[lit-ideas] Behaviourism, Oxford Variety

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  • Date: Wed, 5 Aug 2015 12:39:21 -0400

Behaviourism was invented by Watson, an American.

In Oxonian philosophical circles it was popularised by Ryle.

Witters is another animal.

In a message dated 8/5/2015 11:07:03 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx quotes from Witters:

Q: Aren't you nevertheless a behaviourist in disguise? Aren't you
nevertheless basically saying that everything except human behaviour is a

Witters: If I speak of a fiction here, it is of a grammatical fiction.

McEvoy wonders in what way Witters's response answers the two questions,
nobably the second:

a. Are you a behaviourist in disguise?

b. Aren't you saying that everything except behaviour is "a fiction"?

Witters: If 'we' speak of "a fiction" here, as you do, it is "a grammatical
fiction" we are speaking of.

McEvoy notes:

"It doesn't."

McEvoy finds Witters's witty retort, "a grammatical fiction" "entirely
opaque" and avoiding a straight answer to a straight question.

McEvoy goes on:

"The truth is that Wittgenstein was not a "behaviourist""

As Watson and Ryle were.

i.e., in McEvoy's words, "of the radical sort that denies the existence of
an 'internal world' of experience, such as 'thoughts' or 'sensations'".

Keyword: he allowed for a 'ghost' in the 'machine'.


"W[itters] did think the language we use of this 'internal world' stands in
need of 'outer criteria'."

I think this was later popularised in Oxford by G. P. Baker (who succeeded
Grice as tutorial fellow at St. John's) as 'criterial semantics'.


"This language cannot be based on 'rules' that are 'private' in the sense
that a single individual could know whether they are correctly following the
'rules' merely by some means that are entirely 'private' to them and
inaccessible to others. It is important to emphasize that it is the sense of
language we use that needs 'outer criteria', including criteria based on
'behaviour': W is not saying (or even seeking to show) that a sensation
itself needs 'outer criteria' to be experienced. Hence the so-called "private
language argument" is about the impossibility of a private language for
sensations and not about having 'private' sensations - it is not denying the
fact we may experience sensations in ways that are 'private' to us."

The keyword seems to be Robinson Crusoe. Why would Robinson Crusoe care to
'language' his pain (except perhaps via an unintended "Ouch" -- he was
originally from Yorkshire) unless "Friday" is there to listen to him?

McEvoy goes on:

"W is then there as a kind of therapist"

Well, there is behavioural therapy, no? It may relate.

McEvoy concludes:

"It is this kind of 'illusory sense', of a metaphysical kind, that W has in
mind when he speaks of a "grammatical fiction""

He might also be amused by his own question. Recall that, as O. Kusturica
reminds us, Witters seldom provides sources. So the phrase 'behaviourist in
disguise' (cfr. 'closet behaviourist') is offensive. The use in the
question he himself formulates of "a fiction" is indeed vague, and Witters (as
surname indicates) is trying to be witty by qualifying the fiction into a
'grammatical' one. This may be due to Ryle's influence: after all "The
Concept of Mind" -- analytic behaviourism -- is about ways to DESCRIBE this or
that piece of behaviour WITHOUT relying on any ghost inside a machine: a
category mistake if ever there was one.

Of course, Chomsky did not know he was following Witters when he tried to
refute Ryle and rehabilitate Descartes in his "Cartesian linguistics", sold
at Blackwell!



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