Postulation for Behavioral Inquiry

Arthur F. Bentley

HAVING discussed, first the possibility of observing behavior in a locus wider than that of a single organism, and next the recent trend among psychologists toward "situational" construc-

(406) -tíon,[1] we may now sketch the main features of postulation which are necessary if such observation and construction is to be successfully maintained as knowledge.

Older theories treat knowledge as a process that takes place, or as a status that has place, in or at an animal organism—human, primarily. The newer theories tend to examine it, not as the capacity of an organism, but directly as itself a process that arises in the situation: "organism-environment." The organism remains central—"nuclear," if one will—but abdicates as Lord Proprietor.

I shall assert five propositions and call them postulates for "situational" inquiry into behaviors. Each of them, separately taken, is in definite accord with important phases of modern scientific inquiry. No one of them is repugnant to scientific procedures in general, however repugnant some of them may be to non-scientific talk. The postulates are not items of belief. They are tools to work with. They concern us only as we work with them. Their value depends solely on how well they do their work —apart, and together. If they do their work so well that we retain them for any great length of time, they themselves may expect to undergo modification in and through that work.

Prior to their assertion and as introductory to them, let us assume recognition of an attitude which we may speak of as the uniformity of knowledge as process and field of inquiry. This attitude is prevalently atmospheric, but not to be taken as a matter for proof or for belief or disbelief in our day. Being an affair of knowledge, it is in contrast with realistic assertions of a uniformity of nature, and persons unsympathetic to it may know in advance that they will also be unsympathetic to the postulates that follow, and this to such an extent that they may well spare themselves the labor of a reading. This attitude is: that all physiological and behavioral knowledge is legitimately open to scientists for physical inquiry and interpretation; that all behavioral knowledge is legitimately open to physiological inquiry and interpretation as this develops in a physical setting; that in such inquiries claims and boasts have no significance, but only work accomplished ; that, when all is said and done, physical and physiological knowledge, along with all the rest, is behavioral process, subject itself to behavioral inquiry and interpretation.

The five postulates now to be laid down for working purposes are:


(a) Organism and Object. In behavioral inquiry, organic and non-organic participations cover the field, without third participant.

(b) Activity and Passivity. What is active in behavior, and what is passive, must be appraised as such through the study of behavior itself, and not under conventional or other external prescription.

(c) Factual Observation. Direct observation shall be permitted for all organism-object situations, with freedom for direct factual report thereon.

(d) Space and Time. Behavioral space and time shall be established in whatever ways are germane to behavioral construction. No space and time forms, elsewhere in use or approved, shall usurp control of behavioral observation and report.

(e) Existence. All existence asserted shall be stated-existence, not named-existence. Naming shall be subsidiary to statement, and no named-existence shall be permitted to claim authority beyond its range of coherent statement.

These five propositions have been set down in an order advancing from the more specifically behavioral to the more general. They will be discussed briefly in the opposite order.

Stated Existence.—Name a thing—assert with vehemence the existence of what you name—and you at once leave the route of knowing. State—develop and expand your statement—then, in the favorable case, you are on your way forward. A large literature of this import, running from erudite to popular, marks recent years; the varieties of expression are very great, none of them as yet satisfactory. The roots go back of Socrates. The overthrow of logical, as well as of verbal, pretense is everywhere involved. Expansion of statement is made our safeguard against our fallibility of first report. I need do no more here than to call attention to this postulate and give it emphasis.

Behavioral Space-Time.—Newtonian space and time were established in rigid severance from the phenomena investigated and, thus viewed, were called "absolute." More recent physics absorbs its spaces and times into its observed facts ; it passes beyond namings to statements; its facts and its space-time become in their way obverse and converse expressions of event. Into the Newtonian space "mind" could not fit itself, but as Protuberant Psyche there stood forth. In the new spaces and times "psyche" ceases to protrude and becomes at last itself event in the world. Physics, out of its own experience of growth, now gives students of behavior justification for choosing their own frames of space and time to fit their facts. It frees them from the old rigidity. An

(408) opening for work appears, for which all determined students of behavior give thanks.

The Right to Observe.—Consider hound-running-hare. Named-hound and named-hare come before our attention as differentiated under the stresses of our practical living. Inspected in rigid Newtonian space, the "names" dominate and the "running" gets into difficulties. The resulting paradoxes are known from antiquity. Nevertheless both hound and hare, thoroughly enough explored, are seen to be made up of runnings, "and the rest appropriately."

I postulate the right, if my purposes require it, to observe hound-running-hare, and all similar events, directly, and not as inferential to named-hound and named-hare. The "right" is all I postulate. The utility of procedure under the postulation remains for results to show : and this in the long run.

If I have the right to observe directly hound-running-hare, I have the right to similar direct observation of hound-perceiving-hare, and of man-knowing-hound-running-hare—or of whatever it may be that such phrasings turn out factually to indicate. Recall Singer's words.[2] Start where you are (when you find out as best you can where this is), and take what comes (as best you can). Give the other man likewise his full right to start, to take, and to see. Suppress the waste forced on you by old authority.[3]

Active and Passive.—Newton's third law of motion made action and reaction equal; both termini became parties to the event. Physicists for many generations, even while they worked true to the law, could not see facts in that form, and could not expound in that form what they saw and did; their "force" still claimed for them its punch. This lag is past for physics, where more and more the differential equation becomes the great central expression —the very description itself—of causation.

"Psychology," in its standard procedures, still concentrates activity, as cause, at a spot. However elaborately it may discuss environments, however strongly it may stress them, it still treats them as alien "things"; its basic construction makes of them in

(409) the end passivities as over against its own stressed "psychic" powers.

Body-and-mind conflicts bother few inquirers today. Subject-and-object severances are of little prominence under that naming. But concentrations of activity, heavy stresses upon "force" at certain spots, leading to degradation of "force" at other spots, enter everywhere.

Reliance on stated-existence as opposed to named-existence, permitting freely-spaced and freely-timed factual observation, can not, of course, guarantee balanced treatment of activities and passivities in joint system, but it at least opens the way toward that end.

Organism and Object.—' 'Psychological" construction, in contrast with "situational," introduces and employs—indeed, capitalizes—a "third" component in addition to organism and object. This is manifestly the case with "mentalist psychology," and it is equally the case with the "mentaloid psychology" of the physiologist. In this latter the physiology is (or "is usually," or "may be") soundly scientific, but its affiliated "psychology" merely succeeds in substituting a new "third" component for the old "third"; "souls" and "minds' may be gone, but "brains" or other imitative devices have taken their place.

Such "third" components are named-existences of the kind that do not bear careful statement ; they are assigned to a defective and inappropriate time and space; they are incapable of being factually observed; they unduly assert the presence of active powers-at-a-spot. They are out of accord with all five "situational" postulates.

Organism and object together furnish a sufficient, as well as a necessary, base for behavioral inquiry. Thus taken, and literally maintained without evasively intervening "thirds," organism and environment may be coherently investigated in accordance with the proposed postulates. Behaviors are then seen as "situational" rather than as technically "psychological," and run their course as durational events without spectacular concentration at the organism in degrees beyond what phenomenal description will justify. Organism and object become statable as organic and non-organic participations in behavorial events. Their spaces and times are "situational." Direct observation is always practicable. Activity is not arbitrarily concentrated as "force," but becomes that which can be observed and described—wherever it can be observed and described—and nothing else.

The "thirds" are hard to eject. Many have proclaimed success in ejection, but no one, perhaps, has achieved it. Good-will alone

(410) is not enough. To assert strongly the present postulate is not to claim as yet full success in its use. Concealed "thirds" may still be found by others in some of the work we do, and this may long remain a possibility. If they are found we face anew the requirement of either pursuing them till they are ejected, or else of amending our postulation to fit whatever in them shows itself most definitely to be "fact."

Deeds, not Words.—All of the above postulates are meant to be taken literally, but for taking them literally lip-service is not enough. Their program is action. Observation—widened and sharpened observation—is the heart of them. The assertion is that even a small measure of such observation is enormously helpful, and that a full measure can be achieved, if labor is not spared. Liking or disliking the wordings of the postulates in detachment from action has no significance.

In the two preceding papers I have once or twice asserted, and several times hinted, the probability of a future radical theoretical reconstruction of sociological inquiry. While present intentions do not run in this direction, perhaps a pertinent remark or two should be made.

1. If the two promising types of situational inspection—those of Woodbridge and of Pavlov—can be so organized and put to work by others as to eliminate the last remnants of matter-mind conflicts in their procedures, then all constructions in which mental (or substitute-mental) elements are made to operate upon non-mental would quickly disappear. The reader will probably at once remark that in this event practically nothing of the structure of what now calls itself a "science" of society will remain.

2. What will then force itself upon attention will be a certain specialization of behavior-being as apart from that of living-being. A behavior organism will appear which will require portrayal within boundaries not identical with those of an established organism of biological inquiry. The distinction will lie in the particular manner in which the requirements of research lessen or heighten stress upon anatomical skin in delimiting subject-matters. The stress upon skin that is already weakened in many physiological inquiries declines further and more radically for these new behavioral purposes.

З. From this we are quickly led to ask whether we may not perhaps be able to identify something of the nature of cellular structure in the situationally inspected behaviors. Such cellular structures, of course, will have to be themselves situational: i.e., not now capable of adequate description in any mentally, organic-

(411) -ally, or environmentally isolated phenomenal forms. The Pavlov signal-reflex (when not given crude, mechanistic distortion) and the Kantor segment-of-behavior (in its more straightforward uses) come at once to mind as two such structures, probably capable of development and maintenance.

4. A different, and additional, cell-form seems, however, indicated for situations which involve the more elaborated activities of speech-using human beings. In earlier work I have made some preliminary development along these lines.[4]

5. Reverting to Woodbridge's envisionment, his inclusion of "thinkings" and "expressings" along with "seeings" and with "the rest appropriately" remains unexamined in our present papers. In this region we find the first great problem for expansion on the changed basis. Pavlov's speculations in his final years about a third cerebral or second cortical system (also called "second signalling system") are very weak so far as we can make them out from the available reports;[5] but this is manifestly because Pavlov's "cell," if we may call it that, is inadequately framed for this particular extension of inquiry. Kantor's attack in this region is elaborate,[6] but his results—to my eye, at least, and for my personal uses—are far from satisfactory. Adolf Meyer 's position, though not running beyond suggestion,[7] has great promise.[8]

6. If "sociology" is to be technically "scientific," it should exhibit basic systematic organization with physics and biology,

(412) which two sciences are the veritable science of our era. If it is to use physical and biological materials at all, it should use them in the forms in which the physical and biological sciences present them, and not in some ancient crudity or naïveté which those sciences have long ago overcome and discarded. If "gold" is to enter, it should be in the sense of the gold of physics, and not the gold of a hog that scratches its back on a piece of ore or the gold of some behaviorally degraded speculator on a stock exchange.

7. We find today that most physical, physiological, and behavioral materials enter their various sciences in forms called "conceptual." To deal decently with behaviors in conceptual forms (however the issue may be temporarily evaded in other sciences), we are obligated to gain some understanding as to what the word "concept" stands for factually in its current uses. The scholastic and mentalist "definitions" found in dictionaries and elsewhere have no pertinence to present needs. Factual determination is lacking and must be gained. One may today go back and forth across the land indefinitely seeking information : he will garner sneers, scorn, and anger, but never a hint as to "facts."[9]

8. From various points of approach we thus come to the conclusion that the development of the situationally conceptual, including the linguistic, out of the situationally perceptional, as this latter is developed out of the situationally physiological, is our most pressing requirement. Once this task has been reasonably accomplished, then, and I believe then only, will a sound behavioral base be available upon which an acceptable construction of social science can begin to arise.

9. It is improbable that a single technical pattern of speech will be competent to handle all behavioral constructions. Several patterns will be necessary, and these must be accompanied, if they are to perform well their work, by definite methods of making transformation from one pattern to another. Physics, physiology, and behavioral sciences are alike in this respect. Even mathematics —in the very simple case—needs a rule to transform the pattern of 1/3 that of .33333 ... , and vice versa. The Pavlov signal-reflex provides one such speech-form, the Kantor interaction provides another, and a third non-isolational type of expression seems likewise indicated as necessary. If cell-types are set up factually within behavior, then expressive speech patterns must be established to conform to them.

10. Finally we may say : Not some picayune man's ultimatum

(413) as to which is "true" : Pavlov's, Woodbridge's, or Kantor 's construction, is what we need. Rather it is the power to use many such constructions, and to read each report in the light of the others, so as to get from each most soundly its working values.

John Dewey's book, Logic, the Theory of Inquiry (1938), was not yet available when the preceding pages were prepared. Professor Dewey uses the interactional approach for his biological foundations, and proceeds to a naturalistically interactional development of the theory of inquiry (warranted assertion, knowledge) as human behavior, this development including, of course, a thorough rejection of all forms of mentalistic "interactionism." He expressly asserts the first two of the five propositions which the present essay suggests for postulatory status, and under somewhat different formulation employs procedures closely related to the three others.[10] Certain criticisms which at an earlier date I had felt might lie against his attitude [11] are thus not justified as against his fully developed presentation. However he emphasizes our present lack of "a general theory of language," and I take it that this very incompleteness finds illustration in his own work by his retention of certain words from the older vocabulary of philosophy and psychology. The word "conceptual," for example, is employed by him in a great variety of important logical situations, and while he undoubtedly makes it stand for phenomena that are linguistically operational in non-mentalistic ways, it has not yet attained for itself a sharp existential reference. While I am prepared to accept and employ probably every positive determination Professor Dewey has made, I find myself at the same time strengthened by his inquiry in the opinion that much further research will be necessary on the lines above discussed, and that for such work the organic-interactional and social stresses will require supplement by stresses of the full situational type.



  1. This JOURNAL, "Sights-Seen as Materials of Knowledge," Vol. XXXVI (1939), pp. 169-181; "Situational Treatments of Behavior," Vol. %%%VI (1939), pp. 309-323.
  2. See footnote p. 173 in the first of these three papers.
  3.  Argument is not here in place; but (1) we may recall how far physics has traveled from rolling stones, by way of electricity and optics, to the electron and its company—so that now, whether we approve of it theoretically or not, the photo-electric cell opens the door at our approach; (2) we may recall "psychological" report on perceptional build-up, and semantic report on verbal precipitates and defaults; finally (3) we may keep in mind the ceaseless backward and forward swing in the growth of knowledge—old "things" breaking down, new "things" building up—with no one man, and no one generation, having power to settle matters soundly for all time.
  4.  My Process of Government (1908) was put forth as "an attempt to fashion a tool," and a recent commentator has cited a passage in it (p. 173) which he thinks carries something of the present line of argument. In Behavior, Knowledge, Fact (1935), I have discussed "isolationality" in Chapter XIV of Part I, and "observation," "communication," and "behavioral space-time" throughout Part III.
  5. Y. P. Frolov, Pavlov and his School (1937), pp. 78-82, p. 228, et Ы. For Pavlov's earlier attitude towards language, see Conditioned Reflexes (Anrep, tr.), p. 407.
  6. An Objective Psychology of Grammar (1936) ; also three late essays cited in a footnote of my preceding paper.
  7.  "The Psychobiological Point of View" in The Problem of Mental Disorder (National Research Council, 1934), pp. 57-60.
  8.  A recent discussion from a non-situational point of view is that of Charles W. Morris, ""Foundations of the Theory of Signs," International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Vol. I, No. 2, pp. 1-59 (1938). Typical of the "psychological" approach is his inability to attain a coherent statement even for his two or three basic presentations. Thus (p. 3) we are told that the! "three components in semiosis" are Sign Vehicle (S), Designatum (D), and Interpretant (I), with "interpreter'' as a possible fourth; while only three pages later (p. 6) the "triadic relation of semiosis " involves three correlates, S, D, and the "interpreter"—the "1" now being omitted. On the side of "object" corresponding confusions are continuous, the remarks on the status of S, p. 4 and p. 49, offering fair illustration.
  9. Recent abuses of the word "concept" are described ín my papers, "The Positive and the Logical," and "Physicists and Fairies," Philosophy of Science, Vol. III (1936), p. 472, and Vol. V (1938), p. 132.
  10. "Behavior is in fact a function of the total state of the organism ín relation to environment" (p. 31). "What is designated by such terms as ... idea, conception ... must be located and described as behavior in which organism and environment act together, or inter-act" (p. 33). "Observation ... the restrictive-selective determination ... within a total environing field" (p. 150). "Inquiry effects existential transformation" (p. 159). "Observed facts ... are operational" (p. 112). "I doubt whether there exists anything that may be called thought as a strictly psychical existence" (p. 21). Compare for "interaction," the full discussion, pp. 23-36; for the "mental," pp. 57, 106, 159, 287, 525, 530; for the temporal quality of inquiry, p. 118; and for space and time as outcomes of measurement, p. 217.
  11. Behavior, Knowledge, Fact (1935), Chap. XI.

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