Ontological behaviorism: what is this philosophy and what is it based on

Defining what is meant by ontological behaviorism is not an easy task, as it is a term that is used to understand certain philosophical aspects of this way of understanding psychology.

Behavioralism, although not properly viewed as a philosophical stream, like any psychological stream attempts to describe how human beings act, making very limited use of aspects of philosophy.

Let’s look at some concepts covered by ontological behavioralism by a simple explanation of this concept.

    What is ontological behaviorism?

    Trying to describe what ontological behaviorism is, or trying to discern what are the ontological foundations of behavioral science, understood in its strictest sense and without resorting to internal processes, is not an easy task.

    The most radical and classic behaviorism, depicted in the figure of John B. Watson and Skinner, argues the following:

    1. Psychology is the science of behavior

    More classic behaviorism prefers to avoid getting into the dark and hard-to-measure aspects of the mind, such as internal psychological processes that cause a person to act in one way or another or to behave fundamentally unobservable.

    To say that psychology is the science of behavior implies, in favor of behavioralism, to reject it as a science of the mind. He seeks the external, the observable, which can purely describe the visible behavior of the individual.

    2. The behavior must be described without resorting to mental processes.

    Behavior, understood from a behaviorist perspective, must be measured in terms of external behaviors. The behavior of the individual should be described and explained without reference to mental events or internal processes..

    The sources of behavior are external, that is, the factors that cause an individual to behave in a certain way come from the external environment, and not from within as the mind would be.

    3. On the development of psychological theories

    If, during the development of a psychological theory, mental terms are used to describe or explain behavior, these terms should be deleted or replaced with more behavioral terms.

    In the event that replacement is not possible, mentalistic terms using behavioral language should be described.

      On free will

      In behavioral ontology, we have a very rough idea of ​​the concept of free will, or that of freedom of choice. This freedom generally refers to the fact that the individual can freely choose his destiny. Thus, a person can choose the way of good or the way of evil, if one takes a religious-spiritual perspective the concept of free will.

      Many people, defenders of the concept of spirit or soul, distinguish between human freedom and animal conditioning, this being a critique of the behavioral model to extrapolate, too exaggeratedly, the results obtained with animals to the human model.

      The pro-ment / soul considers that the human being is able to rise above his genetic and environmental characteristics, Except in cases of severe psychopathology. Human beings are free to overcome epigenetic conditions and to decide their own path completely voluntarily.

      The behavior of an animal, such as a cat, a dog or any other, could not be due to a completely free decision of him, could not fight against environmental and genetic conditions. For example, a cat that plays with a mouse and then kills and eats it doesn’t really act freely. He acts instinctively. Although, putting ourselves in the poor mouse’s shoes, we would say that the cat is acting badly, it doesn’t really do it, it just behaves like the world has conditioned it.

      But what ontological behaviorism maintains is that in reality, and from a perhaps too exaggerated perspective of behaviorism itself, the concept of right and wrong cannot be applied to human behavior because than freedom of choice is, in fact, a mere illusion. Between a cat and a human being, there are no more differences than that of simple intellectual complexity.

      an example

      Take the case of a thief. Socially, his criminal conduct will be seen as a bad thing, a decision resulting from having chosen the evil path. However, if we were to try to see their individual history and be able to know their genetic heritage, we could see that, really, the world, as he did, forced him to do it.

      It is obvious that what he commits is a crime and he must be punished for it, in addition to giving him the necessary resources so that he can rehabilitate himself and exercise his life without having to continue committing a crime. However, and putting us in the thief’s shoes, is he really stealing because he likes it, because he can decide between one way or another, has he decided to do harm?

      From the outside, one might think that in society there are enough resources that a person does not end up committing crimes. However, growing up in a dysfunctional environment with few resources, in addition to having some intellectual limitation, may have forced him to follow the path of crime, losing hope in power to act in less disruptive ways. socially. The evil he has done should not necessarily be taken as synonymous with evil.

      The concept of evil is a product of religion, a qualitative way of classifying human behavior. A more puristic behaviorism chooses to describe behaviors in terms of stimulus-response, not valuing them, or trying to unravel the internal processes that caused them, as environmental factors are more important.

      About reflection

      For one of the most famous behaviorists, BF Skinner, thought is nothing more than a series of silent whispers., Or so he described in his book Analysis of Verbal Behavior. We humans give verbal responses when asked questions, and we have “silent whispers,” that is, thoughts about this same behavior, a behavior that constitutes the act of speaking.

      Our verbal behavior, when the time is right, calls for logical analysis, but that does not mean that the mind really has the capacity to act completely free. When we reflect, truly the deeds we have seen and the words spoken to us condition our mind.. The mind would be nothing more than the effect of conditions such as past experiences, how we felt, and all of that mixed in with the action of neurotransmitters and gene coding.

      From ontological behaviorism, the human being, in terms of behavior, is no more free than the cat in the previous example or a correctly programmed robot. He receives contributions and the so-called free spirit would act in a logical and coherent manner, preparing the most appropriate outcome for the occasion, however free that decision might seem.

      This way of conceiving the mind, the thought and the internal processes would be what, after being the most powerful current in the 60s and 70s, the behaviorism would decline and the cognitive visions would play a more important role.

      AAlthough cognitivism used behavioral techniques, it claimed the need to know the purpose of the individual when achieving a certain behavior., And look at all the internal processes that explain why a given behavior occurs. Cognitive psychologists do not accept behaviorism as a sufficient current because it rejects, at least its most radical side, the existence of the mind or that it should be the object of study.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Posso-Meza, A. (2018). Ontological and epistemic aspects of BF Skinner’s behaviorism. Journal of Philosophy Students. 31, 1-12
      • Flanagan JO (1980). Metaphysical Skinnerian and the problem of operationalism. Behaviorism vol. 8 No. 1.pages 1-13.
      • O’Donohue, W. and Smith, LD (1992). Philosophical and psychological epistemologies in behaviorism and behavioral therapy. Behavioral Therapy, 23 (2), pages 173–194. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1016/S0005-7894(05)80380-6.

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