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Behaviourism, methodological and scientific

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Methodological behaviourism is the doctrine that the data on which a psychological science must rest are behavioural data – or, at the very least, publicly observable data – not the private data provided to introspection by the contents of an observer’s consciousness. Scientific, or, as it was sometimes called, ‘radical’, behaviourism contends that scientific psychology ought to be concerned only with the formulation of laws relating observables such as stimuli and responses; not with unobservable mental processes and mechanisms such as attention, intention, memory and motivation. Methodological behaviourism is all but universally embraced by contemporary experimental psychologists, whereas scientific behaviourism is widely viewed as a doctrine in decline. Both forms of behaviourism were articulated by J.B. Watson in 1913. B.F. Skinner was the most prominent radical behaviourist.

In addition to its empiricist strictures against inferred mental mechanisms, radical behaviourism was also empiricist in its assumptions about learning, assuming that: (1) organisms have no innate principles that guide their learning; (2) learning is the result of a general-purpose process, not of a collection of mechanisms tailored to the demands of different kinds of problems; and (3) learning is a change in the relation between responses and the stimuli that control or elicit them. Many of these ideas continue to be influential, for example, in connectionism.

Citing this article:
Gallistel, C.R.. Behaviourism, methodological and scientific, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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