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.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Symposium #313
Behaviorism and Reality: What is the Nature of the "Real World"?
Monday, May 28, 2012
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
610 (Convention Center)
Area: TPC/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: M. Jackson Marr (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Discussant: M. Jackson Marr (Georgia Institute of Technology)

In everyday life, people distinguish between themselves and the world. Behaviorism rejects dualism in general and the distinction between an inner self and outer world in particular. What does this imply about the reality of the self and the world? Is behavior part of a real world? Is it really there for us to observe? What about the mental world? Such questions of ontology may be important and fruitful. Studying the verbal behavior of scientists may help to answer them.

Keyword(s): behaviorism, ontology, real world, reality

Realist Behaviorism

JOSE E. BURGOS (Universidad de Guadalajara)

Most, if not all, current behaviorisms attempt to escape ontology. However, not only is this exceedingly restrictiveit causes more problems than it solves. It also is unfeasible and ultimately self-defeating, as ontology is inescapable. All forms of behavioristic pragmatism, relativism, and idealism in particular, rely on metaphysical claims, often surreptitiously and deceivingly so. I propose a more honest, feasible, coherent, liberating, powerful, and comprehensive form of behaviorism, namely: realist behaviorism (ReB). ReB abandons the anti- and a-ontological escape from ontology as futile, and embraces ontology as indispensable to science and philosophy. ReB does not take the easy way of whimsically walking away from, or remaining silent about, ontological matters. ReB takes the hard way of plunging head-on into ontology as a far more profitable and fun venue. ReB opts for the luscious and dangerous jungle of ontology than the arid and safe (and boring) desert of a- and anti-ontological stances. ReB is thus free to tap any resources available in the ontology bazaar. This stance facilitates clear, precise, and thorough rationales for a wide variety of claims about dualism, the behavioral nature of the mental, the nature of behavior, and even the objective existence of behavior.


Behavior Analysis, Radical Behaviorism, Pragmatism, and Reality

SAM LEIGLAND (Gonzaga University)

This paper examines one of the many points of contact between behavior analysis and traditional issues in philosophy. Such points of contact involve an analysis of verbal practices of both fields. Specifically, the question is whether the scientific nonverbal and verbal practices of behavior analysis allow for descriptions of "reality" or the "real world." The key to answering this question is found in radical behaviorism. Evidence will be presented that while radical behaviorism acknowledges the physical world (or the one world, as Skinner noted as an alternative), there is no way to access the "real world" in and of itself. All behavior is inextricably related to multiple and interactive environmental variables over time, and thus it is impossible to make discriminations of "reality" that do not entail the influence of such variables. All such discriminations must be, in part, a function of a history in the relevant verbal community and culture. Support for this position may be found in a variety of sources, including Skinner's writings and the documented relations between radical behaviorism and pragmatism. The scientific (if not philosophical) benefits of such a position will also be discussed.


Pragmatic Skepticism About the Real World

WILLIAM M. BAUM (University of California, Davis)

The philosopher George Berkeley pointed out in 1710 that no reason exists to think that the world we experience is real. Thousands of years before him, sages in India declared that the world of experience is an illusion and that reality is one indivisible, eternal whole. The physicist Erwin Schrödinger studied Indian philosophy derived from the ancient teachings (Vedanta) and commented on the peculiarity of the scientific worldview. In particular, he criticized the objectivation of the world—treating the world as separate from the observer. For behavior analysis based on pragmatism, the question of whether the world is real or not is useless, because it cannot be answered. Skinner, for example, was careful to avoid it. One might argue that scientists may assume the world is real with no untoward consequences. Assuming the world is real, however, leads to different practices from remaining skeptics about the reality of the world. Pragmatic skepticism allows more flexibility in practice and theory.




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