Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


45th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #95
CE Offered: BACB
Does Behavior Analysis Have a Metaphysical Crisis?
Saturday, May 25, 2019
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Swissôtel, Lucerne Ballroom Level, Lucerne 1/2
Area: PCH/EAB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Marcus Jackson Marr (Georgia Tech)
Discussant: William M. Baum (University of California, Davis)
CE Instructor: Julian C. Leslie, Ph.D.

Scientists are reluctant to discuss metaphysics, preferring to apply the methods typical of their disciplines to questions of current interest. However, a natural science of human behavior raises special problems in that it treats objectively topics which the wider community treats subjectively. Furthermore, the recent debate about the status of private events in the experimental analysis of behaviour is about the presuppositions of the science, and thus its metaphysics, rather than about specific findings. Arguably, we have been using a "Skinnerian metaphysics" without regularly examining it in detail or considering whether there are alternatives that are consistent with the most fundamental precepts of the experimental analysis of behavior. Leslie's paper will identify those fundamental precepts and argue that the core ideas consist only of "antirepresentationalism" and a commitment to behavior principles that relate environmental regularities to systematic behavior change. These embrace a wider range of behavioral phenomena than currently without reducing empirical rigor. Clavijo Alvarez’s paper will scrutinize the ontological assumptions and differences in the debates on privacy, realism versus an anti-realist perspective, and mechanism versus contextualism, and recommend the neutral monism of Russell and others as an ontology that may be acceptable to the whole behavior analysis community.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): metaphysics, monism, private events
Target Audience:

This symposium reviews fundamental issues that should be considered by all behavior analyts at or above masters level, including practitioners.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) identify basic tenets of behavior analysis; (2) identify the roles of some major Western philosphers in defining the metaphysics of science; (3) describe at least two accounts of the role of private events in behavior analysis
Metaphysics and the Basic Tenets of Behavior Analysis
JULIAN C. LESLIE (Ulster University)
Abstract: Metaphysics is the study of that which is known a priori, and what can be deduced from what is so known. There is a strong Western philosophical tradition of naturalism and realism. David Hume claimed that we cannot help believing in the existence of bodies and other people, and in inductive inference, and that these beliefs come from “nature” not “reason”; reason thus operates within bounds which are already set. These Humean principles are embedded in the metaphysics of science and thus have been imported into behaviour analysis. However, Rorty suggests that these are not necessary truths but conventions of that philosophical tradition. Alternatively, we can adopt some metaphysical assumptions that are closer to direct perception and do not entail the familiar problems of dualism. Additionally, we have been constrained by some assumptions made by Skinner about the operant conditioning process which again are not necessary and may need to be discarded. Revising our metaphysical and theoretical assumptions, while retaining core principles which define behavior analysis, may enable us not only to resolve debates about private events, but also allow us to provide accounts of a range of interesting findings on animal cognition which otherwise pose problems for behavior analysis.

Neutral Monism as an Ontology for Behavior Analysis? Might Be...

ALVARO A. CLAVIJO ALVAREZ ALVAREZ (Universidad Nacional de Colombia)

Some of the arguments used by members of the Behavior Analysis community indicate that their ontological assumptions differ. Sometimes the divergence is subtle as, for example, in the controversy around the notion of privacy and its role in explaining behavior. Privacy was the way in which Skinner and the radical behaviorists dealt with subjectivity. They were committed, however, to a particular ontology. Others, by starting from different ontological assumptions, necessarily have a different stance on the subject of privacy. In other cases, the controversy has been openly about ontological concerns, as in the dispute between those with a realistic view versus those with an anti-realist perspective, or between those who support a mechanistic approach versus those who support a contextual one. Nonetheless, Radical Behaviorists and Behavior Analysts do share beliefs including a certain degree of environmental determinism, the importance of behavior as the relevant data and, broadly, rejection of mentalism. Some of the main postulates of neutral monism, the ontology of Mach, James, and Russell, could offer ontological assumptions that can eventually be shared by most members of the Behavior Analysis community. This presentation examines these assumptions and their possible implications for a behavioral interpretation of behavior.




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