspectionism, behaviorism grew out of a competing
philosophy of psychology that counted Dewey and William James among its
leading advocates. Against structuralist reification of the content
experience, Dewey urged that sensations be given a functional
and proposed to treat them as functionally defined occupants of roles
the "reflex arc" which -- since it "represents both the unit of
nerve structure and the type of nerve function" --
the "unifying principle and controlling working hypothesis
in psychology" (Dewey 1896: 357); though the arc, Dewey insisted, is
if not viewed in broader organic-adaptive context. On another
-- against structuralist reification of the subject of
-- William James famously maintained,
that 'consciousness,' when once it has evaporated to this
of pure diaphaneity, is on the point of disappearing altogether. It is
the name of a nonentity, and has no right to a place among first
Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint
left behind by the disappearing 'soul' upon the air of philosophy.
James hastened to add, that he meant "only to
that the word [`consciousness'] stands for an entity, but to insist
emphatically that it does stand for a function" (James
The James-Lange theory of emotions -- which holds that "the bodily
follow directly the PERCEPTION of
exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS
the emotion (James 1884: 189-190) -- prefigures later behavioristic
deflationary analyses of other categories of presumed mentation.
Bertrand Russell was among the first philosophers to recognize the
significance of the behaviorist revolution Watson proposed.
Though never a card-carrying behaviorist himself -- insisting that the
inwardness or "privacy" of "sense-data" "does not by itself make [them]
unamenable to scientific treatment" (Russell 1921: 119) -- Russell,
asserted that behaviorism "contains much more truth than people
and regarded it "as desirable to develop the behaviourist method to the
fullest possible extent" (Russell 1927: 73), proposing a united front
behaviorism and science-friendly analytic philosophy of
Such fronts soon emerged on both the "formal language" and "ordinary
sides of ongoing analytic philosophical debate.
Carnap & Carl Hempel
What is sometimes called the "formalist" or "ideal language" line of
philosophy seeks the logical and empirical regimentation of (would-be)
scientific language for the sake of its scientific
"Logical behaviorism" refers, most properly, to Carnap and Hempel's
regimentation of psychological discourse on behavioristic lines,
for analyses of mental terms along lines consonant with the Logical
doctrine of verificationism (resembling the "operationism" of
Bridgman 1927) they espoused. According to verificationism, a theoretic
attribution -- say of temperature -- as in "it's 23.4º
"affirms nothing other than" that certain "physical test sentences
sentences describing the would-be "coincidence between the level of the
mercury and the mark of the scale numbered 23.4" on a mercury
and "other coincidences," for other measuring instruments (Hempel 1949:
16-17). Similarly, it was proposed, that for scientific
purposes, "the meaning of a psychological statement consists solely in
the function of abbreviating the description of certain modes of
response characteristic of the bodies of men and animals" (Hempel 1949:
19), the modes of physical response by which we test the truth of our
attributions. "Paul has a toothache" for instance would
"Paul weeps and makes gestures of such and such kinds"; "At the
`What is the matter?,' Paul utters the words `I have a toothache'"; and
so on (Hempel 1949: 17). As Carnap and Hempel came to give up
they gave up logical behaviorism, and came to hold, instead, that "the
introduction and application of psychological terms and hypotheses is
and methodologically analogous to the introduction and application of
terms and hypotheses of a physical theory." Theoretical terms on
this newly emerging (and now prevalent) view need only be loosely
tied to observational tests in concert with other terms of the
They needn't be fully characterized, each in terms of its own
as on the "narrow translationist" (Hempel 1977: 14) doctrine of logical
behaviorism. As verificationism went, so went logical
liberalized requirements for the empirical grounding of theoretical
encouraged the taking of "cognitive scientific" liberties (in practice)
and (in theory) the growth of cognitivist sympathies among analytic
of mind. Still, despite having been renounced by its champions as
unfounded and having found no new champions; and despite seeming, with
hindsight, clearly false; logical behaviorism continues to provoke
discussion, perhaps due to that very clarity. Appreciation of how
behaviorism went wrong (below)
widely regarded by cognitivists as the best propaedeutic to their case
for robust recourse to hypotheses about internal computational
Ordinary Language Behaviourists:
The "ordinary language" movement waxed most strongly in the work of
and Wittgenstein around the middle of the twentieth
Their investigations are "meant to throw light on the facts of
language" in its everyday employment (Wittgenstein 1953:
Where the formalist seeks the logical and empirical regimentation of
scientific language, including psychological terms, Ryle and
regard our everyday use of mental terminology as unimpeached by its
"defects" ... which are not defects ... because such talk is
in the scientific line of business. To misconstrue
of people "as knowing, believing, or guessing something, as hoping,
intending or shirking something, as designing this or being amused at
(Ryle 1949: 15) on the model of scientific hypotheses about inner
misconstrues the "logical grammar" (Wittgenstein) of such talk, or
a "category-mistake" (Ryle). Philosophical puzzlements about
of other minds and mind-body interaction arise from such misconstrual:
for instance, attempts to solve the mind-body problem, Ryle claims,
the legitimacy of the disjunction `Either there exist minds or there
bodies (but not both)'" which "would be like saying, `Either she bought
a left-hand and a right-hand glove or she bought a pair of gloves (but
not both)'" (Ryle 1949: 22-3). The most basic misconstrual
and Ryle's diagnoses concur) involves thinking -- when we talk of
"knowing, believing, or guessing," etc. -- "that these verbs are
to denote the occurrence of specific modifications" either mechanical
brains) or "paramechanical" (in streams of consciousness):
So we have to deny the yet uncomprehended process in the
unexplored medium. And now it looks as if we have denied the
processes. And naturally we don't want to deny them."
Not wanting to deny, e.g., "that anyone ever remembers anything"
1953: §306) Wittgenstein and Ryle offer broadly dispositional
about how mentalistic talk does work, in place of "the model of
'object and designation'" (Wittgenstein 1953: §293) they reject.
According to Wittgenstein on the object-designation model -- where
object is supposed to be private or introspected -- it "drops
of consideration as irrelevant" (Wittgenstein 1953: §293): the
thing about private experience" here is "not that each person possesses
his own exemplar" but "that nobody knows whether other people also have
this or something else" (§272). So, if "someone tells
me that he knows what pain is only from his own case" this would be as
everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a
No one can look in anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a
beetle is only by looking at his beetle. -- Here it would be
possible for everyone to have something different in his
One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. -- But
the word `beetle' had a use in these people's language? -- If so,
it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in
box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a
for the box might even be empty. -- No, one can `divide through' by the
thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. (§293)
Rather than referring to inner experiences, sensation words, according
to Wittgenstein, "are connected with the primitive, the natural,
of the sensation and used in their place" (§246):
of "pain" and other sensation terms are avowals not
"A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and
teach him exclamations and, later, sentences. They teach the
new pain-behaviour." Here, Wittgenstein explains, he is not
that the word `pain' really means crying": rather, "the verbal
of pain replaces crying and does not describe it" (§244).
join the "natural expressions" to supply the "outward criteria" which logically
(not just evidentially) constrain and enable the uses sensation and
"`inner process'" words have in our public language (§580).
Furthermore, Wittgenstein famously argues, we cannot even coherently
a private language "in which a person could write down or give
expression to his inner experiences" exclusively "for his private use"
because the "private ostensive definition" (§380) required to fix
the reference of the would-be sensation-denoting expression could not
a rule for its use. "To think one is obeying a rule is
to obey a rule" and in the case of usage consequent on the envisaged
baptism "thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as ...
For Ryle, when we employ the "verbs, nouns and adjectives, with
in ordinary life we describe the wits, characters, and higher-grade
of people with whom we have do" (Ryle 1949: 15) "we are not referring
occult episodes of which their overt acts and utterances are effects;
are referring to those overt acts and utterances themselves" (25) or
to a "disposition, or a complex of dispositions" (15) to such acts and
utterances. "Dispositional words like `know', `believe',
`clever', and `humorous''' signify multi-track dispositions:
tendencies or pronenesses to do, not things of one unique kind, but
of lots of different kinds" (118): "to explain an action as done from a
specified motive or inclination is not to describe the action as the
of a specified cause": being dispositions, motives "are not happenings
and are not therefore of the right type to be causes" (113).
"to explain an act as done from a certain motive is not analogous to
that the glass broke, because a stone hit it, but to the quite
type of statement that the glass broke, when the stone hit it, because
the glass was brittle" (87). The force of such explanation is not
"to correlate [the action explained] with some occult cause, but to
it under a propensity or behavior trend" (110). The explanation
not prescind from the act to its causal antecedents but redescribes the
act in broader context, telling "a more pregnant story," as when we
the bird's "flying south" as "migration"; yet, Ryle observes," the
of migrating is not a different process from that of flying south; so
is not the cause of its flying south" (142). Finally, the
between disposition and deed, as Ryle understands it, is a logical-criterial,
a contingent-causal one: brave deeds are not caused by bravery,
they constitute it (as the "soporific virtue," or
power, of opium doesn't cause it to induce sleep since tending
induce sleep is this power or "virtue").
Reasons , Causes, and the
For formalists, the informality and imprecision of ordinary language
invite criticism. Take Ryle's "migration" comparison:
it would seem, Ryle is saying that everyday psychological explanations
yield only vague interpretive understanding, having no scope for
development; or else, it would seem, the "more pregnant story" must be
formalizable in terms of predictive-explanatory laws (as of migration,
in Ryle's example) with logical-behaviorial-definition-like rigor (if
content). The point of logical behaviorist analysis is to
scientifically ground talk of "belief," "desire," "sensation," and the
rest, whose everyday use seems empirically precarious. With this
aim in mind, "explanatory" procession from low-level matter-of-fact
("flying south") to more interpretive description ("migration"), such
Ryle envisages, seems to move in the wrong direction ... unless, again,
the "more pregnant story" is not just redescriptive but
theoretic gains in the form of more general and precise
laws. A related debate raged fiercely through the nineteen
and early sixties between defenders of the (would-be) scientific status
of "motive" or "belief-desire" explanations (notably Hempel) and
of the Rylean thesis that "reasons aren't causes" (Elizabeth Anscombe
Stuart Hampshire, among them). Donald Davidson's (1963) defense
"the ancient -- and commonsense -- position that rationalization is a
of causal explanation" is widely recognized as a watershed in this
though it remains doubtful to what extent cognivists retain rights to
water shed, since Davidson counts reasons to be causal in virtue of
(low-level physical) properties. On the other hand, philosophers
in the ordinary language tradition (e.g., Hampshire 1950, Geach 1957)
daunting technical difficulties (below)
for the "narrow translationist" plans of logical behaviorism.
criticisms hastened the advent of cognitivism as an alternative
to behaviorism of any stripe among philosophers unwilling to
the informality, imprecision, and seeming scientific defeatism of the
Later Day Saints: Willard van
and Alan Turing
Quine, considered by many to be the greatest Anglo-American philosopher
of the last half of the twentieth century, was a self-avowed
and such tendencies are evident in several areas of his thought,
with his enthusiasm for a linguistic turn (a Bergmann 1964
it: see Rorty 1967) in the philosophy of mind. "A theory of
Quine writes, "can gain clarity and substance ... from a better
of the workings of language, whereas little understanding of the
of language is to be hoped for in mentalistic terms" (Quine 1975:
Quine's "naturalized" inquiries concerning knowledge and language
further, to incorporate empirical findings and methods from Skinnerian
psychology. In contrast to logical behaviorism (above), notably,
Quine "never ... aspired to the ascetic adherence to operational
and always acknowledged -- indeed insisted -- that science
for partial criteria and for partial explanations" of its theoretic
"in terms of other partially explained notions" (Quine 1990:
Still, he is not keen -- as his cognitivist contemporaries (e.g.,
and followers (e.g., Fodor) are -- about the prospects such looser
strictures offer for scientific deployment of mentalistic vernacular
like "belief," "desire," and "sensation". To standard behaviorist
concern about the empirical credentials of alleged private
and introspective reports, Quine adds the consideration that talk of
"desire", and other intentional mental states is so logically
as to be irreconcilable with materialism and scientifically
In the final analysis, however, the behaviorism Quine proposes is
His final metaphysical word is physicalism: "having construed
dispositions in turn as physiological states, I end up with the so
identity theory of mind: mental states are states of the body" (Quine
94); yet, his
antiessentialism here (as elsewhere) lends his physicalism
a behavioristic cast (see next section).
Alan Turing is transitional. Along with the digital age, his
of computation helped inspire the cognitivist revolution, making him,
some lights the first cognitivist. On the other hand, the methodological
of Turing's proposed Imitation Game test for artificial intelligence
"Turing test") has been widely remarked and "the Turing test
of intelligence may be considered a parade case of metaphysical
behaviorism for purposes of refutation (as by Block 1981) or
The Turing Test Conception: Behaviorism
The Imitation Game proposed by Turing (1950) was originally a game of
impersonation: the aim of the game for the (male) querant is to pass
(i.e., be judged by the questioner to be) female. The Turing test
replaces the male querant with a computer whose aim is to pass for
This simplified setup (Turing's actual proposal involves an additional
complication, a third participant or foil besides to the querant
and questioner) can be used to explain the metaphysical
of the dispute as a dispute about essence. In the original
Imitation Game, notice, however good the impersonation, it doesn't make
the querant female. Something else is essential: it's the content
of their chromosomes (not their conversation) that
the querant female or not. Different proposals for what that
something is in the case of thought, then, represent different
takes on the nature of mind. In the Turing test scenario these
[proposed essences] represent further conditions necessary
to promote intelligent-seeming behavior into actual intelligence, and sufficing
intelligence, or mentation, even in the absence of such behavior.
Dualistic Essentialism: S -> [(the right) conscious
experiential processes] -> R
Dualistic theories propose a conscious experiential essence;
(or "mind-brain identity") theories propose a physical (specifically,
essence; and cognitivistic theories a procedural or computational
Behaviorism, in contrast, doesn't care what mediates
intelligent-seeming S -> R connection; behavioristically speaking,
does regardless of the manner of the doing (experiential,
neurophysiological, computational, or otherwise). Behaviorism,
construed, "is not a metaphysical theory: it is the denial of a
theory" and consequently "asserts nothing" (Ziff 1958: 136); at least,
nothing positively metaphysical.
Physicalistic Essentialism: S -> [(the right) physical
Cognitivistic Essentialism: S -> [(the right) computational
processess] -> R
Behavioristic Inessentialism: S -> [whatever works] -> R
Logical behaviorism may be seen, in the light of the preceding, as
to stipulate nominal essences (Locke 1690: IIiii15)
dualism, physicalism, and cognitivism propose to discover real
Further, although the motives of its founders (Carnap and Hempel) were
chiefly epistemic or "methodological," logical behaviorism seemed to
to invite metaphysical exploitation. Because the definitions
Carnap and Hempel proposed sought to specify observationally necessary
and sufficient conditions for true attributions of the mental terms in
what they called "the physical thing language," the successful
of this program, it seemed, would reduce the mental to the
Mentalistic descriptions of people as "expecting pain" or
would be completely replaceable, in principle and without cognitive
by talk of bodily transitions; thoughts and experiences would thus be
to be nothing above and beyond such bodily transitions; vindicating
As the the methodological emphasis of early analytic philosophy receded
and was replaced by more frankly metaphysical concerns among formalist
analytic philosophers of mind, it was chiefly this would-be
application of logical behaviorism that came increasingly under
Objections & Discussion
Action v. Movement
Ordinary language philosophers were among the first to raise daunting
for the strict translationist program which, they argued, was guilty of
a category mistake -- or at least of wildly underestimating the
of what they were proposing -- in conflating the concepts of action
and movement under the heading of "behavior." As D. W.
puts this complaint, "where activity is exhibited, it is not
inappropriate to talk of movements, but it will be so to do so in the
context, in the same universe of discourse":
With movements we are concerned with physical phenomena,
laws concerning which are in principle derivable from the laws of
But the behaviour which we call "posting a letter" or "kicking a ball"
involves a very complex series of movements, and the same movements
not be exhibited on all occasions on which we should describe the
in the same way. No fixed criteria can be laid down which will
us to decide what series of movements shall constitute "posting a
Rather we have learnt to interpret a varying range of movements as
up to the rough standard which we observe in acknowledging a correct
of such behaviour as posting a letter. (Hamlyn 1953: 134-135)
The task of defining mentalistic predications such as "wanting to
a goal" in terms of outward acts -- or dispositions to acts -- like
a ball (Tolman's "molar behavior") seems daunting enough; the task
of casting the definition in terms of movements or "molecular behavior"
-- "colorless movements and mere receptor impulses" (Watson),
and noises" (Ryle) -- seems beyond daunting.
From Paralytics to Perfect Actors
If the mental were completely definable in outwardly behavioral terms
as logical behaviorism proposes -- then outward behavioral capacities
dispositions would be necessary for thought or
But a complete paralytic, it seems, might still think thoughts (e.g.,
can't move), harbor desires (e.g., to move) and experience
sensations. Such possibilities are, on their face, contrary to
behaviorism. From the logical behaviorist perspective, while such
cases may complicate the description of the mental in behavioral terms,
they do not seem fatal. It may be replied, e.g., that wanting
to move is being disposed to move if able and, since the
possible causes of the disability (severed spinal cords, curare
etc.) are physically specifiable, this envisaged complication
wholly consistent with behaviorist strictures and reductionist
Hilary Putnam's imagined super-super-spartans ("X-worlders") are
less easily countered. X-worlders (as Putnam called them)
pain behavior" by "a great effort of will" for "what they regard as
ideological reasons" (Putnam 1963: 332-334). Like paralytics,
super-super-spartans "lack the behavioral dispositions envisioned by
behaviorists to be associated with pain, even though they do in fact
pain" (Block 1981: 12); but, unlike paralytics, they lack these
dispositions for psychological reasons: efforts of will
for ideological reasons -- unlike severed spinal cords and doses of
-- would not be physically specifiable and any envisaged
of the behavioral definitions attempting to build exceptions
causes would be inconsistent with behaviorist strictures and
hopes. And contrary to the sufficiency of behavior for
that logical behaviorist definitions would imply, "an exactly analogous
example of perfect pain-pretenders shows that no behavioral disposition
is sufficient for pain either" (Block 1981: 12: emphasis
The Intentional Circle
Among the technical arguments against logical behaviorism, the most
has been the "intentional circle" argument harking back to Chisholm
ch. 11) and Geach (1957, p. 8): indeed the perfect actor line of
"flows out of the Chisholm-Geach point" as Block (1981:12) notes.
A desire to stay dry, for instance, will dispose you to carry an
only on the condition that you believe it might rain; and, conversely,
the belief it might rain will dispose you to carry an umbrella only on
the condition that you desire to stay dry. Such Geach-Chisholm
examples show that "which behavioral dispositions a desire issues in
on other states of the desirer. And similar points apply to
analyses of belief and other mental states" (Block 1981: 12).
this point is most plain with respect to intentional mental
such as belief and desire, perfect actor examples
show it to extend to sensations such as pain, as well: "a
to pain behavior is not a sufficient condition of having pain, since
behavioral disposition could be produced by a number of different
of mental states, e.g., [pain + a normal preference function] or by [no
pain + an overwhelming desire to appear to have pain]" (Block 1981:
and, conversely, the dispositions are not a necessary condition since
dispositions might be produced by, e.g. [no pain + a normal preference
function] or by [pain + an overwhelming desire to appear not to have
"Conclusion: one cannot define the conditions under which a given
state will issue in a given behavioral disposition" as logical
proposes "without adverting to other mental states" (Block
12), which logical behaviorism precludes. Such arguments
widely "regarded as decisive refutations of behaviorist analyses of
mental states, such as belief, desire, and pain" (Block 1981:
The "functionalist" doctrine that a mental state is "definable in terms
of its causal relations to inputs, outputs, and other mental states"
1980: 257), not to inputs and outputs alone (a la logical
also flows directly from the Geach-Chisholm point.
In truth, as Putnam himself notes, whether refutation of the
oversimplified position" of logical behaviorism refutes behaviorism tout
court depends on the extent to which "the defects which this
exhibits are also exhibited by the more complex and sophisticated
which are actually held" (Putnam 1957: 95). Notably, perfect
and other would-be thought experimental counterexamples to
would counterexemplify metaphysical construals which those who
actually held "the more complex and sophisticated positions" at issue,
for the most part, explicitly disavow. Also, notably, Ryle's
of intentional mental states (in particular) as multi-track "dispositions
the exercises of which are indefinitely heterogenous" (Ryle 1949: 44)
already to allow for intentional "circularity": Tolman and
behaviorism even explicitly embraces it. For refutation of
court to be claimed, cognitivism would be have to be so
identified with the view that a mental state is "definable in terms of
its causal relations to inputs, outputs, and other mental states" that
Tolman, Hull, and Ryle, count as cognitivists. That's
One may agree "that the logically necessary and sufficient conditions
the ascription of a mental state" would have to "refer not just to
variables but to other mental states of the organism" (Fodor 1975: 7
-- that mental attributions have to be reduced all together (or holistically)
not one by one (atomistically) -- yet behavioristically
the call for further computational (or physical or phenomenological)
on what count as mental states. The "faith that ... one
surely get to pure behavioral ascriptions" -- motions and noises -- "if
only one pursues the analysis far enough" (Fodor 1975: 7 n.7) is also
dispensable. Notably these two tacks have their costs: the first
abandons hope for essential scientific characterization of the
The second abandons hope for reductionist exploitation of behaviorist
on behalf of materialism. So chastened, behaviorism, while
seems, to many, too boring to merit further philosophical bother.
Fodor's summation of the complaint against against methodological
is succinct: by it, he maintains, "[p]sychology is ... deprived of its
theoretical terms" meaning "psychologists can provide methodologically
reputable accounts only of such aspects of behavior as are the effects
of environmental variables"; but "the spontaneity and freedom from
environmental control that behavior often exhibits" makes "this sort of
methodology intolerably restrictive" (Fodor 1975: 1-2).
"there would seem to be nothing in the project of explaining behavior
reference to mental processes which requires a commitment to [their]
privacy in the traditional sense" of conscious subjectivity.
Fodor continues, "for better or worse, a materialist cannot
such a commitment since his view is that mental events are a species of
physical events, and physical events are publicly observable, at least
in principle" (Fodor 1975: 4): the commitment is to inner
not inward experiential processes. However, while Fodor 1975
adduces, "failure of behavioristic psychology to provide even a first
to a plausible theory of cognition" (Fodor 1975: 8) in support of cognitivist
Fodor 2000 confesses "that the most interesting -- certainly the
-- problems about thinking are unlikely to be much illuminated by any
of computational theory we are now able to imagine" (Fodor 2000:
As for more isolated or "modular" processes (e.g., syntactic
where the "Computational Theory of Mind" by Fodor's lights remains "by
far the best theory of cognition that we've got; indeed, the only one
got that's worth the bother" (Fodor 2000: 1) ... here, where, in
judgment, behaviorism failed "to provide even a first approximation of
a plausible theory," cognitivism may be faulted with producing too
elaborate theoretical superstructures built on slight
foundations reminiscent of Hull's. Notably, since Chomsky's
"Review of Verbal Behavior by B. F. Skinner" Chomsky himself
held at least four distinct syntactic theories, and his currently
"Minimalist Theory" presently competes with at least five distinct
(Chomsky's four theories (in chronological order) have been Transformational
Extended Standard Theory (1975), Government
and Binding (1984), and Minimalism
(1995). Competing theories
Lexical Function Grammar (Bresnan),
Phrase Structure Grammar
Newmeyer), Categorial Grammar (Steedman), and
The Ur-Objection: Consciousness Denied
Behaviorism's disregard for consciousness struck
from the first, and continues to strike many today, as contrary to
self-experience and plain common-sense; not to mention all that makes
precious and meaningful. In this vein behaviorism has been
to `Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark" (Ryle 1949: 328) and
accused of "affecting general anesthesia" (Ogden & Richards
23) and made the butt of jokes in the vein of the following (see Ziff
Q: What does one behaviorist say to another when
meet on the street?
In the same vein as John Searle still complains "the behaviorist seems
to leave out the mental phenomena in question," (Searle 1992: 34), E.
Titchener complained, at the movement's outset, of behaviorism's
to psychology as psychology is ordinarily understood" (Titchener 1914:
6). On the other hand Titchener's prediction -- that, due to this
irrelevance, introspective psychology would continue to flourish alongside
behaviorism -- with hindsight, seems a bit laughable itself. As
puts it, "the extruded hero," consciousness, for scientific purposes,
came to seem so bloodless and spineless a being that even the opponents
of these [behaviorist] theories began to feel shy of imposing heavy
upon his spectral shoulders" (Ryle 1949: 328). Ryle's
still rings true today despite recent attempts to revive consciousness
as a subject of serious scientific inquiry; or, more to the point
in light of such attempts, which all, in one way or another,
to revive the Wundtian program of correlating introspected experiential
with observed neurophysiological events. While it may be urged
the hero was never wholly extruded but has been lurking all along in
caves of psychophysics (e.g., in correlations of physical stimulus
with noticed differences in sensation), recent
extend this psychology-as-psychophysics approach beyond psychophysics
remain nascent at best.
A: You're fine. How am I?
Q: What does one behaviorist say to another after sex?
A: That was great for you. How was it for me?
"Imagery from Galton on has been the inner stronghold of a
based on introspection" (Watson 1913: 421) and here, with regard to
sensory presentations (e.g., afterimages) and sensations (e.g., pain)
so-called qualia -- the "neglect of consciousness" complaint
behaviorism is most acutely felt; and here it must be confessed that
replies have been mostly halting and evasive. Watson, confessing,
"I may have to grant a few sporadic cases of imagery to him who will
be otherwise convinced" would marginalize the phenomena, insisting,
the images of such a one are as sporadic and as unnecessary to his
and well-thinking as a few hairs more or less on his head"
1913: 423n.3) -- a verdict Ryle deems confirmed. Scientifically,
the "extruded hero," it seems, can neither explanans nor explanandum
be. Inward experience seems, scientifically, as nonexplanatory
intentionality, intelligence, or other features of mind we should like
to explain) as it seems itself scientifically inexplicable.
Ryle frankly confesses that "there is something seriously amiss" with
own treatment of sensations (Ryle 1949: 240) and, even, "not to know
right idioms to discuss these matters" in behavioristic good
only hoping, his "discussion of them in the official idioms may have at
least some internal Fifth Column efficacy" (Ryle 1949: 201).
inward experiences seem just as unaccountable on inner computational
as on outward behavioral ones -- Kossyln's 1980 data structural
of images as two dimensional data arrays, e.g., leaves their qualia
unaccounted for. Behavioristic losses on the count of qualia are,
by no means, cognitivistic gains. Cognitivism itself "has been
by two `qualia' centered objections" in particular: the Inverted Qualia
Objection that, possibly, e.g., "though you and I have exactly the same
functional organization, the sensation that you have when you look at
things is phenomenally the same as the sensation that I have when I
at green things" (Block 1980: 257); and the Absent Qualia Objection
it is possible that a mental state of a person x be
identical to a state of y, even though x's state has
qualitative character while y's state lacks qualitative
altogether" (Block 1980: 258).
Methodologically, then, the matter of consciousness remains about
Watson left it, as scientifically intractable as it seems morally
and common-sensically inescapable. Unless there is more
gold in those psychophysical hills than recently renewed attempts to
them by Crick (1994) Edelman (1989) and others (see Horgan 1994)
this is apt to be where matters remain for the foreseeable
metaphysical dualism (identifying mental events with private,
subjective, nonphysical, "modes" of conscious experience) may be held
with methodological behavioristic commitment to the explanatory
of such factors by disallowing such events their apparent causal roles
in the generation of behavior.
denies their causal
just denies their "downward" (mental-to-physical)
causal efficacy. It is due, largely, to their reluctance to
such drastic expedients as parallelism and epiphenomenalism that,
recently renewed would-be scientific interest in consciousness, most
scientists and allied analytic philosophers continue to reject
dualism -- remaining true to their metaphysical, along with their
The enduring cogency of behaviorism's challenge to the scientific
bona fides of consciousness means that
least, there seems no viable alternative to "practically everybody in
science" remaining -- if not "a behaviorist of one sort or another"
2001: 13-14) -- at least, behavioristic in some manner. Cognitive
Science killed Behaviorism, they say. Still, Cognitive Science
entitled to its last name only on condition that it retain a good
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