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Understanding Behaviorism


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Table of Contents

Preface to the Third Edition xv

Acknowledgements xvii

Part I What is Behaviorism? 1

1 Behaviorism: Definition and History 3

Historical Background 3

From Philosophy to Science 3

Objective Psychology 6

Comparative Psychology 7

Early Behaviorism 8

Free Will Versus Determinism 10

Definitions 10

Arguments For and Against Free Will 11

Social Arguments 12

Aesthetic Arguments 13

Folk Psychology 15

Summary 15

Further Reading 17

Keyterms 17

2 Behaviorism as Philosophy of Science 19

Realism versus Pragmatism 19

Realism 19

The Objective Universe 20

Discovery and Truth 20

Sense Data and Subjectivity 20

Explanation 22

Pragmatism 22

Science and Experience 24

Conceptual Economy 25

Explanation and Description 27

Radical Behaviorism and Pragmatism 28

Summary 31

Further Reading 32

Keyterms 32

3 Public, Private, Natural, and Fictional 33

Mentalism 33

Public and Private Events 33

Natural Events 34

Natural, Mental, and Fictional 35

Objections to Mentalism 37

Autonomy: Mental Causes Obstruct Inquiry 37

Superfluity: Explanatory Fictions are Uneconomical 38

Category Mistakes 40

Ryle and the Para‐Mechanical Hypothesis 41

Rachlin’s Molar Behaviorism 42

Private Events 46

Private Behavior 46

Self‐Knowledge and Consciousness 49

Summary 52

Further Reading 54

Keyterms 55

Part II A Scientific Model of Behavior 57

4 Evolutionary Theory and Reinforcement 59

Evolutionary History 59

Natural Selection 60

Reflexes and Fixed Action Patterns 62

Reflexes 62

Fixed Action Patterns 62

Respondent Conditioning 64

Reinforcers and Punishers 66

Operant Behavior 66

Physiological Factors 68

Overview of Phylogenetic Influences 70

History of Reinforcement 70

Selection by Consequences 71

The Law of Effect 71

Shaping and Natural Selection 71

Historical Explanations 75

Summary 77

Further Reading 78

Keyterms 78

5 Purpose and Reinforcement 81

History and Function 81

Using Historical Explanations 82

History Versus Immediate Cause 82

Gaps of Time 82

Functional Units 83

Species as Functional Units 84

Activities as Functional Units 84

Three Meanings of Purpose 86

Purpose as Function 86

Purpose as Cause 87

Purposive Behavior 88

Purposive Machines 89

Selection by Consequences 90

Creativity 90

Purpose as Feeling: Self‐Reports 92

Talking About the Future 92

Talking About the Past 92

Feelings as By‐Products 93

Summary 94

Further Reading 95

Keyterms 96

6 Stimulus Control and Knowledge 97

Stimulus Control 97

Discriminative Stimuli 98

Extended Sequences and Discriminative Stimuli 100

Discrimination 101

Knowledge 102

Procedural Knowledge: Knowing How 103

Declarative Knowledge: Knowing About 105

Declarative Knowledge and Stimulus Control 105

What is a Lie? 106

Self‐Knowledge 107

Public Versus Private Stimuli 107

Introspection 110

The Behavior of Scientists 111

Observation and Discrimination 111

Scientific Knowledge 112

Pragmatism and Contextualism 112

Summary 113

Further Reading 114

Keyterms 115

7 Verbal Behavior and Language 117

What is Verbal Behavior? 117

Communication 117

Verbal Behavior as Operant Behavior 118

Speaking Has Consequences 118

The Verbal Community 118

Speaker and Listener 119

The Verbal Episode 119

The Reinforcement of Verbal Behavior 120

The Listener’s Role 121

Examples 122

The Importance of History 122

Sign Language and Gestures 123

Nonhuman Animals 123

Talking to Myself 124

Verbal Behavior versus Language 125

Functional Units and Stimulus Control 126

Verbal Activities as Functional Units 126

Stimulus Control of Verbal Behavior 128

Common Misunderstandings 129

The Generative Nature of Language 129

Talking About Talking 129

Talking About the Future 130

Meaning 131

Reference Theories 131

Symbols and Lexicons 131

The Importance of Context 132

Meaning as Use 133

Consequences and Context 133

Varieties of Use 134

Dictionary Definitions 135

Technical Terms 135

Grammar and Syntax 135

Rules as Descriptions 136

Competence and Performance 136

Grammar and Grammarians 137

Where are the Rules? 137

Summary 138

Further Reading 139

Keyterms 140

8 RuleGoverned Behavior and Thinking 141

What is Rule‐Governed Behavior? 141

Rule‐Governed versus Implicitly Shaped Behavior 141

Rules: Orders, Instructions, and Advice 143

Always Two Relations 147

The Proximate Reinforcement Relation 147

The Ultimate Reinforcement Relation 149

Learning to Follow Rules 151

Shaping Rule‐Following 151

Where are the Rules? 152

Thinking and Problem‐Solving 152

Changing Stimuli 153

Precurrent Behavior 155

Summary 157

Further Reading 158

Keyterms 158

Part III Social Issues 159

9 Freedom 161

Uses of the Word Free 161

Being Free: Free Will 161

Feeling Free: Political and Social Freedom 162

Coercion and Aversive Control 163

Freedom and Happiness 165

Objections to the Behavioral View 165

Reinforcement Traps, Bad Habits, and Self‐Control 167

Spiritual Freedom 171

The Challenge of Traditional Thinking 173

Summary 174

Further Reading 175

Keyterms 175

10 Responsibility, Credit, and Blame 177

Responsibility and the Causes of Behavior 177

Free Will and the Visibility of Control 177

Assigning Credit and Blame 178

Compassion and Control 179

Responsibility and the Consequences of Behavior 181

What is Responsibility? 182

Practical Considerations: The Need for Control 183

Applying Consequences 184

What Kind of Control? 184

Summary 185

Further Reading 186

Keyterms 186

11 Relationships, Management, and Government 187

Relationships 187

Mutual Reinforcement 188

Individuals and Organizations 189

Exploitation 191

The “Happy Slave” 192

Long‐Term Consequences 192

Comparative Well‐Being 193

Equity Theory 194

Which Comparisons? 196

Cooperation 197

Control and Counter‐Control 197

Counter‐Control 197

Equity 200

Power 201

Democracy 203

Summary 204

Further Reading 205

Keyterms 206

12 Values: Religion and Science 207

Questions about Value 207

Moral Relativism 209

Ethical Standards 209

The Law of Human Nature 210

The Question of Origins 212

A Scientific Approach to Values 213

Reinforcers and Punishers 214

Feelings 215

Evolutionary Theory and Values 217

Altruism and Cooperation 219

Morals 223

The Good Life 224

Summary 224

Further Reading 226

Keyterms 226

13 The Evolution of Culture 227

Biological Evolution and Culture 228

Replicators and Fitness 228

Societies 229

Group Selection 231

Definition of Culture 232

Culture and Society 232

Culture and Fitness 233

Traits for Culture 233

Behavioral Specializations 234

Imitation 236

Social Reinforcers and Punishers 237

Variation, Transmission, and Selection 238

Variation 238

Cultural Replicators 239

Meme, Culturgen, Practice 239

Social Reinforcement and Punishment 241

Mutation, Recombination, and Immigration 242

Transmission 243

Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics 243

Transmission by Imitation 244

Transmission by Rule‐Governed Behavior 245

Selection 246

Natural Selection in Culture 246

Selective Transmission 246

Rule‐Following and Rule‐Making 248

The Legend of Eslok 249

Cultural Group Selection 249

Self‐Interest 250

Summary 252

Further Reading 254

Keyterms 255

14 Design of Culture: Experimenting for Survival 257

Design from Evolution 257

Selective Breeding 258

Evaluation 258

Survival as a Standard 259

Guided Variation 261

The Experimental Society 262

Experimenting 262

Democracy 263

Happiness 264

Walden Two: Skinner’s Vision 265

Interpreting Walden Two 265

Is Walden Two Utopian? 266

Objections 267

Summary 272

Further Reading 273

Keyterms 274

Glossary 275

Index 295

About the Author

William M. Baum is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire and a Research Associate at University of California, Davis. He taught for seven years at Harvard University and for more than twenty years at the University of New Hampshire. He has published over one hundred journal articles. These have presented quantitative laboratory research, theoretical contributions, and philosophical contributions. His research interests include choice, cultural evolution, behavioural processes, and philosophy of behaviour.


Synthesizing the principles of behavior analysis with contemporary understanding of evolutionary selection, Baum's account progresses systematically from basic pragmatic behavior all the way to the practices that constitute human cultural values. The resulting book is a modern equivalent of B.F. Skinner's ground-breaking Science and Human Behavior. Philip N. Hineline, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Temple University, and President of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) In clear, lively prose Baum's book gives students as well as laypeople an understanding of the cutting edge of behavioristic thought. In this third edition, Baum embeds behavioral psychology even more firmly than previously in its proper setting that of evolutionary biology. The book is actually an instrument (like a telescope or a microscope) through which the reader may observe human life as it really is, rather than as common sense (that which says the sun goes round the earth) tells us it is. Howard Rachlin, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University In some quarters in the human sciences the roles of reinforcement and punishment in shaping individual behavior and cultural evolution have been neglected. Understanding Behaviorism explains why this is a serious mistake. Peter J. Richerson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of California Davis A mainstay in my undergraduate learning course, Understanding Behaviorism is an excellent text covering the core concepts of both the philosophy of behaviorism and the science of behavior analysis. Dr. Baum provides a clear, accessible introduction that anyone interested in behavior analysis or psychology should read. Matthew Bell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California San Diego What a thorough and highly intelligible piece of writing! By elucidating the bigger picture and the relation to its parts, this brilliant third edition truly facilitates understanding behaviorism and its relation to evolutionary theory. It will be my go-to-guide for many years of tuition and research to come. Carsta Simon, Doctoral Student, Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway

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