David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Behavior and Philosophy 25 (2):83 - 94 (1997)
Linguistic Behaviorism (Place, 1996) is an attempt to reclaim for the behaviorist perspective two disciplines, linguistics and linguistic philosophy, most of whose practitioners have been persuaded by Chomsky's (1959) Review of B. F. Skinner's (1957) "Verbal Behavior" that behaviorism has nothing useful to contribute to the study of language. It takes as axiomatic (a) that the functional unit of language is the sentence, and (b) that sentences are seldom repeated word-for-word, but are constructed anew on each occasion of utterance out of units, words, phrases and turns of phrase, that are repeated. On this view, the problem of discriminating the true from the false arises from the use of novel declarative sentences (statements) to depict or, to use Skinner's term, "specify" contingencies the like of which the listener need never have encountered and to which he would otherwise have no access. In such cases the listener needs to distinguish among the sentences he receives from other speakers between those where the situation depicted/specified corresponds to that which actually exists at the time and place specified in the sentence and are, therefore, true, and those to which no actual situation corresponds and which are, therefore, false.
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