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.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #28
Ontology From the Standpoint of Radical Behaviorism: Realism, Antirealism, and Pragmatism About Behavior
Sunday, May 29, 2016
10:00 AM–10:50 AM
Alpine, Swissotel
Area: TPC/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: John C. Malone (University of Tennessee)

As a philosophy of psychology, and particularly as a philosophy of mind, radical behaviorism is inescapably bound to analyze and provide answers to ontological and epistemological issues that originate as a result of the advancement of the science of behavior, or as a result of its debate with other philosophies of mind and of psychology and the questions that they raise either as attacks or counter-arguments to radical behaviorist views. Issues and questions about the nature of knowledge, about the extent and limitations of induction and deduction, about the ontology of behavioral events, and the treatment of unobservables, and about truth criteria, will continue to arise in radical behaviorism. This symposium will be devoted to the analysis and discussion of some of these topics, both to track the philosophical roots of these views to their antecedents in American pragmatism, and to explore what role, if any, can radical behaviorism play in illuminating the debate between scientific realism and relativism in the philosophy of science


Ontology From the Standpoint of a Radical Behaviorist: Naturalizing Philosophy for Science

SAM LEIGLAND (Gonzaga University)

Philosophical issues are sometimes viewed as playing a foundational role in the rule-governance of scientific practices such as assumptions, methodology, and explanation. Physics, chemistry, biology, and behavior analysis, however, began not with philosophy but with inductive exploration, measurement, and experimentation, expanding scope and power as the analysis progressed in often unpredictable ways. Traditional philosophical perspectives on ontology continue to arise in behavior analysis, either as incidental assumptions on theoretical issues or as programmatic work in attempts to incorporate or resolve formal ontological positions with radical behaviorism. This presentation argues that (i) ontology is a product of traditional mentalistic and representationalist perspectives in philosophy, and (ii) ontology serves no useful purpose for science, but it can be a source of confusion in scientific verbal behavior. Radical behaviorism has been shown to have strong roots in philosophical pragmatism and connections to phenomenology, both of which enable behavior analysis to dispense with contrived and insoluble verbal problems in philosophy in favor of a comprehensive functional analysis of the behavior of organisms. Further, it may be possible to apply the science of behavior to a functional analysis of ontological verbal behavior.


Subjectivity and Objectivity: Some Problems for the Skinnerian Analysis of Privacy

ALVARO A CLAVIJO ALVAREZ (Universidad Nacional de Colombia)

The distinction between public and private events has played a central role in Skinners radical behaviorism. According to Skinner, private events occur within the skin and are accessible only to the individual in contact with them. Despite the considerable influence of Skinners conception of privacy in the behavioral community, not everyone accepts it. One issue in dispute is the assumption of privacy in principle: although everybody admits the existence of private behavioral phenomena, not everyone accepts a private world inaccessible to third parties forever. Another issue in dispute is the relevance of private events for a science of behavior. Even when accepting the privacy in principle assumption, some authors deem private phenomena of little or no relevance for a science of behavior. This presentation will examine a further issue in this debate: Mixing the subjective-objective (S-O) distinction with the public-private (Pu-Pr) distinction is a mistake. The Pu-Pr distinction describes the fact that it is possible to restrict the access of third parties to what a person does. In contrast, the S-O distinction describes a conception about knowledge, and is an instance of epistemological dualism. As previously stated, it is a conception. Nobody can deny the fact that behavioral phenomena occur somewhere in a private-public continuum, but not everybody has to admit the epistemological subjective-objective assumption. This paper will explore whether Skinner made this mistaken identification in his definition of private versus public events, and the implications of mixing the private-public distinction with the subjective-objective dichotomy, as this can shed light on the issues in discussion. Further, William James' notion of experience, as developed in his famous "Does 'Consciousness' Exist" will be offered as an exemplar of an alternative view that deals with privacy but eschews epistemological dualism.

Overcoming the Philosophical Fallacy: Instrumentalism and Transactionalism to the Help of Radical Behaviorism
ANDRES H. GARCIA-PENAGOS (University of Tennessee)
Abstract: Radical behaviorism as a philosophy of mind and psychology is a direct descendant of American pragmatic naturalism. Continuous debates in radical behaviorism suggest that we are still prey to what John Dewey called “the philosophical fallacy”: the assumption that our verbal constructs and concepts are ultimately real objects, a “metaphysics of nature.” This often unstated identification is at the root of conceptual debates regarding among others the nature of privacy, and the possibility, extent, and limitations of multi-level approaches to behavior. In this paper, I will argue first that these debates arise as a result of conflicting epistemologies and conflicting ontological assumptions. Further, I will defend the view that pragmatist views, like those proposed by Dewey and others, emphasizing the mutuality between organism and environment, the notion of behavior as transaction, and the consequent reconceptualization in our understanding of nature, and particularly of experience as action, point out at the urgency of analyzing metaphysical claims and their scope in radical behaviorist epistemology, and suggest alternatives to the conceptual stagnation and confusion originating from the philosophical fallacy. A return to the pragmatic naturalism roots of radical behaviorism as the former deals with issues of epistemology and ontology, I argue, is more in line with the tenets of modern behaviorism, and supports a more integrative view of behavior-as-mind than traditionally offered.



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