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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #514
CE Offered: BACB
Interactions Between Behavior Analysis and Other Systems: Platonic Determinism, American Transcendentalism, and Contemporary Neuroscience
Monday, May 27, 2024
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center, 200 Level, 202 AB
Area: PCH; Domain: Theory
Chair: James W. Diller (Eastern Connecticut State University)
CE Instructor: James W. Diller, Ph.D.

As an area of inquiry, behavior analysis necessarily had intellectual antecedents and interactions with other disciplines. Together, this set of talks traces ideas that interact with behavior analysis, from ancient to contemporary times. We start with a discussion of determinism, drawing on the work of Plato and the ways in which the writings of B. F. Skinner parallel those ideas. Next, we move to a discussion of American Transcendentalism as advanced by Henry David Thoreau, and describe ways in which the writings of Skinner were influenced by this movement. We conclude with a discussion of the interplay of behavior analysis and contemporary neuroscience, exemplified by the groundbreaking work of Murray Sidman with Patient H. M.. Through these talks, we trace conceptual and historical interactions between behavior analysis and other philosophical and scientific systems. The exploration of the interplay between behavior analysis and other conceptual systems allows for a better understanding of its own foundations and boundaries.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): determinism, history, neuroscience, transcendentalism
Target Audience:

Understanding of basic philosophical assumptions of behavior analysis (e.g., determinism) are required for this talk.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to: 1. describe how Plato’s notions of determinism related to Skinner’s ideas on this topic. 2. draw comparisons between Skinner’s radical behaviorism and American Transcendentalism. 3. explain how behavioral methods can be supplemented by neuroscientific methods.
The Philosopher-King’s New Clothes: Beyond Free Will in Plato’s Republic
LUIS CORDON (Eastern Connecticut State University)
Abstract: The present paper will examine how remarkably different philosophies lead to unexpected similarities between Plato’s and Skinner’s views on free will, along with striking commonalities in their respective proposed political systems. Plato’s definition of free will actually suggests an absence of it—unlike Aristotle, who describes free will as the ability to choose our actions, with the source of our choices residing within, Plato, when he addresses it at all, describes it as the freedom to choose to do good, while fighting our base desires—this means that any other choice is not actually a free choice, but rather a succumbing to our base nature, which is really more a determinist view than an acceptance of free will as usually defined. Guided by this belief that our natural predisposition is towards evil, Plato’s Republic, frequently viewed as providing the blueprint for modern democratic societies, is actually profoundly skeptical of democracy as a viable approach to governing. Parallels between Walden Two and The Republic are unsurprising given their authors’ underlying determinism, which leads both men, for very different reasons, to propose the need for an aristocracy (led by scientists in Skinner’s project and philosopher-kings in Plato’s). Another twentieth-century determinist, Sigmund Freud, regards free-will in a way reminiscent of both Plato and Skinner, as Freud, while suggesting in his own way that free will is an illusion, also posits a human nature that is unconsciously driven by both constructive and destructive instincts.
The Two Waldens: Henry David Thoreau’s American Transcendentalism and B. F. Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism
SAMANTHA VERTUCCI (Eastern Connecticut State University), James W. Diller (Eastern Connecticut State University)
Abstract: Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was a prominent member of the American Transcendentalist movement who wrote the famous text Walden about living in the woods outside of Concord, Massachusetts for over two years. Before transitioning into the field of psychology, B. F. Skinner (1901 – 1990) was an English major who was influenced by Thoreau’s work. In 1948, Skinner published a novel entitled Walden Two, a direct reference to Thoreau. Both Skinner and Thoreau sought to create utopia, either for the few or the many, and were in search of the “good life.” We analyze aspects of the history, figures, and content of American Transcendentalism and radical behaviorism to describe similarities and differences between them. Specifically, we evaluate the writings of these figures to compare their positions on environmental control of behavior, socialization, free will, and government. We conclude that Thoreau’s work informed Skinner’s, and Skinner’s work brought attention and acceptance to the positions advanced by Thoreau.

Behavior Analysis and Neuroscience: The Experiments of Murray Sidman With Patient H. M.

MIRARI ELCORO (Framingham State University)

The lives of Murray Sidman (1923-2019) and Henry G. Molaison (1926-2008) intersected through research on stimulus control. Molaison, also known as Patient H.M., is one of the most studied participants in neuroscience, and little is known about his participation in behavior-analytic research. The research conducted with Molaison as participant is known for serving as the foundation to uncover neurological underpinnings of memory using neuropsychological methods. The focus of this presentation is to describe the content and trace the historical context of two publications by Sidman (1968, 1969) in which Molaison served as a research participant. In doing this, we will examine the role of behavior analysis in the emergence of collaborative modern neuroscience and distinguish between neuropsychological and behavior-analytic methods. Additionally, we will examine examples of the integration between behavior analysis and neuroscience at a conceptual and methodological level. To do this, we will evaluate the presence of intersections between behavior analysis and neuroscience in selected behavior-analytic and neuroscience literature. Finally, the advantages, disadvantages, and complexities of conducting research that integrates behavior analysis and neuroscience will be discussed.




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