Behavior and Its Causes by Terry L. Smith

Behavior and Its Causes by Terry L. Smith

Author:Terry L. Smith
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Springer-Verlag Wien 2012
Published: 2015-02-10T16:00:00+00:00


Despite (or perhaps because of) operant psychology’s successes, the suspicion lingers that the behavioral concepts that appear in its principles are somehow equivalent to, or at least, logically linked to, mentalistic concepts. Let us turn to these allegations.

Are Behavioral Categories a Subspecies of Mentalistic Categories?

Behavioral categories describe a system of functional relationships between the organism and the environment. An operant is not simply a response that the organism thinks will have a certain effect, it does have that effect. Thus, a key peck by definition compresses the surface of the key with a certain minimal force, a lever press by definition moves the lever through a certain arc. Similarly, a reinforcer is not simply a stimulus that the organism desires to occur. It is a stimulus that will alter the rate of behavior upon which its occurrence is contingent. And a discriminative stimulus is not simply a stimulus that has been correlated with a certain contingency in the organism’s experience. It is one that successfully alters the organism’s operant behavior with respect to that contingency.3

Beliefs and desires have propositional content. Fred believes that Neptune is the eighth planet from the sun, and desires that intelligent life be discovered on Mars. Fred’s belief and desire are designated by the content of certain propositions introduced by the word that. Designations of discriminative stimuli and reinforcing stimuli, by contrast, do not accept that-clauses. Suppose, for example, that delivery of pellets functions as reinforcement for a rat’s lever press. A mentalistic description might say, “The animal desires that a pellet should become available.” A behavior analyst would not however describe this by saying, “The animal’s lever presses are reinforced that a pellet become available.” Instead, the proper description would be: “The animal’s lever presses are reinforced by access to pellets.” Instead of accepting a proposition as its object, the concept of reinforcement accepts an event or a state of affairs—such as access to pellets—as its object.

Consider the discriminative stimulus. Suppose that the sound of a buzzer functions as a discriminative stimulus marking the onset of a fixed-ratio 10 schedule. As soon as the buzzer sounds, a sequence of ten responses will result in the delivery of reinforcement. A mentalistic description might say, “The animal believes that the buzzer marks an opportunity to earn reinforcement by performing ten responses.” A behavior analyst however would not attribute discriminative status to the buzzer by saying, “The sound of the buzzer is a discriminative stimulus that the fixed-ratio 10 schedule has begun.” Instead of attributing a content to the stimulus, the behavior analyst will attribute a causal function to it, as in: “The sound of the buzzer signals the onset of the fixed-ratio 10 schedule.” This tells us that the buzzer functions for the animal as a means of contact with the schedule. It attributes an effect to the stimulus, but not a content.

Analytic philosophers have noted that mentalistic statements create opaque contexts within which substitutability of identicals fails. Neptune, for example, is identical with the planet whose orbit was predicted by Leverrier and Adams.


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