Defending a Phenomenological–Behavioral Perspective: Culture, Behavior, and Experience

Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 15 (3):281-285 (2008)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Defending a Phenomenological–Behavioral Perspective: Culture, Behavior, and ExperienceMarino Pérez-Álvarez (bio), José M. García-Montes (bio), Adolfo J. Cangas (bio), and Louis A. Sass (bio)KeywordsBehavior, contextual phenomenology, culture, experienceWe should like to express our sincere thanks to all the authors for their commentaries on our articles. Given the restrictions of space (a limitation they too had to contend with), we can only respond to a few aspects of their interesting remarks. We shall reply of course on the basis of our own approach—an approach that sets out to integrate culture, behavior, and experience, and that might be termed contextual phenomenology, phenomenological behaviorism, or perhaps most accurately (albeit more awkwardly), the phenomenological–behavioral perspective.In her commentary, Ibáñez-Guerra (2008), referring to the target articles “Phenomenology and behaviorism” (Pérez-Álvarez, Sass, and Cangas 2008) and “The role of superstition in psychopathology” (García-Montes et al. 2008), wonders whether our maintaining of the spirit of Skinner, as well as our recourse to phenomenology, might not themselves represent forms of superstitious behavior. She points out that it is not always a good idea to put new wine in old barrels. For her, the new wine and new barrels would be represented by social constructivism, of which she is reminded by some aspects of our work. But in making her own case, Ibáñez-Guerra (2008) reveals certain common prejudices concerning behaviorism, prejudices that have apparently persisted even after reading our article. Thus, for example, she does not see operant behavior as incorporating intentionality (what, in the target article, is presented in terms of final causality), because she assumes that intentionality would necessarily imply a mentalist and dualist notion involving a supposed internal mental entity that causes behavior. Skinner (1974) himself noted and rejected this very assumption in a passage that clearly distinguishes his own approach from what he calls a “stimulus-response formula”: “Possibly no charge,” he wrote,is more often leveled against behaviorism or a science of behavior than that it cannot deal with purpose or intention. A stimulus-response formula has no answer, but operant behavior is the very field of purpose and [End Page 281] intention. By its nature it is directed toward the future: a person acts in order that something will happen, and the order is temporal.(pp. 55–6)The place Skinner gives to intentionality and purpose is elaborated in our target article.Furthermore, Ibáñez-Guerra (2008) assumes that, on methodological grounds, Skinner rejects all that is not observable, or at least that cannot be operationalized. This, however, is simply incorrect, at least as regards Skinner’s radical behaviorism. As the reader may recall, radical (as opposed to methodological) behaviorism is neither operationalist nor does it reject private or subjective events because of their unobservability. Indeed, Skinner specifically acknowledges that such events are in fact observable—at least for one person: the subject him- or herself. The question for Skinner is to understand how the part of the world that is only observable and experiential for oneself is constructed or formed. In the end, it turns out that radical behaviorism is more radical, in the Aristotelian ontological sense (see Pérez-Alvarez, Sass, and García-Montes 2008), than post-modern constructionism. Indeed, as we remarked, radical behaviorism can still surprise us today. Similarly, phenomenology is starting to be missed in the clinical context (Andreasen 2007). We believe that radical behaviorism and phenomenology, mutually readjusted, are in fact excellent wines for the times we live in—if only we knew how to appreciate them.In their commentary on “Phenomenology and behaviorism: A mutual readjustment,” Fletcher and Hayes (2008) argue that the philosophy and theory of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)/Relational Frame Theory (RFT) already contain the salutary aspects of phenomenology that we highlight in our target article. Their insistence on reducing the affinities we find between phenomenology and behaviorism to ACT/RFT consists, in our view, in a scientific–technical argument that is more scientistic than strictly philosophical in nature. Their insistence on the scientific–technical argument itself implies an unclarified philosophical assumption. On what grounds do experimental data constitute the last word? Has...



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