Behaviourism – Definition

The behaviourist theory has been first propounded by the psychologist J.B. Watson in Behaviourism (1925).

This branch asserts that psychological functionning is definable in terms of observed behavioural data.

Branches and Meanings

Initially introduced in order to establish a firm scientific basis for psychology, the theory has since had extensive elaboration, notably in the writings of B.F. Skinner. The term ‘Behaviourism’ covers three separate doctrines that are not, however, always distinguished one from the other :

  • Metaphysical behaviourism maintains that there is no such thing as consciousness : there are only organisms behaving
  • Methodogical behaviourism holds that, whatever the truth about this metaphysical question, a truly scientific psychology can only study publicly observable behaviour and may not deal with introspection
  • Analytical behaviourism claims that psychological can be analyzed in exclusively behavioural terms, and that this is what such words mean

Ryle and Wittgenstein Behaviourism

Is is analytical behaviourism that appealed most to philosophers. In his classic, The Concept of Mind by Ryle, Ryle argues that the cartesian myth of the ghost in the machine results from a category mistake about the exclusivity of the mental and psyhical, and that in fact mental concepts may be analysed in terms of overt acts and utterances.

In a modified version, Wittgenstein provides a focus for current debate in arguing that the criteria for the occurence of mental processes cannot be private, introspective acts, but must rather be publicly accessible forms of behaviour.

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