Mind Self and Society

Section 2 The Behavioristic Significance
 of Attitudes

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The problem that presents itself as crucial for human psychology concerns the field that is opened up by introspection; this field apparently could not be dealt with by a purely objective psychology which only studied conduct as it takes place for the observer. In order that this field could be brought within the range of objective psychology, the behaviorist, such as Watson, did what he could to cut down the field itself, to deny certain phenomena supposed to lie only in that field, such as "consciousness as distinct from conduct without consciousness. The animal psychologist studied conduct without taking up the question as to whether it was conscious conduct or not.[1] But when we reach the field of human conduct we are in fact able to distinguish reflexes which take place without consciousness. There

(9) seems, then, to be a field which the behavioristic psychology cannot reach. The Watsonian behaviorist simply did what he could to minimize this difference.

The field of investigation of the behaviorist has been quite largely that of the young infant, where the methods employed are just the methods of animal psychology. He has endeavored to find out what the processes of behavior are, and to see how the activities of the infant may be used to explain the activities of the adult. It is here that the psychologist brings in the conditioned reflexes. He shows that by a mere association of certain stimuli he can get results which would not follow from these secondary stimuli alone. This conditioning of reflexes can be carried over into other fields, such as those of terror on the part of an infant. He can be made to fear something by associating the object with others producing terror. The same process can be used for explaining more elaborate conduct in which we associate elements with certain events which are not directly connected with them, and by elaborating this conditioning we can, it is believed, explain the more extended processes of reasoning and inference. In this way a method which belongs to objective psychology is carried over into the field which is dealt with ordinarily in terms of introspection. That is, instead of saying we have certain ideas when we have certain experiences, and that these ideas imply something else, we say that a certain experience has taken place at the same time that the first experience has taken place, so that now this secondary experience arouses the response which belongs to the primary experience.

There remain contents, such as those of imagery, which are more resistant to such analysis. What shall we say of responses that do not answer to any given experience? We can say, of course, that they are the results of past experiences. But take the contents themselves, the actual visual imagery that one has: it has outline; it has color; it has values; and other characters which are isolated with more difficulty. Such experience is one which plays a part, and a very large part, in our perception, our conduct; and yet it is an experience which can be revealed only

(10) by introspection. The behaviorist has to make a detour about this type of experience if he is going to stick to the Watsonian type of behavioristic psychology.

Such a behaviorist desires to analyze the act, whether individual or social, without any specific reference to consciousness whatever and without any attempt to locate it either within the field of organic behavior or within the larger field of reality in general. He wishes, in short, to deny its existence as such altogether. Watson insists that objectively observable behavior completely and exclusively constitutes the field of scientific psychology, individual and social. He pushes aside as erroneous the idea of "mind" or "consciousness," and attempts to reduce all "mental" phenomena to conditioned reflexes and similar physiological mechanisms-in short, to purely behavioristic terms. This attempt, of course, is misguided and unsuccessful, for the existence as such of mind or consciousness, in some sense or other, must be admitted-the denial of it leads inevitably to obvious absurdities. But though it is impossible to reduce mind or consciousness to purely behavioristic terms-in the sense of thus explaining it away and denying its existence as such entirely-yet it is not impossible to explain it in these terms, and to do so without explaining it away, or denying its existence as such, in the least. Watson apparently assumes that to deny the existence of mind or consciousness as a psychical stuff, substance, or entity is to deny its existence altogether, and that a naturalistic or behavioristic account of it as such is out of the question. But, on the contrary, we may deny its existence as a psychical entity without denying its existence in some other sense at all; and if we then conceive it functionally, and as a natural rather than a transcendental phenomenon, it becomes possible to deal with it in behavioristic terms. In short, it is not possible to deny the existence of mind or consciousness or mental phenomena, nor is it desirable to do so; but it is possible to account for them or deal with them in behavioristic terms which are precisely similar to those which Watson employs in dealing with non-mental psychological phenomena (phenomena which,

(11) according to his definition of the field of psychology, are all the psychological phenomena there are). Mental behavior is not reducible to non-mental behavior. But mental behavior or phenomena can be explained in terms of non-mental behavior or phenomena, as arising out of, and as resulting from complications in, the latter.

If we are going to use behavioristic psychology to explain conscious behavior we have to be much more thoroughgoing in our statement of the act than Watson was. We have to take into account not merely the complete or social act, but what goes on in the central nervous system as the beginning of the individual's act and as the organization of the act. Of course, that takes us beyond the field of our direct observation. It takes us beyond that field because we cannot get at the process itself. It is a field that is more or less shut off, seemingly because of the difficulty of the country itself that has to be investigated. The central nervous system is only partly explored. Present results, however, suggest the organization of the act in terms of attitudes. There is an organization of the various parts of the nervous system that are going to be responsible for acts, an organization which represents not only that which is immediately taking place, but also the later stages that are to take place. If one approaches a distant object he approaches it with reference to what he is going to do when he arrives there. If one is approaching a hammer he is muscularly all ready to seize the handle of the hammer. The later stages of the act are present in the early stages-not simply in the sense that they are all ready to go off, but in the sense that they serve to control the process itself. They determine how we are going to approach the object, and the steps in our early manipulation of it. We can recognize, then,, that the innervation of certain groups of cells in the central nervous system can already initiate in advance the later stages of the act. The act as a whole can be there determining the process.

We can also recognize in such a general attitude toward an object an attitude that represents alternative responses, such

(12) as are involved when we talk about our ideas of an object. A person who is familiar with a horse approaches it as one who is going to ride it. He moves toward the proper side and is ready to swing himself into the saddle. His approach determines the success of the whole process. But the horse is not simply something that must be ridden. It is an animal that must eat, that belongs to somebody. It has certain economic values. The individual is ready to do a whole series of things with reference to the horse, and that readiness is involved in any one of the many phases of the various acts. It is a horse that he is going to mount; it is a biological animal; it is an economic animal. Those characters are involved in the ideas of a horse. If we seek this ideal character of a horse in the central nervous system we would have to find it in all those different parts of the initiated acts. One would have to think of each as associated with the other processes in which he uses the horse, so that no matter what the specific act is, there is a readiness to act in these different ways with reference to the horse. We can find in that sense in the beginning of the act just those characters which we assign to "horse" as an idea, or if you like, as a concept.

If we are going to look for this idea in a central nervous system we have to look for it in the neurons, particularly in the connection between the neurons. There are whole sets of connections there which are of such a character that we are able to act in a number of ways, and these possible actions have their effect on the way in which we do act. For example, if the horse belongs to the rider, the rider acts in a different way than if it belongs to someone else. These other processes involved determine the immediate action itself and particularly the later stages of the act, so that the temporal organization of the act may be present in the immediate process. We do not know how that temporal organization takes place in the central nervous system. In some sense these later processes which are going to take place, and are in some sense started, are worked into the immediate process. A behavioristic treatment, if it is made broad enough, if it makes use of the almost indefinite

(13) complexities existing in the nervous system, can adjust itself to many fields which were supposed to be confined to an introspective attack. Of course, a great deal of this must be hypothetical. We learn more day by day of what the connections are, but they are largely hypothetical. However, they can at least be stated in a behavioristic form. We can, therefore, in principle, state behavioristically what we mean by an idea.


  1. Comparative psychology freed psychology in general from being confined solely to the field of the central nervous system, which, through the physiological psychologists, had taken the place of consciousness as such, as the field of psychological investigation. It thus enabled psychology in general to consider the act as a whole, and as including or taking place within the entire social process of behavior. In other words, comparative psychology - and behaviorism as its outgrowth - has extended the field of general psychology beyond the central nervous system of the individual organism alone, and has caused psychologists to consider the individual act as a part of the larger social whole to which it in fact belongs, and from which, in a definite sense, it gets its meaning-, though they do not, of course, lose interest thereby in the central nervous system and the physiological processes going on in it.

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