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About behaviorism [by] B. F. Skinner Unknown Binding – 1974
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The book is written with a popular readership intended, and as such it's not overly academic in presentation. It can be understood by someone who's new to psychology - and is intended to be insightful and engaging. It is, in all essentials, a book that takes as its purpose the task of explaining the reasons why this theoretical position is correct - and how, if applied, it would revolutionise the organisation of society (creating a more peaceful way of life, based on cooperative social existence). Skinner explores several topics, including: the causes of behaviour, operant conditioning, thinking, motivations and emotions, and issues of control.
This book was highly influential when it was originally published, and shaped debate within psychology for many years. The main argument advanced by Skinner is that the notion of human 'free will' is an illusion, and that behaviour is dependent on the consequences of previous behaviours. If the consequences are negative, the likelihood is that the action will not be repeated; whereas if the consequences are positive, it is more probable that the action will be repeated. As such, human behaviour is conditioned - the outcome of a lifetime of reinforcement. Given the importance of Skinner's work, he is recognised as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
Of course, the book received a great deal of criticism. And the behaviourist school of psychology - although influential - has never dominated the field (rather, schools of thought focussing on the Mind have tended to be hegemonic). Notwithstanding the criticisms this book received, it remains highly fascinating - and is an enjoyable read. If you're interested in psychology, I recommend it.
People tend to muddle up Watson's and Pavlov' early behaviour (called methodological behaviourism here) and Skinner's more sophisticated radical version of the 1940s and 1950s. They also seem to believe that Chomsky had rebutted Skinner- but nothing could be further from the truth.
The book begins with 20 criticisms of radical behaviourism. These are addressed throughout the books and rebutted in summary form in the very last chapter.
Skinner is a very powerful and convincing writer. His style is succinct and pithy. To me, it's like the best prose. I just can't stop reading this book.
Many misunderstand Skinner and refer to him as a crypto-fascist, or communist, or would-be dictator. In reality his work reveals how we are controlled (usually maliciously) by hierarchical agents such as governments, schools, and society at large. A thorough, honest application of Radical Behaviourism to society in general would undoubtedly result in the wholesale collapse of coercive agencies and instead replace them with humane institutions who attract dedicated peoples interested in helping others, rather than pathological power seekers as is the current reality. In essence Skinner's work is the foundation of a science of human freedom, flourishing, and happiness.
In terms of the book itself Skinner can be a bit dense and it takes a careful reading, and you would have to read more to fully appreciate his ideas, but as a lexicon of Radical Behaviourism it serves its perfect fantastically. I recommend this book to all my students and highly recommend it to any psychology student who questions, even slightly, the dogmatic proclamations of so called Cognitive Psychologists.
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