Behaviourism - Encyclopedia

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"BEHAVIOURISM. - In the earlier article on Instinct (see 14.648) and also, though perhaps less obviously, in that on Intelligence In Animals (see 14.680), the stress was laid On behaviour. In later years attention has been turned more and more to what has become known in this connexion as " behaviourism." What then is behaviourism? It has features in common with pragmatism and with neo-realism. It is however (as is the case with these other 'isms) somewhat difficult to define. If we seek to elicit from the writings of this or that behaviourist a clear statement of the doctrine he champions or accepts, we find not a little divergence of opinion. And perhaps each would remind us that J. J. Thomson has spoken of science as a policy rather than a creed. What then is their common policy? One may reply without much fear of misinterpreting their aim: A resolute application of radical empiricism in the scientific interpretation of all behaviour and conduct.

In this interpretation a good deal turns on the relation of behaviour to consciousness, in some sense of this word. " Critics of behaviourism," says Weiss (1918), " do not recognize clearly enough that the term ` consciousness ' varies in its meaning with nearly every person who uses it. There is no generally accepted definition or description; and the fact that psychologists and philosophers have been unable to reach an agreement is one of the conditions which has precipitated behaviourism." As to behaviourists themselves he tells us that, thus far, they have agreed that the most convenient procedure is not to use it at all. It needs, however, but little acquaintance with their writings to realize that, so far is this from being a matter of common agreement among them, there is much discussion of the sense in which the adjective " conscious " as applied to behaviour is to be understood. Here again opinions differ. But let us put the question in a rather different form. Let us ask: In what sense is the word " consciousness " to be rejected by every behaviourist? As to the answer to this question there is a far larger measure of agreement.

In 1904 William James asked the question: Does consciousness exist? His reply was that it does not exist as an hypostatized entity with the unique privilege of activity, but that it does exist as a function. In its negative aspect his answer excludes " the hypothesis of trans-empirical reality," i.e. that from which proceeds what is sometimes spoken of as " an alien influx into nature." The transcendental Ego of the philosophies, he urges, shows how " the spiritual principle attenuates itself to a thoroughly ghostly condition." And he says roundly: " I believe that ` consciousness,' when once it has evaporated to this estate of pure diaphaneity, is on the point of disappearing altogether. Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint rumor left behind by the disappearing ` soul' upon the air of philosophy." There is no activity of consciousness in this sense. " The healthy thing for philosophy is to leave off grubbing underground (in the realm of the transempirical) for what effects effectuation or what makes action act." Activity in an empirical sense there is in plenty. It is change in progress referred to some " storm-centre " of change. It is change intrinsic to some system and not merely imposed upon it from without. But there is for scientific treatment no activity of a trans-empirical entity which may be regarded as the source of such change. When therefore a behaviourist says that " we need a psychology of human conduct to supplant the psychology of consciousness " (G. A. Tawney 1911), that which he seeks to supplant is a psychology which invokes what James spoke of as trans-empirical agency. It is probably not going too far to say that this marks a distinctive feature of behaviourist interpretation.

It should here be added that though this may with some confidence be said to be a distinctive feature of behaviourist interpretation it does not follow that if this be accepted one may infer that a writer who accepts it is to be ranked as a behaviourist. It is, for example, fully endorsed by Howard C. Warren in his Human Psychology (1920). But he says: " The .behaviourist contends that the data of consciousness should be ruled out of science altogether because they are not causal factors. This narrowing of the scope of science has not justified itself up to the present. Self-observation has proved more useful than the study of behaviour in investigating the phenomena of human mental life." It is questionable, however, whether all who label themselves behaviourists do contend that the data of consciousness should be ruled out altogether. R. M. Yerkes would not agree that this is so in animal psychology. And E. B. Holt, though he sails under. the behaviourist flag in his Freudian Wish, assuredly does not rule out consciousness.

Let us broaden our outlook. If we extend the use of the word " behaviour " so as to include physical events, their modern treatment tends more and more towards behaviourism. " Our sole task," says A. N. Whitehead, "is to exhibit in one system the characters and inter-relations of all that is observed. Our attitude towards nature is purely behaviouristic so far as concerns the formulation of physical concepts." His attitude towards organic events and their mental concomitants may be different. But his rejection of any " bifurcation of nature " and his polemic against a doctrine of " psychic additions " (Concept of Nature, ch. ii.) is in line with the neo-realistic attitude of those behaviourists who deal with organic life. His percipient event is the homologue of the organism under the treatment of radical behaviourism. Neither the one nor the other stands in need of any " psychic addition " ab extra for the adequate interpretation of the facts. Each is set in a field which for the physicist is a field of acceleration, and for the biologist and psychologist is a field of the environment to which the organism responds more suo. The business of science in each case is to formulate an answer to the question: Given such a field, having what may be called varying density, what happens therein? One does not enquire: What makes that which happens so happen? At least one does not ask any such question in a trans-empirical sense. To do so is to " grub underground for what makes action act." But on such terms where does psychology come in? One has here to realize that there are two schools of behaviourists. According to one school the study of conduct is to supplant that of consciousness through so-called methods of introspection. According to the other school such study is to give new value and direction to psychology and thus involves not the abandoning but a redefining of the concept of consciousness. Here alliance is sought with those whom they regard as in spirit, if not in name, one with them in aim. Behaviourists of this latter school, while still rejecting consciousness as a trans-empirical agent, and thus avoiding all taint of animistic interpretation, all interaction of mind and body as disparate entities, all so-called parallelism and the like, none the less accept consciousness as an empirical function. What does this mean? It is connected with what is spoken of as the relational view of consciousness, and thus has points of contact with the relational view of space-time. Indeed F. J. E. Woodbridge (1905) says that we should use the expression " in consciousness " in a manner like unto that in which we use the expression " in space " or " in time "; and just as we do not ask if space and time, as such, affect things causally, so too we should not raise the question of the causal efficiency of consciousness.

The wedge of entry of the psychic regard, implied by the use of the word " consciousness," is through the concept of awareness. Lotze spoke of one physical body " taking note of " others. Thus the earth takes note of the sun in a gravitative field; iron filings take note of a magnet in an electro-magnetic field. But awareness commonly implies some mental as well as physical taking note of - something, however rudimentary, of the nature of being acquainted with. Now if we speak of a relational field of awareness as one in which this conscious " taking note of " obtains, the organism which is stimulated and responds is always central within that field. If then we call this central term the psycho-organism, it is the locus of consciousness in the sense of being aware. It is the experiencing term in relation to terms in the environment which are experienced. That is one way of regarding consciousness in the. widest sense of the word. Consciousness is the class of all instances of experiencing on the part of psycho-organisms. Whitehead's percipient event, taking note of physically, is also a perceiving event, taking note of psychically. But of course the psycho-organism, as perceiving centre, is that very complexly integrated system of such psychical events which we commonly call a mind.

There is, however, another way of regarding consciousness. Instead of restricting the application of the word to processes of minding within the percipient centre, the concept is extended so as to comprise all that is in the field of awareness as minded. That which one is aware of, no matter how distant its locus of origin may be from the percipient centre, is " in mind," and therefore " in consciousness," as a relational field. One is, no doubt, conscious in seeing, or imaging, or remembering; but one is also conscious of what is seen, imaged, or remembered. And what one is conscious of has every right to be regarded as in consciousness. This distinction between the " in " and the " of " (as here used) goes back at least as far as Berkeley, who spoke of perceiving as in mind " by way of attribute " and of that which is perceived as in mind " by way of idea." We sometimes speak of the former as " in consciousness " and of the latter as " for consciousness "; or of the former as " subjective " and of the latter as " objective." But the behaviourist is, as he might say, " out for " objective treatment. Part of his motive is to show the futility of subjecticism. Hence, for his treatment, the emphasis falls on that of which one is conscious. Thus E. B. Holt would urge that there is nothing in the subsistent or existent world (for our developed knowledge or our more primitive acquaintance) of which we may not be conscious. For him therefore consciousness is a section through the world of experience, of which section the organism that we speak of as perceiving or conceiving is, in any given particular case, the centre. And Woodbridge (1905) says: "Objects are connected in consciousness in such a way that they become known. It is important to note that, while this is so, the knowledge is wholly determined in its content by the relations of the objects in consciousness to one another, not by the relation of consciousness to the objects." To be " in consciousness " is thus on this view to be in a field of awareness which may, like space-time, be coextensive with the universe. But this is not the only view - so much turns on definition. Others, without invoking an independent psychic entity, and without denying that there is a widely extensive field of awareness, within which all objects for consciousness are set, would differentiate consciousness as an imperium in imperio and restrict it to the organism as the percipient centre within that field. B. H. Bode (1917) goes further and advocates a yet more restricted concept of consciousness according to which some reference to the future is an essential criterion. " Consciousness is behaviour that is controlled by the future." There is much to be said for the contention that human consciousness is the mental correlate of behaviour that is controlled by anticipations of the future. James urged that with every definite image " goes the sense of its relations, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning sense of whither it is to lead." But this is not quite what Bode says. He speaks of consciousness as " just a future adaption that has been set to work so as to bring about its own realization." This implies that the locus of consciousness, thus regarded, is the percipient centre. " As Dewey has pointed out, the psychical is correlated with intra-organic adjustments within the organism, that is adjustments of the organism considered not with reference to the environment, but with reference to one another." This seems to give to psychology, as commonly understood, a more definite place than is readily to be found in the treatment of Watson. And Yerkes (1917) criticizing the behaviourism of Watson " as simply and solely the physiology of organic activity," claims that there is a science of " psychics " on a par with that of " physics," including in the latter objective physiology and biology. Enough has been said in this connexion to show that it is no easy task to bring to a focus the essentials of behaviourist creed or policy.

Apart from philosophical implications, and apart from its relation, if any, to consciousness, a cardinal feature of this policy is to start out from behaviour as that which lies open to objective observation instead of from introspection, which is supposed to yield some trans-empirical psychic force or energy. Behaviour is the biological " end " of all processes in the organism; it is that which we seek to interpret under the canons of strictly scientific procedure; it is therefore that from which such interpretation should set forth. This, it is urged, has been realized by all the best workers on the problems of animal life; it has been realized in a measure by those who lay stress, in human life, on the importance of conduct. Here the realization needs to be widened and strengthened. Watson would add that it must be formulated in physiological and biological terms. In human life there is no doubt much emphasis on language and on thought. What is language, however, but a subtle mode of behaviour - " laryngeal behaviour " if we include all the contributory bodily processes which centre round oral speech, and, as integrated therewith, the written word? How large a proportion of human behaviour finds its expression in language and its attendant modes of symbolization! But in our adult life much of this has been rendered implicit and no longer gets overt or explicit expression. None the less it is present, as unvoiced " laryngeal behaviour," though " the moment the overt slips into the implicit, instrumentation [the use of delicate apparatus] becomes necessary to bring the process out for observation " (Watson). Even then it is difficult to interpret the data owing to much abbreviation and short-circuiting.

Now, many who would not care to be labelled behaviourists might provisionally agree that language, expressed or suppressed, is the outcome of thought. But this is not good enough for the physiological behaviourist pur sang. Language behaviour and thought must be identified. Thus Watson contended that " thought is the action of language mechanisms." It is not, as some assume, " something, no one knows quite what, that can go on in the absence of all muscular activity. It is a constituent part of every adjustment process.... It is not different in essence from tennis-playing, swimming, or any other overt activity except that it is hidden fromordinary observation and is more complex and at the same time more abbreviated." If then thought is the action of the laryngeal mechanisms just as swimming is the action of other bodily mechanisms, it clearly follows that thought, for this behaviourist " psychology," in which the word " consciousness " is taboo, is a mode of bodily behaviour. In what sense can this be accepted on behaviourist principles? Not without diffidence it may be suggested that to get the answer to this question it is essential to recognize that the organism responds as an integrated whole, and that all that follows on stimulation in some life-situation must be regarded as behaviour. Laryngeal behaviour is the outcome of the behaviour of effectors; their behaviour is the outcome of that of a nervous system with its inherited and acquired neuronic pattern; this behaviour in turn is due to that of many receptors under adequate stimulation. All human conduct, including speech, overt or implicit, is the final expression of the behaviour of the organism, man, as a whole; and this organism is what it is, and finally does what it does as the result of all that has happened to it during development under the environing conditions of life up to date. Watson seems to lay chief stress on what has been spoken of above as the final expression - the business end of the whole business. And perhaps he would regard what has been said as involving an unwarrantable extension of the concept of behaviour. But there is much, even in his treatment, which lends colour to such an interpretation of that which he would regard as the cardinal policy of behaviourism.

The physiological story above outlined is a familiar one. Watson tells it admirably and adds effective and illuminating touches. He is honest in confessing that much still remains conjectural. One is left in wonder, however, why when the ship of psychology is lightened by throwing consciousness overboard, thought also should not be silently dropped over the stern. Then the vessel thus rendered thoroughly seaworthy might be rechristened and given some more appropriate name under which to pursue her voyage. Psychology seems a misnomer.

The name is, however, retained. So let that pass. Revert to the emphasis on the final expression in act and deed. Here is a bit of sound policy. It is this final expression which is of prime importance in animal behaviour and in human conduct. Herein lies the pragmatic value of behaviourist treatment. Men have, for example, to be selected for vocational work, for service in the social community, as promising for this job or for that, on occasion as likely to be efficient in the army. They must be chosen for what they can do, and do rapidly, surely and well. It is claimed, and there is evidence to substantiate the claim, that the behaviourist with his stress on the effective output in conduct, is able to make a wiser choice than the " orthodox " psychologist who is said to be obsessed with the older intellectualistic methods which involve too much reliance on the methods of introspection only - whose " pure psychology " is of slender value in its application to the current problems of busy life. In another field of practical application it is urged that the methods of behaviourism will be fruitful. Both Watson (1916) and Holt seek to apply them in the procedure of psychoanalysis; and the latter author interprets the Freudian Wish in terms of his special form of behaviourism and his relational treatment of consciousness. One may hazard the opinion that a judicious dose of behaviourist interpretation may serve as a corrective of some of the tenets of what now goes by the name of the New Psychology.

Of late years in England it is instinct in man, rather than in animals, that has occupied the attention of psychologists and sociologists. For this purpose the definition of instinctive behaviour as that which is unlearnt - the form of which is not acquired in the course of individual experience, coming by nature and not through nurture - has been found not only difficult of application in human life but scarcely serviceable for marking a contrast which calls for emphasis. Instead therefore of using the word " instinctive " to mark those forms of behaviour which are unlearnt and not individually acquired, some use it to distinguish those modes of behaviour which take form unreflectively from those which are the outcome of rational thought under fully deliberate choice. Thus the instincts of the herd, with which W. Trotter has dealt in an able and illuminating manner, are, in part at least, modes of behaviour which have been learnt under the social conditions of gregarious life, which are in large measure due to tradition, and which are only endorsed under the long-familiar process which has of late been called rationalization. Here the bolstering up by some assigned reason is subsequent to the " instinctive " performance of the act. In all this there is nothing which cannot, under appropriate definition, be interpreted on behaviourist principles.

There is, however, another way of dealing with instinct, either in the unlearnt or in the not-reflective sense, which will be rejected by most, if not all, behaviourists - nay more which is rejected by many of the leading American psychologists and philosophers who would not wish to be regarded as exponents of behaviourism. This is the increasingly prevalent doctrine in England according to which instincts are forces of character, modes of psychic energy, prime movers of human conduct, types of true mental activity, exemplars of genuine impulse, as the rational psychologist and not the physiologist understands this word. It finds able expression in W. McDougall's Social Psychology, in A. F. Shand's Foundations of Character, and in J. Drever's Instinct in Man. It is traceable in W. Trotter's Instincts of the Herd, in L. T. Hobhouse's Mind in Evolution, and in W. H. R. Rivers' Instinct and the Unconscious. For those who advocate a new psychology, this seems to be a pivotal concept in the increasing literature of psycho-analysis. Its spiritual father in this country is James Ward, whose article Psychology in the E.B., 9th Ed., marked a turning-point in thought. It has been fostered through the influence of Henri Bergson. It involves the concept of a " kind of causality so connected with the nature of conative consciousness that it can belong to nothing else " (G. F. Stout, to whose Manual an important chapter on Instinct has been added, 1913).

If there is any validity in the characterization of behaviourism outlined above, this is the psychology which its supporters seek to supplant, since it involves, as they aver, a bifurcation of nature through the introduction of trans-empirical concepts. And assuredly those who hold this creed will, on their part, utterly reject behaviourism.

See J. B. Watson; " Psychology as the Behaviourist views it," Psych. Rev. xx., 1913 (to this article may probably be assigned the introduction of the word); Behaviour (1914); Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviourist (1920); E. B. Holt, The Concept of Consciousness (1914), The Freudian Wish (1915). See also Jour. of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods from 1904 to date. The dates in the text after the names of Bode, Weiss, Yerkes and others refer to articles in this journal under the years of publication.

W. James's " Does Consciousness Exist? " appeared in the first volume and is reprinted with other pertinent papers in Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912). (C. LL. M.)

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