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In chapter 1 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” Skinner mentions several “serious” problems that the world faces. He says that the problems have actually become more severe through the application of science and technology, but that behavioural science offers a way out, because it tells us how to change human behaviour by modifying the environment in which behaviour occurs. Skinner said these things about fifty years ago, and the “serious” problems that he mentions are still with us. During that time behavioural science has continued to be applied very intensively to controlling human behaviour. It has been very effective in designing advertisements that send billions of people to McDonald’s, and in designing schoolbooks that make most people want to be employees rather than equal partners, to give just two of countless examples. So why have the “serious” problems that Skinner mentions at the beginning of chapter 1 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” not been solved?
On p. 21 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” Skinner says:
“There is a much more important reason why we have been so slow in discarding mentalistic explanations: it has been hard to find alternatives. Presumably we must look for them in the external environment …”
How is the word ‘mentalistic’ being used here? Have all “mentalistic” explanations been discredited? Should we conclude that we “must” look for explanations of behaviour in the environment? Justify your answers to these questions.
On p. 26 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” Skinner says:
“Freud was a determinist – on faith, if not on the evidence – but many Freudians have no hesitation in assuring their patients that they are free to choose among different courses of action and are in the long run the architects of their own destinies”.
Can a determinist reasonably believe that patients can be free to choose what to do after listening to advice? Can a determinist reasonably believe that patients can be the architects of their own destinies? Justify your answers to these questions.
On p. 26 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” Skinner says that the predictability of behaviour implies that we lack autonomy. If the future behaviour of a patient was completely predictable, would that mean that the patient lacked autonomy? If the future behaviour of a person was determined by causes that were arranged by a controller to produce that behaviour, would it follow that the person was not the architect of his own destiny? Justify your answers to these questions.
On p. 30 of “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” Skinner mentions “practices in which a person is held responsible for his conduct and given credit for his achievements”. He says of these practices: “A scientific analysis shifts both the responsibility and the achievement to the environment”. Suppose that a boy is being taught to lay bricks by an instructor who takes these words of Skinner seriously. Discuss how the instructor would conduct herself as she watched and interacted with the boy as he lays bricks, and the impact that Skinner’s perspective would have on the learning process.
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