Epistemological Behaviorism: What It Is And How It Influenced Psychology

Epistemological behaviorism

Explaining what epistemological behaviorism is is not an easy task.since it is intertwined with philosophical concepts that resort, to a greater or lesser extent, to mentalistic terms that behaviorists did not view favorably.

The epistemological foundations of behavioral science have been to legitimize psychology as a science, but doing so in such a radical way that one could even say that it lost a lot of information along the way, relevant but hidden in the mind. Let’s try to understand this issue a little more thoroughly.

Epistemological behaviorism and philosophical background

Psychology has fueled the controversy between empiricism and rationalism when it has tried to establish itself as a full science, with the same rights as the all-powerful exact sciences, such as mathematics, physics and chemistry. Before entering into the perspective taken by behaviorism, it is necessary to go into detail about the vision of rationalism and empiricism about obtaining knowledge:

First of all, Rationalism supports the idea that regularities can be found in the world, and that it is from these regularities that universal laws can be established. These universal laws would be obtained through reason.

Secondly we have empiricism, philosophical view that considers that there is no way to reach universalitythat is, it is not possible to obtain universal laws in everything since not everything can be presented in a regular way.

Empiricism defends the idea that it is not viable to think any idea that does not come from the impressions of the senses. We learn about the world through our impressions, the judgments we make afterwards are not, in reality, learning per se, but rather reflection. Knowledge, understood as general laws, would be nothing more than the generalization of facts from the habits of the mind.

Hume considered that the principle of causality, that is, relating one event to another subsequent event (cause-effect) was constituted from ideas that are associated with each other thanks to mental activity. But These ideas do not arise in the vacuum of the mind, but are come through sensory experience.. The mind forms the habit and relates simple ideas creating complex ideas or reflections. It would be these more complex ideas that would allow us to point out the relationship of events under the condition of causality.

You may be interested:  How to Recover from Failures in 8 Keys

The mind, by repeatedly observing events, associates events that occur successively, and determines that one is the cause and the other is the effect. Thus, it is understood that the laws are, in reality, conjectures based on individual experiences and that, although it is believed that they are always conditioned, that they will always manifest one followed by the other, it does not have to be that way.

The sciences, in their attempt to become exact sciences, have used the search for all causal relationships but with universal regularities. This has been, according to several authors, the case of experimental psychology. Psychology has found itself in the middle of the empiricist-rationalist debate, searching for cause and effect relationships and, in turn, regularities in all possible places. that could make behavior predictable.

This is where we enter the epistemological foundations of behaviorism. The most classical behaviorists tried to make the explanations of human behavior considered scientific, but first, it must be possible to discover regularities that explain it. These regularities must come in terms of causes and effects. An event causes the individual to carry out a certain behavior, as the most primitive version of behaviorism indicates.

Behaviorism and associationism

Of the antecedents that marked psychology as a positive science, we can speak of Ivan Pavlov and other scientists who formed the Russian physiology movement. They are the antecedents of a scientific psychology that would become the associationist current, which includes the majority of physiologists and experimental psychologists who have had the intention of explaining human behavior.

You may be interested:  7 Tips to Improve the Relationship Between Teenagers and Their Parents

These based their explanations on the principle of causality, and this is why their explanations have been taken as the antecedents of scientific psychology, related to the experimental trend initiated by Wilhelm Wundt. They sought to establish necessary and sufficient relationships between events or facts, in this case behavior and physiology.. Thus, psychology, understood as a strict science, seeks to explain and account for the variables that control human behavior.

But the concept of causality has been strongly associated in psychology with the behaviorist stimulus-response model. Behaviorism, already in its origins, considered that All behaviors can be analyzed from concrete and objective movementsthat each of them is elicited by the effect of a stimulus located in the environment.

This is, perhaps, the problem that prevented behaviorism from progressing more successfully over the years, given that it was seen as very focused on the stimulus-response model, in addition to ignoring all the internal processes of the subject. If we move away from the study of observable behavior, behaviorism, as a current, fails. It is seen as a psychological current that is too limited, deterministic and anti-humanistic.

About pragmatic behaviorism

There are those who consider that describing behaviorism as a current solely focused on explaining behavior based on causal relationships between two variables is, in reality, a historical and conceptual inaccuracy. It is considered that causality should not be the concept on which the historical development of behavioral science should be described. The premise is that the epistemological foundations of behaviorism should not be made from the notion of causality, but from pragmatism..

Many psychologists consider that behaviorism has its source in empiricism, since behaviorists take observation as a fundamental tool to gain insight into human behavior.

However, here they run into a problem, and that is that Empiricism did not deny the existence or usefulness of internal processes as causes of one’s own behavior.. In reality, empiricism, in the mouth of Hume himself, maintains that representation, ideas of reflection, such as pleasure or pain, arise because some events affect the soul, more modernly understood as mind. This is why, taking into account the behaviorist position on the idea of ​​mind, it is not appropriate to call behaviorists empiricists.

You may be interested:  Consequences of Bullying: What Are the Effects of Bullying in Adulthood?

About Watson and Skinner

The beginning of behaviorism, as a current, occurs after John B. Watson published his Manifesto behaviorist (“Behaviorist Manifesto”) in 1913. This text was about distort the dualistic explanations of a metaphysical nature, typical of René Descartes, which Cartesian rationalist psychology had inherited. Watson gave greater importance to non-mentalistic explanations, based on the objective study of behavior, which was transferred to the entire behaviorist current that would later take shape.

Due to this, behaviorism has been considered, at least in its origins, physicalist, causal and, in a certain way, recurring to the postulates of logical positivism. It has been argued that all behavioral epistemology proceeds from a physicalist scheme, a causal relationship.

However, if the figure of BF Skinner is approached, one cannot make the mistake of thinking that his epistemology as a methodological framework comes from logical positivism. Skinner did not understand the operant as an event that occurs in the internal and subjective world of the individual.but understood it in purely behavioral terms.

Its methodology is not understood as a mere establishment of causes, something very typical of the oldest and most classic stimulus-response model, but rather also carries out a functional contingency analysis.

Skinner rejects any metaphysical concept, he tries to reject Kant’s essentialist metaphysics, avoiding resorting to terms such as mind, consciousness, spirit, ideas and others that refer to processes that cannot be directly observed. His epistemology is, in essence, of a pragmatic type, since it starts from the extent to which the rules that seem to govern, or do not govern, the world are known, seeing them in terms of relationships but not causality, strictly speaking.

Bibliographic references: