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Behaviourism in the social sciences

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-R002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

Article Summary

Classical behaviourism has had almost no direct reflection in the social sciences, in that there has never been a behaviourist social psychology or sociology. However, various features of the cluster of behaviourist doctrines have been widespread in the human sciences. Behaviourism as it developed from its roots in the proposals of Watson, and in its transformation by Skinner, had two influential aspects, one metaphysical and the other methodological. The metaphysics of behaviourism was positivistic. It was hostile to theory, favouring a psychology the subject matter of which was limited to stimuli and responses. It was hospitable to the conception of causation as regular concomitance of events, rejecting any generative or agent causal concepts. The methodology of behaviourism was hospitable to simple experimental techniques of inquiry, seeking statistical relations between independent and dependent variables. It was hostile to descriptions of human action that incorporated the intentions of the actor, favouring a laconic vocabulary of neologisms. Metaphysically and methodologically behaviourism favoured the individual as the locus of psychological phenomena. But, in practice, the use of statistical analyses of data abstracted psychological processes from real human beings leaving only simplified automata in their place.

Citing this article:
Harre, Rom. Behaviourism in the social sciences, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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