Neo-Behaviorism and Hermeneutics



Problems with Philosophical Behaviorism and
 the emergence of Social Constructionism

 Paradox of the verifiability principle - rejecting its own foundation

Sigmund Koch (1951): Problems with Logical Positivism and Operationism

Psychology is "in an era of total disorientation" with numerous "grand systems" with elaborate auxiliary hypotheses using unobserved "intervening variables" and "hypothetical constructs"

Bridgman (1954): "I feel as if I have created a Frankenstein . . . I abhor the word operationalism or operationism"  

The use of Operational definition has come to create this confusion by becoming a method for making concepts(constructs) scientific by simply defining how they will be observed (eg. AALS).

It also creates a situation where there are potentially infinite definitions for a given concept, each tied to a different behaviour or observation.

So what is the ontological status of the construct then?

Gilbert Ryle (1949): The concept of Mind

Rejected Descartes' "dogma of the ghost in the machine"
as well as the representational (copy) theory of knowledge

"Mind" is not an ontological category (an actual thing);
to think of "Mind" as such is to make a "Category Mistake"

Other mistakes: Confusing "Oxford University" for an object
 or a building and confusing "pain" with behaviour

  As such it is an error to mistake the meaning of "mental predicates" with simple behaviours; one needs to understand the criteria of the use of terms   

G.E. Moore (1873-1958): Common Sense and Ordinary Language

Defended Common Sense by suggesting others "paradoxically" contradict themselves in doubting "banally obvious truths" (eg. material things, space & time, other minds, ...)

Moore's follower, Norman Malcolm, suggests that: "Ordinary language" expressions are free from "Philosophical Paradox" or self-contradiction because they provide useful or "pragmatic" truths

People learn the meaning of expressions through standard cases or "exemplars" or paradigms

  Wittgenstein responds: The "common-sense philosopher is not the common-sense man"

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951): Language games and traditions

1922 - Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: The "picture theory" of knowledge

1953 - Philosophical Investigations: Criticized representational theories suggesting that statements about internal perceptions (eg. "I'm in pain") are expressions of such states rather than descriptions of objects

Reminiscent of Peter Abellard's resolution to the medieval "nominalism vs. realism debate", Wittgenstein offers a perspective of neo-conceptualism    

He suggests that the categorical terms we use 
in science represent real things (like realism) 
however  they are not objects or things (like nominalism) 
but rather the creative expressions of human experience  (like conceptualism)

  Mind, pain, memory, learning, thinking & intelligence are real, but they are not entities or things

There is not a limited set of defining or "essential features" (list of propositions or
statements) that describe such concepts (as the nominalists declare)
nor some etherial essence as the realists declare.

Conceptual confusion arises from failing to recognize our concepts as part of a loose cluster of expressions which are characterized by a having "family resemblance"    Each person has a set of concepts that are exchanged (negotiated) through language games with others to form cultural or collective meanings. 


Negotiations between our understandings and "reality" leave us with  multiple interpretations, families of conceptualizations. It is mistaken to try to eliminate the diversity into a single view.

 Terminal explanations are accepted when we decide to stop asking "why?" and stop our investigation. We can never fully explain human action, however, we can understand it!


We learn to use concepts paradigmatically (by example) through various "language games"

  Language games are the activities (praxes) of human communication and interpretation where contexts for understanding concepts and oneself are provided by the "forms of life" or traditions in which we live

While language games involve specific persons, they are part of longer standing traditions


All knowledge is bound to the dialectics of language games where there are no "private languages" and no trans-historical or trans-cultural "universals"

  Social Constructionist Movement Arose against this backdrop . . . . 




Kurt Danziger (1997) Naming the Mind: How psychology found its language.

Takes a sociology of knowledge approach to understanding the natural of categories, kinds and language in psychology.

He offers discourse on the categories and language of psychology, including: the Ancient Greek categories, Putting Intelligence on the Map, Behaviour and Learning, Motivation and Personality, Attitudes, and Meta-Language: The technological Framework and the methodolotry of psychology.

The final Chapter considers "The Nature of Psychological Kinds" with discussion of the historical roots of psychological categories, the politics of psychological language, the reference of psychological categories and Natural kinds vs. Human Kinds.

Wade Daviscommentary on Science and Belief


Dialectics in Psychology: Natural and Human Psychology at Harvard


 Burrhus Frederick Skinner (1904-1990):
  Radical Behaviorism


Drawing from Bacon:
the is a heavy emphasis on induction and a simplicity of theory development

Drawing from Mach:
 there is an emphasis on observation and the functional analysis of behavior

Drawing from Watson:
 Behavioral adaptation or adjustment and the prediction and control of behavior


1938 - The behavior of organisms: Operant Conditioning is all that is needed to explain behavior, nothing unobservable

Animals operate on their environments and have their behaviors reinforced by the contingencies present there

Following Thorndike's Law of Effect
Positive and negative reinforcement lead to the increased frequency of responses given
certain stimuli, however, there is no need to talk about pleasure or satisfaction

Randomly occurring behaviors increase in frequency when associated with the removal of a negative reinforcer or with the introduction of a positive reinforcer

Discriminative stimuli enable organisms to distinguish the contingencies of reinforcement (Schedules of reinforcement)

Behaviorism provides a technology for the application of simple techniques for the manipulation of behavior in "trying to solve the terrifying problems that face us in the world today"

 WW II - Project ORCON: Missiles can be guided towards targets with the help of pigeons pecking at control keys    Baby Box (See I was not a Lab Rat)

 1948 - Walden II: Utopian community designed around the principles of reinforcement and behavioral control

 1957 - Verbal Behavior: Language and thinking are simply behaviors which have been reinforced in the past

Tact: A reinforceable verbal operant (response) under the stimulus control of some part of the physical environment 

1971 - Beyond freedom and dignity: As with mind, feeling and value, mis-attributions of causality are made for freedom and dignity. We attribute will, respect, goodness or choice to persons when causal stimuli are not obviously present




    Noam Chomsky (1928- ): Cartesian Linguistics

1959 - Attacked Skinner's account of language

Criticized the "mythology" of verbal behavior on many grounds, including definitions of
stimulus and reinforcement

Stimulus: Concept is too vague; is it a physical
thing or something that effects the organism?
Too easy to find some property that "controls" behavior.

Also what physical properties do "things in the past" have in providing "remote stimulus control" of suffix "ed"

Reinforcement: Is defined tautologically and thus has no meaning. Also it is used vaguely as in "automatic self reinforcement" or "remote reinforcement" (No response)


Language use is governed by "rules of grammar"
which provide the deep structure of thinking and the surface structure of speech

Humans have an innate Language Acquisition Device (LAD) which enables us to acquire and produce language

   Chomsky displays Rationalism here in positing innate capacities or abilities




Erik Homberger Erikson (1902-1994):
Hermeneutics of Identity

 See Friedman (1999). Identity's Architect....
   Psycho-history of the psycho-historian.
Father & Mother figures, making one's place in history, configurational: inner & outer, culture and psyche,...


 Born in Karlsruhe Germany to Karla Abrahamsen (Salomonsen).
Adopted by Theordore Homberger and raised as a German,
yet spent his life searching for his mythical Danish father. 

As a young man was caught between worlds, neither German, nor Jew.
Never really fit in. 

Influenced by the concept of Bildung where he developed as a person
and as an academic throughout his whole life from Wanderschaft to
 wandering back and forth across America.

Surrogate father of friend Peter Blos encouraged him in his travel, woodcuts, and artistry.



1927 -33 Vienna
Drew heavily from the developmental model of Freud, yet was critical of his "backward" and "downward" looking "fatalism" of this "mythical father".

Studied under Anna Freud (not HIM)  after being an artist and teacher for Dorothy Burlingham's   Heitzing school with his Montessori diploma.

Met Joan Serson, who led him away from the Freuds to America and a new identity.

Lamented August Aichorn  not being his mentor, rejected by this substitute father.
Felt betrayal, doubt & distancing.

Voted a full member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society (had hoped for associate membership) as well as the International Psycho-Analytical Association.



33-39 Harvard & Yale- Boston's first Child psychoanalyst & influenced by Edward Sapir: description.

Configurational approach indicates that our inner and outer realities reflect each other.
See in the play strategies of children: Boys vs. Girls.  Influenced by Henry Murray's TAT 2

cultural expressions begin to shine through

uc berkeley         pushed into a quantitative research lab,
 not comfortable and walked away (also not signing the oath)-politics

Birth of Neil guilt and turning away from the negative to positive human growth

Finding the Erikson Name   

This is a manifestation of the configuration inner-outer development of ego-identity, subjective personhood and objective society.

Consulted at the Menniger Clinic in Topeka Kansas, came to develop close relationship with David Rappaport.

Worked with Sioux and Yurok on identity crisis

1950  Childhood and Society -

Configurations of the body, mind and society Fig5 BP GP T

Desribes clinical cases as well as cultural identity as a reflection of the environment (geography), economics (hunting, fishing, agriculture, industry...) and thesocial rituals and modes that are refelcted in the modes and behaviours of the people of the culture. (also see Tonks 2017; Tonks 2018)

Examines the Sioux of North Dakota, The Yurok of the Klamath River, as well as the "American" the "German" and the "Russian" as reflected in icons figures and myths.
1960s   ~ Cultural Hero:

Return to Harvard

1964 Insight and Responsibility

His Methodology is revealed here and in this book where he describes his methods as well as ethics.

 Explicitly recognized the historical situatedness  of the therapist and the "client" in the clinical model for understanding humans

The clinical method makes use of "disciplined subjectivity" for both (all) persons involved where "the two subjectivities join in the kind of disciplined understanding and shared insight which we think are operative in a cure"

Therapy involves the emancipation of a  patient (meaning passive) into an agent

The analyst - analysand relationship is also a partnership where
through transference and counter transference a “mutuality of praxis” (1964, p. 236, italics added )emerges

The doctor can “develop as a practitioner, and as a person,
even as the patient is cured as a patient, and as a person” (1964, p. 236, italics added).

The client becomes “a case” and is self-observant. Through this process,
the clinician becomes part of the client’s life history as the client “makes history” (1964, p. 56, italics added).

ethical responsibility of the analyst where “[t]he healer is committed to a highest good,
the preservation of life, and the furtherance of well-being-‘maintenance of life’ …. to a humanistic ethic” (1964, p. 237).

we cannot afford to live for long with a division of personal, professional and political ethics” (1964, p. 241).

 Gandhi's Truth - Satyagraha - "perseverance in truth" 

Psuedo-speciation - drawn from Conrad Lorenz, the denial that humankind is "obviously one species" but rather to make arbitrary and imposed classifications on groups of people. 

1968 Identity Youth and Crisis is published and he moves into the leading expert on identity crisis.

He introduces the importance of the epigenetic principle where "in each stage of life given strength is added to a widening ensemble and reintegrated at each later stage in order to play its part in a full cycle-if and where fate and society permit." (Erikson, cited in Freedman, 1998, p. 377).

Influenced heavily by Margaret Mead - in developing an anthropology of identity.



1970 - Autobiographical notes where he talk about his own identity within the tradition of psychoanalysis.

Ontologically, humans are comprised of three principle processes of organization or spheres of being: Soma, psyche & ethos (polis)

Mutuality: psycho-social being where persons are engaged in the "inter-living" or interdependent "cogwheeling" of the life-cycles of each other

1982 publishes The Life Cycle Complete, along with his wife Joan,   (new edition in 1998 published by Joan giving 9th stage of gerotranscendence) where they draw from his earlier work inspired by the Freuds as well as Shakespeare's "As you like it" they develop:

The "Life Cycle" is comprised by eight "age-specific" turning points or "crises" of normative development.

All stages are active for each person at all ages, although they emerge as being important through epigenesis

Each stage has a dialectic to be confronted between
a ritualization (thesis) and a ritualism (antithesis)
which when resolved leads the emergence of a virtue (synthesis)

 Trust vs. Mistrust -> HOPE
Autonomy vs. Shame or Doubt -> WILL
Intitiative vs. Guilt -> PURPOSE
Industry vs Inferiority -> COMPETENCE
Identity vs. Role Confusion -> FIDELITY
Intimacy vs. Isolation -> LOVE
Generativity vs. Stagnation -> CARE
Integrity vs. Despair -> WISDOM 

Identity formation involves the acceptance of ideologies and values for organizing one's life, finding one's mythology. 

It involves the biological, psychological and social worlds where a sense of "being at one with oneself" and "a sense of affinity with a community's sense of being at one with its future as well as its history" 

Erik Erikson was a self-made man, " If the relation of the father and son dominated the last century, then this one is concerned with the self-made man asking him-self what he is making of himself "  (1964, cited in Friedman, 1999).




Major Books and important works:
1950 - Childhood and Society
1958 - Young Man Luther
1964 - Insight and Responsibility
1968 - Identity, Youth and Crisis
1969 - Gandhi's Truth
1970 - Autobiographical Notes on the Identity Crisis
1974 - Dimensions of a New Identity
1982 - The Life Cycle Completed


  1960s and beyond . . .