Minding behavior

Behavior and Philosophy 32 (1):125-147 (2004)
There is a conflict of interest in behaviorism between diction and content, between clean speech and effective speech, between what we say and what we know. This article gives a framework for speech that is both clean and effective, that respects graded validation of hypotheses, and that favors distinction over doctrine. The article begins with the description of SDT, a mathematical model of discrimination based on statistical decision theory, which serves as leitmotif. It adopts Skinner's distinction between tacts and mands, the former as responses under the predominant control of the stimulus and the latter as responses under the predominant control of the reinforcer. To analyze behavior is to understand the relative contribution of each of these loci of control, measured as d' and C, respectively. SDT is then applied to causal attributions. It is shown that Skinner's fundamental model of behavior, the three-term contingency, is itself a causal structure, with the initiating stimulus an efficient cause, the reinforcer a final cause, and the response and its various components the substrate upon which these act. In light of these correspondences, covert (mental) processes are viewed as links in a causal chain, under joint control of initiating and reinforcing stimuli. Their ascription is an inference, made with confidence when the links rise to the surface and with dubiety as they sink to the abyss. There exists no threshold at which the links become a different kind of thing; there are only gradients of clarity and confidence about what we take them to be. The host to these processes has a privileged but corrigible perspective on them and on the history of reinforcement that led to them. Skinner's model of the operant is a useful causal model of many nested levels, including covert processes such as cognition. In the avatar of SDT his model provides a tool for qualifying verbal behavior, including descriptions of cognition
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