The Two Skinners, Modern and Postmodern

Behavior and Philosophy 27 (2):97 - 125 (1999)
Different accounts of Skinner's work are often in conflict. Some interpretations, for example, regard Skinner as a mechanist. Other interpretations regard Skinner as a selectionist. An alternative interpretation is to see Skinner as employing both views with changes in these views and their proportionate relations over time. To clarify these distinctions, it is helpful to see Skinner's work against the background of similar changes that have been taking place in Western Culture. An extended and overlapping shift in cultural values has occurred from modernism to postmodernism. Some key distinctions in this shift are that modernism emphasizes abstract simplicity, permanent necessity, and absolutely certain sources of truth. Postmodernism emphasizes complex and concrete contexts, probability, and explanations of change in terms of consequences. Skinner shows a similarly extended and overlapping shift over time that results in separate sets of responses which may be regarded as two sides or two selves of Skinner: one an organized collection of responses aligned with modernism, another an organized collection of responses aligned with postmodernism.
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