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 #45
CE Offered: BACB
Re-conceptualizing Our Philosophical Core: One Behavior Science or Many?
Saturday, May 26, 2012
2:00 PM–3:20 PM
605 (Convention Center)
Area: TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Shea Fisher (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Discussant: Sam Leigland (Gonzaga University)
CE Instructor: Thomas G. Szabo, M.A.

Much has been written during the last half of the twentieth century concerning the philosophical foundations of behavior science. Some maintain that contemporary behaviorism is best conceived as a mechanistic scientific enterprise. Others argue that our science is rooted in the pragmatic approaches of Pierce, Dewey, and James. Still others suggest that different strains in behavior science have different philosophical cores and that this is not a bad thing provided we are careful to articulate our assumptions to avoid unnecessary and counterproductive wrangling. In this symposium, we will reconsider the categorical constructs designed by Steven C. Pepper (1942) that organize contemporary philosophies into 4 relatively adequate world hypotheses. Presenters will advance 3 distinct approaches, each of which aims to resolve philosophical misunderstandings that currently divide our field.

Keyword(s): contextualism, interbehaviorism, mechanism, radical behaviorism

Contextualism and Mechanism: A Philosophical Review

SHEA FISHER (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Matthieu Villatte (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Contextualism and mechanism have both been posited as philosophical foundations underlying behavior analysis. The distinctions between these positions have gained considerable attention over the last couple of decades, with both sides claiming their view as the proper foundation for research in the field. This paper will review the various aspects of each perspective and how these competing visions have resulted in distinct programs of research. The discussion will conclude with a nuanced pathway through the conceptual thicket, resolving contradiction between the 2 views and providing a space for coexistence and possible synergy.


Revisiting the Distinction between Functional and Descriptive Contextualism

JONATHAN J. TARBOX (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Joshua K. Pritchard (Florida Institute of Technology)

A distinction has been proposed between 2 types of contextualism: functional and descriptive. This distinction is generally made on the basis that the 2 forms of contextualism exist side-by-side. We will argue that the primary distinction between the 2 forms of contextualism is that scholars of functional contextualism believe in cause-and-effect relations (erroneously referred to as functional relations) between events in nature, whereas scholars of descriptive contextualism do not. Further, we will argue that interbehaviorism, the prototypical example of descriptive contextualism, is a more basic philosophical system within which investigational systems, such as functional contextualism, operate. For this reason, it is not valid to criticize descriptive contextualism as not being useful for experimentation-that is not its purpose nor is it the purpose of any philosophy of science. Descriptive contextualism, and interbehaviorism in particular, provides the basic foundation upon which investigational constructs, such as the notion that changes in behavior are caused by contact with environmental events, can be contrived and used to aid in basic and applied research. In this light, functional contextualism is probably not properly called a philosophical system. It is a set of constructs created to aid in experimental investigation.


Philosophy Across the Battle Lines: Contextualism and Fieldism

THOMAS G. SZABO (University of Nevada, Reno), Linda J. Parrott Hayes (University of Nevada, Reno)

It has been nearly 2 decades since the terms descriptive and functional contextualism were coined as extensions of Pepper's (1942) contextualist world hypothesis to denote interbehaviorism and radical behaviorism, respectively. Although these terms may have once been useful, philosophy of science is not a static discipline, and recent discourse has led to a reevaluation of the positioning of interbehaviorism as the philosophical system most characteristic of the descriptive contextualist construct. We suggest that the intellectual forbears of interbehaviorism are not the same as those of radical behaviorism, nor are its foundational assumptions about scientific enterprise, and therefore interbehaviorism cannot adequately be characterized as a contextualist philosophy. Further, we posit that Pepper's model of 4 world hypotheses can be extended to include a fifth approach, Fieldism, of which interbehaviorism is the prototypical philosophical system. In this talk, we will discuss the unique dispersive, synthetic, and integrative qualities of field philosophies as well as the difference between field and contextualist research agendas. It is our view that understanding our points of intersect and departure will help us to communicate more effectively and build bridges within the field of behavior science where currently there are barricades.




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