Understanding behaviourism - a reasonable summary?

Hello all,

I should just like to make sure I’m getting this right. What do you think of this summary?:

Is this statement correct to say that that is what is meant by pain, and does the last sentence correctly generalise from the example? Does this seem ok. to you guys?


Hi, Doc. I think this is generally okay, and have seen similar characterizations in books. I do not generally respond to posts like this, because they look as if the poster is merely trying to get his himework done for him. Be that as it may, yours is at least interesting, and is not simply an open-ended question.

In the case that this is something you are actually thinking about, I will offer one caveat. Again, I have seen similar definitions in scholarly works. But, if this is meant to imply that only the easily observable response is operative, it may leave the impression that the outward expression of pain is the entire response. In othe words, even if the person with the pain doesn’t say “ouch!”, or wince, there is still pain. Inflammation, change in blood flow, wounded nerves, damaged flesh, pressure from internal bleeding - whatever it is.

Dude, I just got up and haven’t even burned one yet. But what I am trying to say is that the behaviorist model sometimes relies too much on, or is unclear about, the outward expression of the response, as if that is all that counts. Behavior is a little more complex than that. As long as this is understood, then I see no problem with what you have written.

“Mental” states are physical states because people are entirely physical. If that is what you mean to express, and it seems that it is, then you are talking behaviorism. Yes.


Cheers. I’m not trying to get anyone to think for me – just trying to bounce my thinking off other people to see if I’m on the right tracks.

Regarding behaviour: as I understand behaviourism, it is pretty much defined along the lines of ‘motions and noises’ that are publicly observable. It seems to me that behaviourists were not too keen on some of the internal stuff you mentioned (I’m not quite sure), given their motivations – they wanted stuff that the normal observer could easily witness/experience. But perhaps that’s a bit of a caricature?

I think you are correct, and that is why I offer my caveat. But what is easily observable is a fluid notion. It also depends what you mean by “behaviorism”. Certainly Skinner was not taking tissue samples. But I think that the more limited the scope of behavior that is included in the model, the easier it is to scoff at behaviorism, at least from a philosophical perspective. If you are talking about narrowly-defined Skinnerian behaviorism alone, then I misread your intention, and it is even possible that you have posted in the wrong forum. I have not read your previous thread. I do not think, however, that stifling a moan changes one’s mantal state very much, as if the moan were all there was to it. But psychologists have a different focus than do philosophers. The focus matters.


You mentioned “stifling a moan”, which turns my mind to another point I wanted to ask about. It is generally a disposition to behave, rather than mere behaviour, that the behaviourist talks about. Jack is disposed to cry out if you tred on his feet. Does the behaviourist put it this way – ie a disposition – in order to cover himself should Jack, not wishing to give his tormentor any satisfaction, suppresses the urge to cry out? If so, why should the “super spartan” be used as an argument against behaviourism, since “super spartans” are taken into account by the use of the term, “disposition”?