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Explanation, Teleology, and Operant Behaviorism: A Study of the Experimental Analysis of Purposive Behavior

Jon D. Ringen
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jun., 1976), pp. 223-253
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/187264
Page Count: 31
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Explanation, Teleology, and Operant Behaviorism: A Study of the Experimental Analysis of Purposive Behavior
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Abstract

B. F. Skinner's claim that "operant behavior is essentially the field of purpose" is systematically explored. It is argued that Charles Taylor's illuminating analysis of the explanatory significance of common-sense goal-ascriptions (1) lends some (fairly restricted) support to Skinner's claim, (2) considerably clarifies the conceptual significance of differences between operant and respondent behavior and conditioning, and (3) undercuts influential assertions (e.g., Taylor's) that research programs for behavioristic psychology share a "mechanistic" orientation. A strategy is suggested for assessing the plausibility of Skinner's broader claims about the adequacy of the operant behaviorist program for the analysis of purposive behavior.

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