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2009-07-26
Logical Behaviourism...
Hi,

I'm currently writing a dissertation on the connection between behaviour and the mental concepts for my MA and was wondering whether anyone could point me in the direction of some good articles or authors - particularly early or mid 20th Century - who have criticised the classical Logical Positivist formulation of behaviourism on the grounds that the reduction of behaviour to descriptions at the level of brute, bodily motions breaks down the distinction between action and mere movement which is crucial in forging any kind of link between the mental concepts and behaviour?

There is much made of circularity and explanatory vacuity in the literature but these criticisms are levelled at the type of logical behaviourism attributed to Ryle and Wittgenstein rather than the verificationist, classical formulation of the theory and I'm particularly keen to find some more material which specifically criticises Hempel, Carnap et al.

Any pointers you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Jay.


  

2009-07-27
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann

I don't know, Jason. Does anybody remember anything about any form of behaviourism? Certainly, there is very little critical material specifically directed at the early positivist behaviourists. The arguments in Chapter 11 ('Our knowledge of actions') of my The Act of Thinking (MIT Press 2004) count against the possibility of any genuinely scientific explanation of personal-level actions. But pretend-science – whether modern brain-mechanism-based cognitivism or Hempel's and Carnap's hard-out Mark1 behaviourism – is so far from the real thing, it's hard to know whether my arguments apply. See what you think.

Derek Melser



2009-07-27
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann

"Autonomous Systems" and the Performance Capacity Continuum


Can't help with providing references, but I wonder about the movement/action distinction: Both "movement" (as in a stone, rolling downhill) and "action" (as in a predator, stalking prey), are input/output patterns (in that you cannot characterize the state or dynamics of the stone or the predator without also characterizing the state and dynamics of the hill or the prey). So, apart from (arbitrary) complexity, is there really a difference between movement and action? 

(The best way to think of this is neither in terms of inert stones nor conscious organisms, but merely in terms of robots with greater or lesser performance capacity. It looks like a continuum to me. The vexed notion of "autonomy" will also need to be looked into more rigorously than it usually is...)



2009-07-27
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
I can't remember its details, but I recommend C. D. Broad's early refutation of behaviourism in The Mind in its Place in Nature [1925]. My memory is that he then follows it with another 12 pages of criticism, which he apologizes for because the thesis he is criticizing is so ridiculous. Chapter 10 of my book Mental Reality [1994, 2nd ed 2010] may also be indirectly useful, also ch 6.

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
The best place to look is Jerry Fodor's first book, Psychological Explanation.
Another good source is the introductory chapter of The Psychology of Language, by Fodor, Bever, and Garrett (1974).

Best of luck.


2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Stevan Harnad
Hi Stevan,

I think the distinction between movement and action is essential to any understanding of the relationship between mental concepts and human or animal behaviour.

The classical behaviourist contention - as outlined by Hempel - was that mental concepts could be translated, without loss of meaning, into descriptions of bodily behaviour. His list of test sentences ranged from high-level descriptions of agential behaviour - including verbal behaviour - right through to underlying physiological changes in the subject. Indeed, I believe the ultimate contention was that all mental concepts could in principle be translated into the language of physics.

Whilst it is clear that we can and do associate a wide range of behaviour with various mental concepts and that these behavioural patterns can be translated into the lower-level language of physics, I do not think that the behaviourist claim of semantic equivalence can be maintained once the descriptions drop below the level of agential behaviour. For example, it is possible to describe a predator stalking prey and its environmental conditions in sentences which purely describe the states and movements of the subjects and their environment but once this is done, the sense of the predator / prey relationship is lost. It is the activity of which these basic bodily movements are a part that gives them a unified sense. As a consequnece of this, any behavioural descriptions which are to stand a chance of playing a part in behavioural translation of a mental concept whilst maintaining semantic equivalence must be at the level of action. 

This, in my opinion, is the fundamental problem with the classical logical positivist formulation of logical behaviourism and I was wondering whether anybody had levelled this criticism against Hempel and Carnap when they first formulated logical behaviourism as a thesis?

Regards,

Jason.


 

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Though she is arguing against functionalism and not behaviorism, I think Jennifer Hornsby makes much of that very distinction in this paper: http://philpapers.org/rec/HORPTA  I imagine that her arguments could extend to cover behaviorism as well.

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann

Dear Harnad,

First, sorry for my poor writing (English is not my first language).

I think that the distinction between movement and action is that the first is simply a random effect from external forces (external to the moving object). It is a mechanical effect. Something touches the stone and the stone starts to roll. Now, action is a movement that is sensible to consequences. It will change the system (organism, robot, etc) according to the consequences and, by doing so, it will be select by consequences. In future, the probability that the system will perform similar actions will be a function of those consequences. That dynamic feature is absent in the case of rolling stones.


Obs: a great book about behaviorism and logical positivism is "Behaviorism and logical positivism: a reassessment of the alliance" by L. D. Smith.

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann

THE RELEVANT DISTINCTION IS NOT MOVEMENT/ACTION BUT FUNCTION/FEELING



I don't think you have described a coherent movement/action distinction. You have said that an account of something done by an organism, whether the firing of a neuron, the triggering of a reflex, or a complex foraging pattern -- all movements/actions, all input/output transactions -- does not explain why or how the movement/action is felt, hence mental. 
Well, that's certainly true; it's the mind/body problem; and it's unsolved. But it's not unsolved because of the failure to make a distinction between action and movement. It's unsolved because of a failure to make a distinction between action/movement (i.e., function) and feeling -- and because of the inability to give a causal explanation of the latter. The problem is just as big with a simple poke that feels like "ouch" as it is with a concerted lifelong effort to with a Nobel Prize. See: http://philpapers.org/post/589

There would be no "movement/action" distinction even to be invoked spuriously, in a world identical to our own in the input/put put sense (i.e., performance-indistinguishable, Turing-indistinguishable), but one in which functions were not felt, but merely "functed".  (Or, to put it in terms of anglo-saxon-gerunds than latinate nouns: a world in which doings were merely done, but the doings were unfelt.)

I do repeat, though, that it is the distinction between an "autonomous system" (whether human or robotic) and a stone rolling downhill -- or a pendulum, undulating, or a galaxy forming -- that may raise some interesting yet answerable questions about functionally different classes of doing. (I myself am sceptical that even this distinction can be made in a nonarbitrary way, but I can imagine facts that could functionally distinguish two different natural kinds here...)

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
I think William Lyons' 2001 text _Matters of the Mind_ offers some criticisms of behaviorism along these lines. 


Also, for all of us, have a look at Natalie Angier's piece in the NY Times July 21, "When ‘What Animals Do’ Doesn’t Seem to Cover It" about the research of Daniel Levitas on the concept of behavior in biology: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/science/21angier.html

2009-08-03
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Jason, your criticism sounds a bit like Dennett's distinction between the physical stance and the intentional stance.  That distinction is in a lot of Dennett's work, and you may be able to find work on his web site or through google that has a discussion of it.  Something on Dennett's quite practical objection to sticking to the physical stance might well be discussed in your work.

2009-08-04
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
There's a possibly relevant passage in H. L. A. Hart's 1949 paper called 'The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights' (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 49 [1949], pp. 171-194). On p. 188, Hart considers a behaviourist view, on which we analyze a description of a choice partly in terms of "a general hypothetical proposition or propositions to the effect that X would have -responded in various ways to various stimuli, or that his body would not have moved as it did or some physical consequence would have been avoided, had he chosen differently" (p. 188). Hart suggests (?) that the concept of action is normative and holistic. He charges behaviourism with "the common error of supposing that an adequate analysis can be given of the concept of a human action in any combination of the descriptive sentences, categorical or hypothetical, or any sentences concerned wholly with a single individual" (p. 189). He draws an analogy between (on the one hand) the difference between concepts of action and concepts of bodily motion and (on the other hand) the difference between classifying some patch of ground as a piece of earth and as a piece of property (where the latter characterisation relies on legal norms). In both cases, he says, the relevant concepts (of actions and of property) depend on "accepted rules of conduct" (p. 189)

Hart might have been influenced by Friedrich Waismann's paper, 'Language Strata', which was presented to the Jowett Society at Oxford in 1946, but wasn't published until 1953 (when it appeared in Logic and Language [Second Series], ed. A. G. N. Flew [Basil Blackwell] -- Flew says the paper had exercised "considerable influence" after its presentation at Oxford). Waismann doesn't mention behaviourism till the final (and very long) paragraph of his paper (p. 29). He then adds, "An action may be viewed as a series of movements caused by some physiological stimuli in the 'Only rats, no men' [behaviourists'] sense; or as something that has a purpose or a meaning irrespective of the way its single links are produced" (p. 30). Waismann closes with the example of a spoken sentence, which can be regarded as "a series of noises" (akin to mere bodily motions) or as "a vehicle of thought" (which, since they're meaningful, are akin to actions) (p. 31). [I don't think Waismann makes anything like Hart's point about rules, but I'm not sure.]

There's also this from a 1963 paper by May Brodbeck, where she's summarizing an old objection to behaviourism: "We observe only manifest behavior, like a hand going up or pulling a lever, not the internal meaning of an action, like hand-raising or voting. This meaning lies in the logical connections the action has with the complex of desires, intentions, choices, reasons, conventions and moral rules that are all inextricably involved together in social life" (May Brodbeck, 'Meaning and Action' Philosophy of Science, Vol. 30, No. 4 [Oct., 1963], pp. 309-324 (at.p. 310). She attributes this objection to R. S. Peters (The Concept of Motivation [London, 1958]) and Peter Winch (The Idea of a Social Science [London, 1958]).

2009-08-05
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Just a quick follow-up re. two more sources -- In his 1953 paper called 'Behaviourism', D. W. Hamlyn adapts part of Ryle's critique of mechanism to fit into his (Hamlyn's) objection that behaviourists overlook the distinction between action and mere bodily motion. The paper was published in Philosophy, vol. 28, pp. 132-145 (see esp. pp. 140-141). Also, in Section 2 of his 1973 paper, 'Thick Description', Clifford Geertz borrowed Ryle's distinction between 'thick' and 'thin' descriptions and, on that basis, made a similar objection to the sort of "radical behaviourism" that emphasizes "protocol sentences".

2009-08-05
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
As I understand it, there are three standard arguments against behaviorism:
1) The argument of Chisholm (1957) Peter Geach (1957) based on the holistic nature of mental states; how one reacts to a certain stimulus may depend on several beliefs and desires one has.
2) Chomsky's (1959) argument based on the "creative" or "productive" nature of language, and the inability of behaviorism to account that.
3) Putnam's (1965) argument based on unmanifested mental states (e.g. "superspartans" who never show they are in pain...)

Best, Panu

2009-08-11
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />Jason,
Regarding the description of the predator/prey relationship, why not consider the constraint that an agent has to satisfy in order to maintain its nature (on the prey side, avoid predators in order to stay alive) ? The action (hide or escape) is then implemented to satisfy the constraint (avoid predators) in order to maintain a nature (alive entity).
The connection between mental concepts and behaviour is then the one between constraints to be satisfied and corresponding action implementation.
Also, the difference between action and movement can be read as being between an agent and its environment. Between an entity submitted to local and specific constraints, and an environment following general physico-chemical laws.
On a more general basis, such perspective is about meaning generation by a system submitted to a constraint. Behaviours can then be considered as actions implemented to satisfy mental constraints.
More on this at http://cogprints.org/6279/2/MGS.pdf, http://cogprints.org/3694/1/e5020193.pdf
All the best for your dissertation
Christophe

 


2009-08-13
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
You might start with Charles Taylor, "The Explanation of Behaviour", Routledge&Kegan Paul, 1964  Don't be deterred by his own case for teleology if your interest is the case against behaviourism. The book was published in the "Int'l Lib of Phil and Sci Method", Ted Honderich, ed.  In later years Taylor is known for his volume on Hegel.  If I recall rightly,  he also taught in the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill where he must be Emeritus (if still living.)  His life as a philosopher is itself of interest (Hungary '56, Canadian politics in the late 60's, Castel Gandolfo)  He had a notable paper on behaviorism in political science about 1970 or 1971 in something like "Theory of Social Research" if you want an impression of the reach of behaviourism as the ethos of objectivity in social science of the day (as I recall.)
I might mention that Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "The Structure of Behavior" was available in translation at one time.

2009-08-22
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
I wrote 2 papers that touch on this topic, appearing in the same book.  The second one addresses the issue directly.  I also take it up in my A history of psychology, 6th ed.  I can send MS copies of the papers if you are interested.  The chapters are:

Leahey, T. H. (2005).  Mind as scientific object: A historical-philosophical exploration.  In D. M. Johnson&C. E. Erneling (Eds.) Mind as scientific object: Between brain and culture.  New York: Oxford University Press (invited).

Leahey, T. H. (2005).  Psychology as engineering.  In D. M. Johnson & C. E. Erneling (Eds.) Mind as scientific object: Between brain and culture.  New York: Oxford University Press.



2009-09-01
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Tom Leahey
Hi Tom,

I'd definitely be interested in receiving copies of those papers.

Regards,

Jason.

2009-11-24
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Hi Jason,  Hope this gets to you in time to be useful since i just read your post.  I am quite familiar with the work of Dr. Akhter Ahsen who has written extensively over the past 50 years and has addressed the issue of behavior as formulated by the Positivist/Behaviorists.  He has been very critical of them and during his early years in the States wrote a book entitled Behaviorists' Misconduct in Science about his experiences with some prominent behaviorists.  Dr. Ahsen is editor of The Journal of Mental Imagery and a respected clinician, experimentalist and theoretician in the field of mental imagery. Many of his books and articles address issues that I think would be of interest to you.  If interested, I can direct you specifically to certain books and journal articles.  Dr. William Quill from Northeastern University in Boston has also contributed journal articles that would be of interest I believe.  

dave kayser 

2009-11-25
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to David Kayser
Hi Dave,

The work on logical behaviourism forms the first chapter of my dissertation, so any further pointers you can provide would be most welcome.

Thanks,

Jay.

2009-11-30
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Dear Jay,
You are probably already aware of this, but Wilfrid Sellars' 'Empricism and the Philosophy of Mind' (EPM) represented a subtle mid-century response to behaviorism, albeit particularly in its Rylean form.  What's complex about Sellars' view -- in addition to the variety of characterizations of behaviorism he gives across his works (see for example his late essay, 'Mental Events', and his book Naturalism and Ontology on what he calls 'verbal behaviourism', for these developments) -- is the way in which he used a 'thick', intentionally characterized version of Rylean verbal behaviourism, abstracting from the notion of inner intentional episodes, as the model for a kind of 'theory theory' explanatory introduction of thoughts as inner mental events (see my 2007 book on 'Wilfrid Sellars', ch. 4, for further details).  What's subtle about his view is that the behaviorist account of intentionality had to be coherent enough to serve as the 'methodologically independent' model for the quasi-theoretical introduction of inner thought-episodes; and yet the reason for positing the latter episodes is that behaviourism is ultimately inadequate on various explanatory grounds.  I think the sort of belief-desire circularity threatening behaviorism that was pointed out by Chisholm and others is noted by Sellars, but given the required methodological independence of the behaviorist model on his own account it's not entirely clear what role the circularity objection plays in his account.

At any rate, Sellars was clearly one philosopher who was deeply sympathetic with behaviorism (and well aware of its Carnapian incarnations) but who was among the first to initiate the cognitive/functionalist revolution during the 1950s, particular through his advance beyond behaviorism in the second half of EPM (1956).  For details on Sellars in general, see Chrucky's handy website: http://www.ditext.com/sellars/.
Best of luck on your work,
Jim O'Shea

2009-12-08
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to James O'Shea
Thanks for the information, James.

I wasn't aware of Sellars' work and it has turned out to be very interesting.

Regards,

Jay.

2009-12-15
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Abe Melden wrote a book, Free action, and I wrote an article called "the search for basic actions" away back when behavioism was fashionable.Herb Simon in Models of Man, coming fro an AI perspective, tried to distinguish what he called the "state space" from the "action space." 

2009-12-16
Logical Behaviourism...
Thanks for the pointers, Annette.

Regards,

Jay.

2009-12-26
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
Hi Jason: probably worth pointing out that Ryle explicitly rejected the view that mental categories can be reduced to descriptions at the level of brute, bodily motions. For example: "a person’s thinking, feeling, and purposive doing cannot be described solely in the idioms of physics, chemistry, and physiology" -- _The Concept of Mind_, 18.
Best,

Benj

2009-12-28
Logical Behaviourism...
Reply to Jason McCann
The forthcoming Blackwells Companion to the Philosophy of Action contains much that will helo you, Jason, including papers on basic actions, etc. Annette Baier.