everyone loves to bash BF Skinner. Scratch that, in philosophy and the cognitive sciences, no one even talks about behaviorism. usually our only exposure to it is as the missing link between the advent of modern psychological thought and the glorious revolution of noam chomsky.
in the philosophy of language class scott and i took last semester, i approached the professor about writing my term paper on WVO Quine, a theorist i had immediately felt an affinity with. i was told that i should avoid Quine because a) he's depressing - he is known for his pessimism about science's ability to describe language. b) he works to undermine a lot of the foundations we'd established for philosophy of language. where does one go from quine? and, last but certainly not least, c) one has to be careful if one strays too far from what we've discussed in class: a lot of his work is tied up in behaviorism.
and i did recoil. a behaviorist? my newfound philosophical hero? i couldn't abandon my attachment to his ideas. he tied the field of philosophy of language up in knots, but the course continued on past him as if he'd left its foundations undisturbed. i, with my lack of attachment to traditional philosophy as a discipline, felt more and more that he was right. but it's very easy to dismiss a behaviorist.
why are we so afraid of behaviorism? because it is so clearly wrong? because it led to bad philosophy and bad science? some of these assertions could definently be argued. but apparently it also led some scientists and philosophers to abandon the divinity-of-man arguments that had previously infected all of the social sciences. behaviorists were the first to treat their study of man as the study of an animal. and, admittedly they went too far, but we could learn a lot from the openmindedness that required.
quine essentially proved that language isn't necessarily logical, or at least that logic is not the place to begin investigating language. if our only conception of science, language, and man is based on aristotle, of course we'll have to treat quine as a heretic. behaviorists don't have anything to prove. they don't need to prove that man is logical, that he has free will, that there's something perfect about him, (and, often, that there's something more logical, freer, more perfect about white males...) as many philosophical schools assume from the beginning.