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When we speak of a science

When we speak of a science, we have in mind a logically organized body of knowledge that has resulted from certain methods of attacking the problems presented by a particular subject-matter. The methods of science are all, in the last resort, observational; the problems of science are all, in the last resort, analytical. The subject-matter of a given science may be indicated in two different ways: by a simple enumeration of objects, or by a characterization of the point of view from which the science in question regards the common subject-matter of all science, namely, human experience. Thus we may say that our psychology will deal with such things as perceptions, feelings, thoughts, or we may say that psychology, dealing "in some sort with the whole of experience," is to be distinguished as "individualistic" from other sciences, which are "universalistic." It is clear that a characterization of this kind, though it necessarily transcends the limits of the science in order to show how those limits are drawn, is far more satisfactory than a mere list of objects; and psychology, these many years past, has therefore had recourse to it.[1]


Instead, however, of calling psychology with Ward the "science of experience regarded objectively from the individualistic standpoint," or with Avenarius the "science of experience in general, so far as experience depends upon System C," or with Külpe the "science of the facts of experience in their dependency upon experiencing individuals," or something of that sort, we are accustomed to speak of it as the "science of mind." No harm would be done, if our readers and we always remembered what "mind," as used in a scientific context, must mean. Harm begins at once when we forget that scientific meaning, and start out from the commonsense or traditional significance of the word; when we equate "mind" with "consciousness," which we take as the equivalent of "awareness," and when we set off a group of "conscious phenomena" as the peculiar subject-matter of psychology. I do not think that modern psychologists can fairly be charged with neglect of their duty to correct these errors; it seems to me, on the contrary, that our leaders are painfully careful to set their house in logical order. But habits of speech are inveterate, and common sense is extraordinarily tenacious of life: small wonder, then, that misunderstandings should arise. It is, for example, a misunderstanding that has prompted the polemical paragraphs of Watson's recent articles on what, I suppose, we must be content to call Behaviorism.[2]


This doctrine, as set forth by Watson, has two sides, positive and negative. On the positive side, psychology is required to exchange its individualistic standpoint for the universalistic; it is to be "a purely objective experimental branch of natural science" in the sense in which physics and chemistry are natural sciences. It is to concern itself solely with the changes set up, by way of receiving organ and nervous system, in muscle and gland. It is differentiated from its sister sciences of life partly by its special point of view, partly by the goal which it strives to attain. The changes, which it studies, are to be approached from the point of view of adjustment to environment; its categories are stimulus and response, heredity and habit. Differentiation, however, is not to be understood as separation; there is now no barrier between psychology and the other "natural" sciences; in the long run behavior will appear as a matter of physical and chemical causation, while nevertheless, as behavior, it is the subject-matter of the special science of psychology, to be interpreted and arranged under the rubrics just mentioned. The erection of this special science is both justified and made possible by the practical goal of behaviorism, which is the working out of general and special methods for the control of behavior, the regulation and control of evolution as a whole.[3]


On the negative side, again, psychology is enjoined by the behaviorist to ignore, even if it does not deny, those modes of human experience with which ordinary psychology is concerned, and in particular to reject the psychological method of introspection. "Consciousness in a psychological sense" may be dispensed with; consciousness, in the sense of a tool or instrument with which all men of science work, may be utilized by the new psychology without scruple and without examination. Imagery, the "inner stronghold of a psychology based on introspection," is denied outright; one of Watson's "principal contentions" is "that there are no centrally initiated processes." And if consciousness may be dispensed with, self-observation and the introspective reports that result from it are to be treated in even more summary fashion; they are to be "eliminated." There will be no real loss; for most of the essential problems with which psychology as an introspective science now concerns itself are open to behaviorist treatment, and the residue may "in all probability be phrased in such a way that refined methods in behavior (which certainly must come) will lead to their solution."[4]


Such, in outline, is "psychology as the behaviorist views it." Watson, of course, goes into some amount of detail, offering illustration and personal explanation, as well as attacking the method and problems of current psychology. But before I follow him on these various paths, I should like to record two general impressions that the reading of his articles has made upon me. The first impression is that of their unhistorical character; and the second is that of their logical irrelevance to psychology, as psychology is ordinarily understood.[5]


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 83

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