Skinner's distinction between rule-governed and contingency-shaped behaviour

Philosophical Psychology 1 (2):225 – 234 (1988)
Abstract
The distinction that Skinner draws in his 'An operant analysis of problem solving' (1966, 1969, 1984) between 'rule-governed' and 'contingency-shaped' behaviour is arguably the most important single contribution to the theory of behaviour that he has made in a long and uniquely distinguished career. The concept of a 'rule' as a 'contingency-specifying' verbal formula which exercises 'stimulus control' over other aspects of the behaviour of a linguistically competent human being presents a formidable challenge to contemporary cognitive psychology in that the Representation' and 'computation' of environmental contingencies is seen as confined to verbally controlled behaviour emitted by linguistically competent human subjects. It also suggests a way of filling a major gap in the account of language offered by Skinner in his earlier book Verbal Behaviour (1957), namely the lack of any account of how the speaker is able to use instructions to evoke behaviour which the listener never previously emitted and declarative sentences to convey information about contingencies which the listener has never previously encountered.
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    Peter Geach (1957). Mental Acts. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
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