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.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #181
Operants, Classes, Individuals, and Levels of Analysis
Sunday, May 28, 2006
1:30 PM–2:50 PM
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jose E. Burgos (Universidad de Guadalajara, Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones en Comportamiento)
Discussant: M. Jackson Marr (Georgia Tech)
Abstract: This symposium covers a number of conceptual reflections on the nature of operants (classes versus individuals) and its relationship with the issue of levels of analysis (molar versus molecular).
Ontology in Behavior Analysis: A Tangled Tale.
SIGRID S. GLENN (University of North Texas)
Abstract: With some notable exceptions, behavior analysis has been slow to critically examine its own concepts and principles. In particular, behavior analytic ontology is a topic that has received little attention. The thesis of this paper is that the concept of “the operant”, as it has been historically defined and is currently used, raises numerous ontological questions. In this paper, the operant concept will be considered in the context of philosophical distinctions between individuals, taxa, classes, and categories – distinctions that have sometimes aided other sciences in clarifying their most fundamental concepts. The importance of these distinctions will be discussed as they pertain to the use and communication of scientific principles in general, and behavior analytic principles in particular. Possible ramifications of various ontological views of the nature of operant behavior will be suggested.
The Role of Selection in the Creation of Operant Classes.
PHILIP N. HINELINE (Temple University), A. Charles Catania (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Abstract: Operant classes are defined by their functions, not by their forms. They are selected by operant contingencies (not merely by common consequences). Common contingencies create such classes, but a problem may arise when some classes have others nested within them. The contingencies that operate upon the overall class may not be consistent with those that operate on the classes that are contained within the overall class. When classes are nested, one question about the origins of classes is whether structural as well as functional relations can influence the lines of fracture along which classes and their subclasses can be differentiated. The articulating of behavioral principles to address this issue may entail a distinction between adduction and chaining.
Operants as Sets
JOSE E. BURGOS (Universidad de Guadalajara, Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones en Comportamiento)
Abstract: The view of operants as individuals is based on an interpretation of classes as universals. Universals are immutable, whereas operants change. Hence, operants cannot be universals. They must be particulars (i.e., individuals). However, classes need not be taken as universals. It is also customary to see them as sets. Can operants be sets? Yes, but not response sets, if operants are dynamical in nature. Central to this claim is the set-theoretic Axiom of Extensionality (AE), according to which the identity of a set is given by its elements, not their properties. Under AE, no response set can be dynamical, if “dynamical” means “change in the number of elements of the set through time”. Such a change results in multiple response sets, which precludes talk of one operant in reference to changes in response frequency. Operants can be either sets of response sets or relations, which are sets of ordered pairs. The details of these two alternative ontologies of operants remain to be elaborated, but four virtues are apparent. First, sets are purely extensional (as opposed to intensional) entities, so both interpretations avoid an essentialistic/universalistic view of operants. Second, both interpretations allow for talk of parts of operants. Third, both also allow for causal considerations as criteria for the identification of such parts. Finally, both capture the dynamical nature of operants, even if no set can be dynamic.



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