Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


36th Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2010

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #440
Evolutionary Bedfellows: Skinner and Darwin
Monday, May 31, 2010
2:30 PM–3:20 PM
103AB (CC)
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Ted G. Schoneberger (Stanislaus County Office of Education)
STUART SILVERS (Clemson University)
Dr. Silvers received his M.A. from Michigan State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He specializes in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. He has been a Senior Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country, Spain, and Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona. He has authored more than forty articles in scholarly journals (including Philosophy of Science, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Inquiry, Philosophical Psychology, and Metaphilosophy) and anthologies, edited a book on mental representation, and lectured widely in Europe, Canada, and the US. Before joining the Clemson faculty in 1989, he held the Professorial Chair in Theory of Knowledge and Philosophy of Science at Tilburg University, The Netherlands and prior to that he has been a member of the faculty in the Philosophy Departments at The University of Leiden, The Netherlands, California State University Fullerton, the University of Florida, and the University of Pittsburgh.
Abstract: In 1975 the philosopher Dan Dennett explained, in an article similarly titled, “Why the Law of Effect Will Not Go Away.” Thorndike’s learning principle he notes “assumed centrality in Hull’s behaviorism as the ‘law of primary reinforcement’ and in Skinner’s as the ‘principle of operant conditioning’ (footnoting that “Skinner explicitly identifies his principle with the Law of Effect in Science and Human Behavior (1953), p. 87”). The spotty history of getting the law “to do enough work” in explaining learning, however, has not led behaviorists to abandon or replace it because, Dennett says, “There is something right in their conviction… that the Law of Effect is not just a good idea but the only possible good idea for this job.” Naturally, Dennett rectifies the errant ad hoc efforts to rescue the law from countless counterexamples. Here I use Dennett’s view as a scaffold to examine a recent alternative to evolutionary psychology’s nativist massive modularity of mind hypothesis (the “Swiss-Army knife” model) and philosopher of biology Kim Sterelny’s theory of ecological and epistemic engineering and “scaffolded learning” in his book, Thought in a Hostile World. The law finds its explanatory niche in evolutionary psychology emphasizing the hominid brain’s developmental plasticity in explaining our distinctive learning capacity. I think Fred Skinner might approve. I start with the MM thesis, then the alternative.



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