A Defense Of Modern Behaviorism

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date


Published In

Contemporary Psychology


Reviews H. Rachlin's book, Behavior and Mind: The Roots of Modern Psychology (see record 1993-99016-000 ), a thoughtful defense of modern behaviorism. The reviewer focuses on Rachlin's contrast between behaviorist and cognitive and physiological approaches in contemporary psychology. The foundation of Rachlin's argument lies in the distinction between efficient and final causes. Efficient causes correspond to what we now call mechanisms-- the hows of psychological explanation. Cognitive and physiological psychology are about hows. Whether one studies mind or brain, the aim is to explain how perception, memory, thinking, language, motivation, emotion, and action happen. The closest that modern science comes to accepting ideological explanation is its embrace of functional explanation. The reviewer agrees with Rachlin that a satisfactory account of human beings demands taking teleology (final causes) seriously. However, this agreement does not lead the reviewer to Rachlin's embrace of modern, teleological behaviorism. What Rachlin assumes, but does not argue, in defending teleological behaviorism, is that the distinction between function and teleology is a nonissue. Treating the distinction as significant might lead to a cognitive psychology of goals of final causes. It would be quite different from the cognitive psychology that actually exists, because of its focus on goals rather than mechanisms. But it would also be quite different from teleological behaviorism, because of its focus on mental states and processes rather than, or in addition to, behavior. Rachlin's interesting and important book would have been considerably strengthened by a serious discussion of this issue.

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