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.


11th International Conference; Dublin, Ireland; 2022

Event Details

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Paper Session #63
Philosophical Explanation of Human Behavior and Emotions
Friday, September 2, 2022
4:00 PM–4:25 PM
Meeting Level 1; Liffey Meeting 2
Area: PCH
Chair: Ioannis Bampaloukas (N/A)
The Notion of Observability and its Implications for Behaviorism and Mentalism
Domain: Theory
Abstract: One distinctive characteristic of B.F. Skinner’s philosophical system is the acknowledgement of private events (e.g., thoughts, emotions, feelings, senses, etc.) as important parts of human behavior. At the same time, radical behaviorists oppose what they call mentalistic entities, such as mental representations, memory storages, and the mind. The status of private events is acknowledged and mentalistic entities are dismissed, in part because the former are viewed as observable phenomena (at least on a private level) while the latter as unobservable hypothetical constructs. However, recently, some philosophers have questioned the observable - unobservable distinction, considering it unfruitful, superficial, and flawed (e.g., Burgos & Killeen, 2019; Burgos, 2021). The present analysis attempts to formulate a coherent and productive system for distinguishing observable and unobservable entities, offering this way a potent argument against mentalism. The notion of observability is operationally defined in terms of the potential contact between an observer and a natural phenomenon, and its implications are examined. Specific criteria for asserting the observability of an entity are offered, with a special reference to the interpretation of currently unobserved phenomena.

We define empathy broadly as understanding another person's emotional experience. We begin by describing Edith Stein's phenomenological description of empathy and showing the continued relevance of her critique of simulation and association theories of empathy. With the help of Stein's analysis, we show how distorted descriptions of empathy can lead to conceptual confusion and, ultimately, to deviance from the phenomenon of interest. We tease out the implicit account of empathy in Skinner's (1953, 1957) hypotheses about how we learn to describe private events. We argue that this account is distorted by a lingering inner-outer dualism that leads to incoherence when taken to its ultimate consequences. We propose an alternative way of accounting for empathy, the Direct Functional Account, that avoids these pitfalls. We describe three features of our proposed framework – givenness, the priority of the whole, and interaction – and present arguments for each one. Keywords: empathy, Edith Stein, behavior analysis, perspective taking.




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