Skinner s behaviorism
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Skinner's Behaviorism. I. Behaviorism as a version of Physicalism II. Implications for Education and Government III. Skinner's Theory of Value. Three Theories of the Mind. Hylomorphism (Aristotle, Aquinas) Dualism (Descartes) Physicalism (Hobbes, Skinner) Eliminationism Reductionism.

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Skinner's Behaviorism

  • I. Behaviorism as a version of Physicalism

  • II. Implications for Education and Government

  • III. Skinner's Theory of Value

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Three Theories of the Mind

  • Hylomorphism (Aristotle, Aquinas)

  • Dualism (Descartes)

  • Physicalism (Hobbes, Skinner)

    • Eliminationism

    • Reductionism

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Problems with Reduction: #3

  • 3. The problem of multiple realizability.

    • The same mental state could be realized by infinitely many different physical states.

    • The same belief can be shared by people whose brains are quite different, even by creatures of different species.

    • Even -- aliens who are silicon-based, or androids with electronic brains.

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Connection between #1 & #3

  • This is a characteristic feature of teleological states: the same end can be achieved by infinitely many different means.

  • Screwdrivers can be made of many different materials, in many different shapes or forms (power vs. manual).

  • More than 30 different kinds of eyes in nature.

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Problem #4: Qualities of Conscious Experience

  • Consciousness seems to involve certain qualities (called “qualia”, singular “quale”), like the feeling of pain or the appearance of colors, that cannot be reduced to physical properties.

  • Possibility of zombies, color-spectrum inversions. Undetectable by behavior, interaction with environment, brain states.

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Behaviorism as a Version of Physicalism

  • Early version of physicalism: stimulus response model.

  • Build a simple, 2-column table:

    inputs in first column, outputs in second.

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Operant conditioning

  • Includes a kind of "memory" of past experience.

  • Possibility of positive and negative reinforcement.

  • X is a positive reinforcement of behavior Y if and only if the association of X with Y makes the repetition of Y more likely.

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Human beings are finite automata.

  • Represent by a more complicated table.

    • Rows: possible inputs (environmental conditions).

    • Columns: possible internal states.

  • In each square, we put two things:

    • 1. The output, behavior produced.

    • 2. The new internal state into which the subject is transformed.

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Everything is finite

  • finitely many inputs (conditions to which the subject is potentially sensitive)

  • finitely many internal states

  • finitely many possible behaviors.

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III. Implications of Behaviorism for Education and Government

  • A. Education -- especially moral, character education.

    • Classical (teleological) view: there is a fundamental distinction between manipulation and education.

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Education (on classical view) Government

  • Assists and nurtures natural development of moral sense, character

  • •Goal: teachers initiate learners into a state to which they have already attained (maturity, wisdom).

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Manipulation (on classical view) Government

  • Circumvents or overrides natural functions, development.

  • Goal: to modify students' behavior for the good of society, without reference to the current state of the teachers.

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Education vs. Manipulation Government

  • On the behaviorist view: this distinction is empty. All so-called education is merely a form of manipulation (behavior control).

  • There is no natural development, "no unfolding of a pre-determined pattern" (p. 89)

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Government Government

  • On classical view, individual liberty is an important goal:

  • In order to attain happiness, each individual needs opportunities to exercise and develop virtue & practical wisdom.

  • This necessitates a sphere of private sovereignty.

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Distinction: liberty & license Government

  • One has no right to do what is inherently vicious -- e.g., to murder, enslave or dominate another.

  • When law prohibits such vicious acts, no liberty is lost.

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Contrast: Hobbes & Rousseau Government

  • Held that every law is a restriction of liberty.

  • Perfect liberty is possible only in the state of nature (anarchy).

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Skinner: there is no such thing as liberty Government

  • So, no law, regulation or social control involves a loss of "liberty". Liberty is not an intelligible social goal.

  • Why not? Skinner denies the existence of choice, and of virtue. These are mythical components of happiness.

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Persuasion vs. Manipulation Government

  • On the classical view, the state is a partnership, based on mutual respect, and the use of persuasion, not coercion or manipulation.

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  • Persuasion: speech that engages the faculties of the rational mind, assisting them to function properly in reaching a reasonable conclusion.

  • Manipulation (misuse of rhetoric): speech that seeks to circumvent or override the faculties of the rational mind (through the exploitation of weaknesses and biases), causing them to function improperly and form an unreasonable conclusion.

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Skinner’s rejection of this contrast rational mind, assisting them to function properly in reaching a reasonable conclusion.

  • Skinner denies the validity of the persuasion/manipulation distinction.

  • He denies the existence of such inner faculties, and of the distinction of proper/improper functioning.

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Who controls the controllers? rational mind, assisting them to function properly in reaching a reasonable conclusion.

  • Skinner argues that there "should" be reciprocity between controllers and controlled, effective measures of "counter-conntrol". (p. 169)

  • However, he gives no reason why this should be so. Nor does he explain when efforts at counter-control are proper and when they are merely the result of neurotic attachment to "freedom".

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Skinner's Theory of Value power be absolute?

  • Definition:

    • Good things are positive reinforcers.

  • A positive reinforcer is a consequence of behavior that makes the behavior more likely to recur.

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Relativism power be absolute?

  • Immediate consequence: radical relativism.

  • What is good for you may not be good for me.

  • What reinforces us depends not only on genetic endowment, but also on "training" by environment. Both vary from person to person.

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Optimism? power be absolute?

  • The best things are those consequences that most effectively reinforce behavior.

  • In the long run and for the most part, the most effective reinforcers must succeed in reinforcing.

  • Consequently, most people behave so as to produce the most effective reinforcers.

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Absurd consequences? power be absolute?

  • This means that most people enjoy the best possible life (given Skinner's definition of the best).

  • E.g., addicts enjoy the life that is best for them, since their behavior is under the control of the most powerful reinforcers.

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Can Skinner respond? reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • We want to say at most: that people enjoy the best possible life, given their circumstances.

  • But, what reinforces whom is always relative to circumstances.

  • So, can Skinner give an account of which circumstances are best?

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Skinner and Survival Value reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • Skinner adopts survival value as the ultimate value.

  • The survival of one's "culture".

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Raises two questions: reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • 1. The survival of what exactly?

  • 2. What makes survival of the culture/species an especially gripping value, given behaviorism?

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1. The survival of what? reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • If we modify our culture radically through behavior modification our genes through genetic engineering, what survives the process?

    • Analogy: in Vietnam, "to save the village, we had to destroy it."

  • Are we ensuring the survival of our culture, or are we ensuring its extinction and replacement? Ditto for our species.

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2. Is survival value especially gripping, given behaviorism? reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • Apparently not -- depends on what happens to reinforce Skinner, due to historical accidents.

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Possible confusion reinforced by the thrill of violence.

We might think the following:

  • If natural selection is the ultimate cause of human morality, then the survival of the species (or one's "culture") is the highest moral value.

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Two problems: reinforced by the thrill of violence.

  • 1. This depends on a very dubious theory of group selection.

  • According to the consensus of biologists, natural selection does not favor behavior that benefits the whole species at the expense of the individual's genes.

  • So, natural selection would not tend to give human beings an overriding concern for the welfare of the species (or of any other large group, like the culture).

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2. Confuses the relationship between natural selection and moral values.

  • Any concern for the welfare of humanity is a product of a "high" morality (in Darwin's sense), which is in turn the by-product of other, more fundamental adaptations.

  • But, within the sphere of "high" morality, a concern for the welfare of humanity depends on a belief that humanity is worthy, deserving of survival.

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From the perspective of morality: moral values.

  • Mere survival of the species is not the ultimate end -- it is merely a means to the perpetuation of other values, such as the perpetuation of love, dignity, friendship, science, art, etc.

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The Cognitive Revolution moral values.

Two scientific challenges to behaviorism:

  • Chaos theory

  • Chomsky’s linguistics

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Chaos theory moral values.

  • The physical attributes of the human body are capable of infinite variation: vary continuously along a spectrum.

  • To represent the body as a finite automaton, we must assume that states that vary only slightly differ only slightly in their effects.

  • This is true only for linear (non-chaotic) systems.

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  • The body is a non-linear, chaotic system. moral values.

  • The Butterfly Effect: small, imperceptible differences in input can make massive differences in output.

  • It's not surprising that it's easier to put a man on the moon than to teach a classroom full of children to read.

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Chomsky's linguistics moral values.

  • Representing human beings as computers (Turing machines), not finite automata.

  • Potentially infinite memories -- idealization.

  • Performance vs. competence.

    • Equivalent to: efficient vs. final causation.

    • Competence: what the mind is supposed to do.