In the mid-twentieth century, philosophical behaviorism was born, a movement whose main goal was to denounce errors in philosophy and psychology derived from the construct “mind”, to which we attribute a veracity not guaranteed by scientific analysis. The two key authors of this development were Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
In this article we will describe the historical origin and the main approaches of philosophical behavioralism. We will dwell in particular on the description of two of the key contributions of these authors: the critique of the concepts of “mind” and “private language”, which oppose many of the mentalist ideas in force then and today. ‘hui.
What is behaviorism?
Behavioralism is a set of approaches to analyzing the behavior of humans and other animals that focuses on observable behavior. This is understood as the result of the interaction between the organism, including its individual history, and the relevant stimuli in a given situation.
From this orientation a more important role is given to the environment than to heritage in the genesis of behavior. Of particular note is the role of reinforcement and punishment processes, which increase or decrease the likelihood that a particular behavior will be performed again under circumstances similar to the learning situation.
Among the authors who have had a decisive influence on this orientation are Edward Thorndike, Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson and Burrhus F. Skinner. His contributions are part of a historical context in which psychoanalysis has dominated our discipline; Behaviorism was above all a reaction to the creeping mentalism of the psychology of the time.
Currently, the most relevant branch of behaviorism is applied behavior analysis, which is part of the Skinnerian paradigm of radical behaviorism. In this perspective, mental processes are conceived as phenomena equivalent to other behaviors and are studied as such; on the contrary, in methodological behavior, they have been neglected.
Origin and approaches of philosophical behavioralism
In the mid-twentieth century, a philosophical movement emerged focused on a conception of language different from that advocated by empirical and rationalist traditions. The two main authors of this flow, sometimes called “Ordinary Language Movement”, were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle.
Classical approaches to philosophy tend to focus on language and the artificial constructions that flow from it. However, according to the ordinary language movement, such objects of study are wrong because it is not possible to take words as credible models of reality; therefore, to attempt to do so is a methodological error.
Many of the subjects that have been studied in philosophy and psychology require that they be designed as fair concepts such as “knowledge”, “intention” or “idea”. Something similar happens with classic dichotomies like the distinction between body and mind. Assuming from the outset that such approaches are legitimate leads to analyzing them from a bad basis.
The mistake of private language
Although Wittgenstein, Ryle and the authors who have followed them do not deny the existence of mental processes, they have asserted that we cannot know the psychological experience of others. We use words to denote abstract internal experiencesSo we never pass them on faithfully or completely.
According to Ryle, when we express our mental contents, we are actually referring to the very act of externalizing them. Likewise, we speak of causes to systematically describe the same phenomenon as the supposed consequence; this happens, for example, by saying that someone behaves nicely because they are nice.
The very concept of “private language” poses a problem for philosophical behaviorism. These contents which we refer to with words like “thought” are, in fact, a series of sensations and internal processes which cannot be translated into words, but which have a much broader and more dynamic character.
For these reasons, and given the difficulty of extrapolating the psychological constructs manipulated by a person to other human beings, from this point of view the usefulness of self-analysis is denied, which includes the methods of introspective type analysis. The “private language”, if it is accessible, which would only be accessible to the individual himself.
The problem of body-mind dualism
Gilbert Ryle argued that the conception of observable mental phenomena and behavior as independent processes is a categorical error. This means that the debate arises as if one works without the intervention of the other and as if it is possible to separate its biological basis, when in reality this dichotomy is nothing more than a mistake.
From this approach stems the understanding of the mind as devoid of true consciousness. For Ryle, the term “mind” refers to a large set of phenomena, mainly of two types: behaviors observable from the outside and unobservable behavioral predispositions, generated by conditioning.
According to this author, the mind is therefore only a philosophical illusion that we have inherited from the philosophy of René Descartes. However, from a logical standpoint, this is a misconception; therefore, it would be the same for the contributions of the so-called “philosophy of the mind”, in which a large number of propositions of psychology would be encompassed.