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Early forms of psychology assumed that mental life was the appropriate subject matter for psychology, and introspection was an appropriate method to engage that subject matter. In 1913, John B. Watson proposed an alternative: classical S–R behaviorism. According to Watson, behavior was a subject matter in its own right, to be studied by the observational methods common to all sciences. Unfortunately, by around 1930, Watson’s behaviorism had proved inadequate. Many researchers and theorists then adopted a view in which various organismic entities were inferred to mediate the relation between S and R: mediational S–O–R neobehaviorism. This general view has remained influential, although the details of the various versions have differed over the years. The behavior analysis of B. F. Skinner took an entirely different approach. Particularly important was the study of verbal behavior. Although behaviorism is often conventionally defined as an approach that seeks to explain behavior without directly appealing to mental or cognitive processes, this definition needs considerable clarification, especially as it pertains to Skinner’s behavior analysis and his view of behaviorism as a philosophy of science.

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Like most other sciences, behavior analysis adopts an assumption of uniformity, namely that principles discovered under controlled conditions apply outside the laboratory as well. Since the boundary between public and private depends on the vantage point of the observer, observability is not an inherent property of behavior. From this perspective, private events are assumed to enter into the same orderly relations as public behavior, and the distinction between public and private events is merely a practical one. Private events play no role in the experimental analysis of behavior, but they permit us to make sense of many commonplace phenomena where controlled observation is impossible but unsystematic data are available. Such interpretive exercises serve both to guide research and to displace occult explanations.

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Selection by consequences is a causal mode found only in living things, or in machines made by living things. It was first recognized in natural selection, but it also accounts for the shaping and maintenance of the behavior of the individual and the evolution of cultures. In all three of these fields, it replaces explanations based on the causal modes of classical mechanics. The replacement is strongly resisted. Natural selection has now made its case, but similar delays in recognizing the role of selection in the other fields could deprive us of valuable help in solving the problems which confront us.
 

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Evolutionary theorists not only point to the survival value of the present structure and function of an organism, they try to reconstruct earlier stages which should also have had survival value. An example of current interest is the flight of birds. Feathers may have evolved first as thermal insulation, but what about wings? Were they adaptations of forelimbs which first helped animals run faster or that helped tree animals leap from branch to branch or from branch to ground? (Even when a feature first evolved because of consequences quite different from those which explain its current survival value, a plausible early history is still needed.) Among the features to be explained in this way is behavior. The current survival value of reflexes and the released patterns of behavior studied by ethologists
may be clear, but can we construct plausible sequences through which they could have evolved, with survival value at every stage?

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Criticizes cognitive psychology’s tendency to assign an explanatory role to invented mental entities such as concepts, intention, will, and rules. The mental apparatus which is regarded as causal is better seen as a rather crude version of contingencies of reinforcement and their effects. The risk is that in following the cognitive psychologist we will fail to solve significant problems as a result of becoming overly involved with modifying the “minds and hearts of men and women” rather than the world in which we live. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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The following presents two sources for the philosophy underlying behavior analysis as it has come to be represented in the tradition of the later B. F. Skinner’s radical behaviorism
Darwinian selectionism and pragmatism primarily in the Peircean tradition. Both show organizations according to probabilistic three term contingencies, but at different levels, Darwin for species, pragmatists for meaning. Peirce shows key similarities with Darwin, and the later Skinner shows key similarities with Darwin and Peirce. In contrast to his early SR behaviorism supported by mechanism and positivism, the philosophy that characterized Skinner’s later work was a pragmatic selectionism.
 

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