yes, therapy helps!
Philosophical behaviorism: authors and theoretical principles

Philosophical behaviorism: authors and theoretical principles

June 12, 2024

In the mid-twentieth century philosophical behaviorism emerged, a movement whose main objective was to denounce the errors of philosophy and psychology derived from the construct "mind", which is attributed a veracity not endorsed by scientific analysis. The two main authors in this development were Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In this article we will describe the historical origin and the main expositions of philosophical behaviorism . We will pause especially to describe two of the key contributions of these authors: the criticism of the concepts of "mind" and "private language", which are opposed to many of the mentalist ideas in force at the time and in the present.


  • Related article: "How are Psychology and Philosophy alike?"

What is behaviorism?

Behaviorism is a set of approaches to the analysis of the behavior of humans and other animals that focuses on observable behavior. This is understood as the result of the interaction between the organism, including its individual history, and the relevant stimuli in a given situation.

From this orientation a more important role is given to the environment than to inheritance in the genesis of behavior . Particularly noteworthy is the role of reinforcement and punishment processes, which increase or decrease the likelihood that a specific behavior will be repeated in circumstances similar to those of the learning situation.


Among the authors who had a key influence on this orientation were Edward Thorndike, Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson and Burrhus F. Skinner. His contributions are framed in a historical context in which psychoanalysis dominated our discipline; Behaviorism was first of all a reaction to the runaway mentalism of the psychology of the time .

At present, the most relevant branch of behaviorism is the analysis of applied behavior, which is part of the Skinnerian paradigm of radical behaviorism. From this perspective, mental processes are conceived as equivalent phenomena to the rest of behaviors and are studied as such; on the other hand, in methodological behaviorism they were ignored.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The theory of B. F. Skinner and behaviorism"

Origin and approaches of philosophical behaviorism

In the middle of the 20th century, a philosophical movement emerged that focused on a differentiated conception of language defended by the empirical and rationalist traditions. The two main authors in this current, which is sometimes called "Movement of ordinary language", were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle .


The classical approaches of philosophy tend to focus on the language and artificial constructs that derive from it. However, according to the movement of ordinary language such objects of study are erroneous because it is not possible to take the words as credible models of reality; therefore, trying to do so is a methodological flaw.

Many of the subjects that have studied philosophy and psychology require that they be conceived as successful Concepts such as "knowledge", "intention" or "idea" . Something similar happens with classic dichotomies such as the distinction between body and mind. Assume at the outset that this type of approach is legitimate leads to analyze from a wrong basis.

The fallacy of private language

Although Wittgenstein, Ryle and the authors who followed them do not deny the existence of mental processes, they did affirm that we can not know the psychological experience of other people. We use words to refer to abstract inner experiences , so that we never transmit them faithfully or completely.

According to Ryle, when we express our mental contents we are actually referring to the act of externalizing them. In the same way, we talk about causes in a systematic way to describe the same phenomenon as the supposed consequence; This happens, for example, by saying that someone behaves kindly because he is kind.

The very concept of "private language" is problematic for philosophical behaviorism. Those contents that we refer to with words like "thought" are, in reality, a series of sensations and internal processes that can not be translated into words, but have a much broader and more dynamic character.

For these reasons, and given the difficulty to extrapolate the psychological constructs handled by a person to other human beings, from this perspective the usefulness of self-analysis is denied, which includes methods of introspective analysis.The "private language", if accessible, would be only to the individual.

The problem of mind-body dualism

Gilbert Ryle affirmed that the conception of mental phenomena and observable behavior as independent processes supposes a categorial error. This means that the debate arises as if one worked without the intervention of the other and as if it were possible to separate its biological basis, when actually this dichotomy is nothing but a fallacy .

From this approach derives the understanding of the mind as lacking true consciousness. For Ryle, the term "mind" refers to a very broad set of phenomena, mainly of two types: behaviors observable from the outside and non-observable behavioral predispositions, generated through conditioning.

According to this author, therefore, the mind would be only a philosophical illusion that we have inherited from the philosophy of René Descartes. However, from a logical point of view it is a wrong concept; consequently so would be the contributions of the so-called "philosophy of the mind", which would encompass a large number of proposals of psychology.


Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24 (June 2024).


Similar Articles