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Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner
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Beyond Freedom and Dignity (edition 1975)

by B.F. Skinner

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891615,156 (3.46)8
Member:Keja
Title:Beyond Freedom and Dignity
Authors:B.F. Skinner
Info:BANTAM/VINTAGE (1975), Paperback
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Beyond Freedom & Dignity by B. F. Skinner

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  Lunapilot | Jul 19, 2016 |
"We do not read books if we are already thoroughly familiar with the material or if it is so completely unfamiliar that it is likely to remain so. We read books which help us say things we are on the verge of saying anyway but cannot quite say without help."

My love for this book exemplifies Skinner's quote above. Skinner says what I have been on the verge of saying. "Beyond Freedom & Dignity" was just what I was looking for: an explanation of determinism's practical implications for our lives and how we stand to benefit from embracing it. Skinner takes the psychological approach to determinism, focusing on operant behavior, reinforcement, contingencies, and the environment's effects on our identity, social behavior, and ideas. He aptly deconstructs the culture of freedom and of dignity that we have basked in for so long and shows how relinquishing these ideas can lead to better understanding and better construction of our world. Technology of behavior takes the stead of freedom of dignity. It is to be applied in a systematic fashion, as a scientific or psychological experiment or test. Many object that "a scientific view of man leads to wounded vanity, a sense of hopelessness, and nostalgia. But no theory changes what it is a theory about; man remains what he has always been. And a new theory may change what can be done with its subject matter. A scientific view of man offers exciting possibilities. We have not yet seen what man can make of man."

"The great individualists so often cited to show the value of personal freedom have owed their successes to earlier social environments. The involuntary individualism of a Robinson Crusoe and the voluntary individualism of a Henry David Thoreau show obvious debts to society. If Crusoe had reached the island as a baby, and if Thoreau had grown up unattended on the shores of Walden Pond, their stories would have been different. We must all begin as babies, and no degree of self-determination, self-sufficiency, or self-reliance will make us individuals in any sense beyond that of single members of the human species."

"Conflicts among feelings, as in the classical literary themes of love versus duty or patriotism versus faith, are really conflicts between contingencies of reinforcement."


( )
  gvenezia | Dec 26, 2014 |
I think this is Skinner's most well-known book. He passed away in 1990 as perhaps the greatest scientist of psychology since Freud. See Rachlin's memoriam,www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/biomems/bskinner.html. Freud fathered the field, and Skinner (along with many pragmatic functionalist, clinical researchers), filled it with the science-based experiments which Freud invited.

This is "psychology" imbedded in biology and divorced from abstracts and introspection. Skinner uses the "homunculus" -- a driver-bot, rather than the "inner man" with cognition, Will and choices -- to explain selection and differences.

Chomski (Cartesian structuralist) on the left and ICS Institute on the right pretty much blame him for everything. They resort to defamation -- even inventing the myth that his daughter was troubled and suicidal (untrue) having been raised in a "Skinner Box" (not understood). The critics distinguish the foraging instincts of Skinner's beloved pigeons from the "ritual behavior" he induced by experiment. Bottom line, their pigeons performed the same way -- they repeated his findings. S-R does explain the behavior of human beings, and what is left is genetics (biology), not divine "images" capable of choosing between Good and Evil.

The "cognitive" psychologists do not answer Skinner's clinical work with laboratory findings. {To put it bluntly, there is little evidence of human consciousness. The 20th century history of scholars of the German school -- among the first to fall in the tyranny of thugs -- speaks volumes.}

The theory of B.F. Skinner is based upon the idea that learning is a function of change in behavior. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual's response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment. A response produces a consequence such as defining a word, hitting a ball, or solving a math problem. When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded or punished), the individual is conditioned to respond. He discounted the genetic and biological influences (drug prescriptions) to which so many other proclaimed managers of manipulative techniques had been turning. {People cannot accept who people are.}

Most of the work is gentle and benign, and for those of us who live in a state of powerless explosion, not immediately helpful. For example, "A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies" [199]. Can we even understand what this means? The well of mystery and powerlessness feels deepened and increased, particularly for people who look to God for meaning. In this illustration, his examples are telling -- "I'm not myself today", and "that's not like me" -- these common expressions are fraught with meaning, and we use them everyday. This is why People with extremist views find behaviorism to be crazy-making.

Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner's S-R theory. A reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response -- simple verbal feedback, grading, or other consistent "conditioning". The theory defines Negative reinforcers in a much broader category than punishment, to include any stimulus that results in the increased frequency of a response when it is withdrawn. Different from adversive stimuli -- punishment -- which effectively suppress responses. A great deal of attention was given to schedules of reinforcement (e.g. interval versus ratio) and their effects on establishing and maintaining behavior.

Skinner's theory attempts to explain a broad range of cognitive phenomena, even consciousness of "self". Not an easy task -- try to explain freedom, dignity, culture and "man", or his values and drives (motivation) in any sensible way. Skinner uses terms of deprivation and reinforcement schedules.

In Skinner's earlier work (1957 see Walden II), Skinner used pseudo-parables of a utopian community to show learning within the operant conditioning paradigm. Here, Skinner (1971) deals with the issue of free will and social control:

In this expanded essay, Skinner urges us -- it is not clear who would actually be doing this -- to radically change our methods of dealing with human behavior. Traditional concepts of freedom and dignity must be sharply revised. While playing an important role in our struggle against many kinds of tyranny, the old beliefs are unscientific residue now responsible for the futile defense of a presumed free and autonomous individual which does not now, if it ever did, exist. Our use of punishment is blocking the development of "more effective" practices.

Basing his arguments on the massive results of the experimental analysis of behavior he pioneered, Skinner rejects traditional explanations of behavior in terms of states of mind, feelings, and other mental attributes in favor of explanations to be sought in the interaction between genetic endowment and personal history. ALL specific intent crimes are called into question. The concept of "negligence" is shown to be inoperable. He argues that instead of promoting freedom and dignity as personal attributes, we should direct our attention to the cultural environments in which people live. It is the environment rather than humankind itself that must be changed if the traditional goals of the struggle for freedom and dignity are to be reached.

Face it -- punishments have never worked well. Maybe the reason bad people do bad is that badness is richly rewarded. There is no abstract "freedom" or "dignity". Our reinforcers for good and bad behavior are chaotic and out of our control -- it’s a matter of having good or bad luck with your parents, teachers, peers, and other influences over which you had no control or choice. Skinner urges us to design our culture in such a way that good gets rewarded and bad gets extinguished! End it. With the right behavioral technology, we can design culture. Stop perpetuating evil -- with our present institutions built upon pre-scientific assumptions. ( )
  keylawk | Oct 19, 2007 |
We like to live under the impression that we are autonomous; that our actions are based on our own feelings and judgments and that our lives are our own making (or under the power of a higher authority that guides us to a specific destiny). This impression rests on the idea that there is some part of us that is not a part of the temporal world, a personality that represents what is uniquely us. Commonly though of as the soul ("autonomous man" as Skinner refers to it), this element is neither scientifically observable nor necessary to our understanding of human actions.

It is the goal of eliminating this conception that Skinner pursues during the course of "Beyond Freedom & Dignity." Skinner's view is that personalities are formed by a combination of environmental and social controls (genetics plays a role as well, though this can be thought of as an environmental factor). A person is hardwired from birth onward by a series of rewards and punishments, either intentional or incidental to being alive. All actions that people take are a product of their "training" through life up to that point.

This view has been criticized as determinism by some (it is, though that is hardly a criticism), morally relativistic by others (possibly, but viewing crime as being caused by social forces rather than the inherent evil of criminals is not a new observation and is actually open to scientific testing, which is a positive step), and fascist by Skinner's most ardent critics (mostly for Skinner's recommendations that we use environmental conditioning to improve society, though "fascist" is a little harsh considering that even the most open and free societies already do this, consciously or unconsciously. Skinner is just asking that we go about it more scientifically).

In the end the book works as a breakdown of our preconceived notions about talent, free will and the way societies operate. That Skinner is a fluid and engaging writer makes this an important and readable piece of pop psychology.

(This review originally appeared on zombieunderground.net) ( )
2 vote coffeezombie | Aug 10, 2007 |
B.F. Skinner developed quite a following in the '60's and '70's, although I found it disturbing and amazing that he did. His basic theory is that our civilization is spinning out of control, and we need to design our culture to shape and stimulate the behavior that is best for man's survival. I've been more or less a libertarian for a long time, and this thinking was anathema to me. Still is. But it was an important book to read, as Skinner had become so influential. Interesting, too. But still wrong. ( )
  burnit99 | Feb 20, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0872206270, Paperback)

In this profound and profoundly controversial work, a landmark of 20th-century thought originally published in 1971, B. F. Skinner makes his definitive statement about humankind and society.

Insisting that the problems of the world today can be solved only by dealing much more effectively with human behavior, Skinner argues that our traditional concepts of freedom and dignity must be sharply revised. They have played an important historical role in our struggle against many kinds of tyranny, he acknowledges, but they are now responsible for the futile defense of a presumed free and autonomous individual; they are perpetuating our use of punishment and blocking the development of more effective cultural practices. Basing his arguments on the massive results of the experimental analysis of behavior he pioneered, Skinner rejects traditional explanations of behavior in terms of states of mind, feelings, and other mental attributes in favor of explanations to be sought in the interaction between genetic endowment and personal history. He argues that instead of promoting freedom and dignity as personal attributes, we should direct our attention to the physical and social environments in which people live. It is the environment rather than humankind itself that must be changed if the traditional goals of the struggle for freedom and dignity are to be reached.

Beyond Freedom and Dignity urges us to reexamine the ideals we have taken for granted and to consider the possibility of a radically behaviorist approach to human problems-one that has appeared to some incompatible with those ideals, but which envisions the building of a world in which humankind can attain its greatest possible achievements.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Presents the argument that man's environment must be changed rather than man himself if the traditional goals of the struggle for freedom and dignity are to be reached.

(summary from another edition)

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