University of Oxford

Article 405: The Presuppositions of Behaviorism Theory

 Hasan Abdul-Qader Yahya, Ph.Ds, Professor of Sociology

Behaviorism as any other theory in social sciences, has certain presupposition. Most of its application, therefore, depends mainly on these presuppositions described in this article. 

1. Behaviorism is naturalistic. This means that the material world is the ultimate reality, and everything can be explained in terms of natural laws. Man has no soul and no mind, only a brain that responds to external stimuli.

2. Consistently, behaviorism teaches that we are not responsible for our actions. If we are mere machines, without minds or souls, reacting to stimuli and operating on our environment to attain certain ends, then anything we do is inevitable. Sociobiology, a type of behaviorism, compares man to a computer: Garbage in, garbage out.

3. According to David Cohen,(“Behaviorism” 1987), behaviorism teaches that man is nothing more than a machine that responds to conditioning. One writer has summarized behaviorism in this way: “The central tenet of behaviorism is that thoughts, feelings, and intentions, mental processes all, do not determine what we do. Our behavior is the product of our conditioning. We are biological machines and do not consciously act; rather we react to stimuli.” (David Cohen, “Behaviorism,” in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Richard L. Gregory, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 71.). For Skinner, the mind and mental processes are “metaphors and fictions” and that “behavior is simply part of the biology of the organism.” So the idea that men are “biological machines” whose minds do not have any influence on their actions is contrary to the biblical view that man is the very image of God – the image of a creative, planning, thinking God. (B.F. Skinner, “Skinner on Behaviorism,” 1987, p. 75) According to Skinner, he recognizes that his view strips man of his “freedom and dignity,” but insists that man as a spiritual being does not exist.

4. Behaviorism is manipulative. It seeks not merely to understand human behavior, but to predict and control it. From his theories, Skinner developed the idea of “shaping.” By controlling rewards and punishments, you can shape the behavior of another person. (359 words) www.askdryahya.com

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