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behaviorism

Behaviorism was one of the largest movements in psychology and philosophy in the 20th century. It mainly grew from the ideas put forth by John B. Watson, and was held by philosophers such as Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The main behaviorist stance is that externally visible behavior is what is really worthy of study, not internal mentality. This went strongly against most other branches of philosophy and psychology, for which introspection was a major tool.

Watson's experimental work led to much behavior research by psychologists, most of whom held a methodological behaviorist view: methodological behaviorism holds; behavior should be used as a way to understand the mind. Later, B.F. Skinner held a more radical view of behaviorism: since behavior is all that objective science has access to through direct observation, we should not bother talking about mental processes at all. He also studied language from a behaviorist standpoint, though Noam Chomsky argued strongly against this.

A number of philosophers were attracted to a similar view called logical or analytic behaviorism. In 1935 Carl Hempel argued that all psychological statements can be translated, without any loss of information, to behavior statements. Taken further, this means that all ideas of mind can be defined in behavior terms. Wittgenstein went down a similar path with his "beetle in a box" analogy: minds are like beetles in boxes that only the owner can see into. How then can we know that others really have beetles/minds, or what they mean when they say they do?

Ryle was one of the biggest proponents of logical behaviorism. He was completely against the tendencies of methodological behaviorists to bring mentality into the picture. Instead, he argued that everything should only be understood through behavior and the stimuli that drive it. Things such as qualia and external qualities of objects are not to be thought of in any other terms than behavior.

However, over time more and more people came to think that behaviorism could not explain everything about human experience. Even Hempel turned away from it in the 1960's. Behaviorism just ignored too much to be able to sustain itself as a way of describing the world.

--Jesse Merriman

Sources:
Behaviorism", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 06:05, 21 Mar 2004 revision , URL = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behaviorism

Graham, George, "Behaviorism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2002/entries/behaviorism

Kim, Jaegwon. Philosophy of Mind. Westview Press: 1998.

Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949.