The Theory Debate in Psychology

Behavior and Philosophy 35:149 - 183 (2007)
Abstract
This paper is a conceptual analysis of the theory debate in psychology, as carried out by cognitivists and radical behaviorists. The debate has focused on the necessity of theories in psychology. However, the logically primary issue is the nature of theories, or what theories are. This claim stems from the fact that cognitivists and radical behaviorists adopt disparate accounts of the nature of theories. The cognitivists' account is closely akin to the received view from logical positivism, where theories are collections of statements and theoretical terms are restricted to designate unobservable entities. Radical behaviorists also conceive theories as collections of statements, but restrict theoretical terms in psychology to designate observable entities. If each side approaches the necessity issue with its preferred account, both agree that theories are necessary in psychology. Hence, there is no disagreement over the necessity of theories in psychology per se, only over the nature of theories. The received view, however, has been shown to suffer from irreparable difficulties that have led to its total rejection in post-positivistic philosophy of science. Alternative accounts, like the structuralist and semantic views, do not raise the issue of whether theories are necessary in psychology.
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