Behaviorism as an Ethnomethodological Experiment: Flouting the Convention of Rational Agency

Behavior and Philosophy 28 (1/2):57 - 62 (2000)
As interpreted here, Garfinkel's "ethnomethodological experiment" (1967) demonstrates the existence of a social convention by flouting it and observing the consternation and aversive consequences for the perpetrator which that provokes. I suggest that the hostility which behaviorism has provoked throughout its history is evidence that it flouts an important social convention, the convention that, whenever possible, human beings are treated as and must always give the appearance of being rational agents. For these purposes, a rational agent is someone whose behavior is controlled by a logically consistent body of means-end beliefs ("rules" in Skinner's terminology) and complementing desires which between them provide a basis for predicting how the individual will behave and for suggesting what arguments will persuade the agent to modify his or her beliefs and the behavior based upon them. The behaviorist flouts this convention by suggesting that its fictional character makes it unsuitable for the purposes of scientific explanation of behavior. The hostility that this suggestion provokes is evidence of the importance attached by the verbal community both to preserving a consistent and rational connection between what is said and what is done and presenting it as part of the natural order of things.
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