There are many explanations that can be used to help people understand the Behaviorist Point of View. Some are very factual, others argue towards practical concerns, and still others are highly philosophical. This is the first in a series of posts trying to show these styles of explanation in compact and easy-to-digest form. Feedback is welcome. Because of a guest lecture I must give soon, the first post will focus on outlining operant and classical conditioning. The order is not meant to imply that this should be the first thing you tell someone about behaviorism, nor to imply that it is the most convincing line of explanation.
How to Explain Behaviorism, version 1:
Operant and Classical Conditioning
Operant and classical conditioning are two different ways in which organisms come to reflect the order of the environment around them. They are not perfect processes and they certainly cannot explain facet of human and non-human behavior. That said, they are surprisingly reliable processes, and they can explain much, much, more about human and non-human behavior than anyone would have thought before extensive study of those processes began.
Here I am, flipping through Holt's Animal Drives and the Learning Process: An Essay Towards Radical Empiricism (1931). The book is not at all perfect. Some parts are long-winded, overly concerned with then-emerging-arguments which might now seem dated, and the volume as a whole exudes Holt's frustration with his contemporaries and the direction in which they were moving psychology and philosophy. That said, the good parts still exude penetrating insight. The first chapter is about "Physiology Versus Verbal Magic" and the final chapter about "The Organism as a Whole." Here are some passages from the first chapter which, though antiquated in vocabulary, are still worth critiques of contemporary psychology: