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.


35th Annual Convention; Phoenix, AZ; 2009

Event Details

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Symposium #374
The Progressivity of Science: A Contextual Behavioral Approach
Monday, May 25, 2009
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
North 132 A
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Douglas Moore Long (University of Nevada, Reno)
Discussant: John Tanner Blackledge (Morehead State University)
Abstract: In the last thirty years, the divergence of cognitive psychology and behavior analysis has raised questions about how best to ensure psychology’s progressivity. Theories which are accepted as adequate explanations from one tradition may be viewed as unscientific from another. Any reasonable resolution to such a debate requires an explication of our methodological and philosophical commitments -- the standards by which we evaluate theories. In this symposium will walk through this process, and explore its implications for behavior analytic theory development. First, a contextual and pragmatic approach to philosophy of science, originally developed by philosopher Larry Laudan, will be described. Second, functional contextualism, a more specific view of the psychological sciences, will be presented as a useful perspective for behavior analysts to adopt. Thirdly, the implications for theory development, and the roles of different types of constructs therein, will be discussed. Finally, a discussant with practical experience in the development of RFT, a functional contextual theory of language, will give comments. This particular synthesis between philosophy of science and practical theory development can be referred to as Contextual Behavior Science.
History and Philosophy of Science
DOUGLAS MOORE LONG (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: In the last thirty years, the divergence of cognitive psychology and behavior analysis has raised questions about how best to ensure psychology’s progressivity. Theories which are accepted as adequate explanations from one tradition may be viewed as unscientific from another. As noted by B. F. Skinner, a similar trend can be seen in the debates between evolutionary biologists and intelligent design theorists. A reasonable resolution to any debate concerning the scientific status of a theory requires the explication of the criteria by which said status would be determined. This pursuit itself raises more questions. Why should we accept one or another set of criteria? Just what is “science,” anyway? What is “progressivity,”? Traditionally, philosophers of science have tried to address these problems by modeling the scientific process with logical operations and theories of rationality. Such attempts, however, have generally failed by their own standards, and paint a picture which is in stark contrast to the history of science (as famously pointed out by T. S. Kuhn). This paper will review these issues, and introduce an alternative, pragmatic approach to evaluating scientific progressivity -- one developed by philosopher Larry Laudan through a contextual analysis of competing research traditions.
Functional Contextualism and Contextual Behavioral Science
ROGER VILARDAGA (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: The term functional contextualism has been polemic within the behavioral analytic tradition from its inception. It’s been argued that it adds nothing to that tradition, since it is no more than a way to refer to radical behaviorism, and therefore it is old wine in new bottle. Conversely, what was new and “radical” from radical behaviorism was the reflection of behavioral thinking onto the actions of scientists, but other aspects of that tradition had been there for a long time, such as attention to the organism as a whole, an emphasis on function rather than topography, and the critical role given to history and current environment. Those components were part of previous traditions (e.g., Darwin, Pierce, Dewey and James) and were not necessarily advanced by Skinner. We argue in this paper, that (1) the term functional contextualism is a better term than radical behaviorism to describe our tradition and (2), that the philosophical assumptions ingrained in functional contextualism allow greater methodological diversity and consequently increased chances to strengthen our body of knowledge in the field. Overall, we believe that the term functional contextualism links back our field to its original roots, and orients our work towards the building of a more progressive science.
Meta-Theory and Theoretical Constructs in Contextual Behavioral Science
Kelly G. Wilson (University of Mississippi), JONATHAN WEINSTEIN (University of Mississippi)
Abstract: Contemporary contextual behavioral analyses take a somewhat different view of theorizing than is commonly held in most of psychology. In formulating a natural science of behavior, theorists such as J. R. Kantor and B. F. Skinner rejected certain varieties of theoretical constructs. This paper divides theoretical constructs into abstractive and hypothetical formulations. It further subdivides hypothetical constructs into three subtypes, including constructs that are (1) in-principle observable, but at some other level of analysis, (2) in-principle unobservable, and (3) in-principle observable, but unobservable for some technical or practical reason. A distinction is made between the ontological and operational validity of theoretical constructs and methods for determining the operational validity of these constructs are discussed. Finally, the selective effects of experimentation and observation on theory development are discussed.



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