[lit-ideas] Re: Behaviourism, Oxford Variety

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 5 Aug 2015 17:38:46 +0000 (UTC)

"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'".>
Watson may have been, but Ryle was not a radical behaviourist: see Popper's
discussion of Ryle in "The Self and Its Brain" for example. Up to a point
Ryle's views could be harmlessly stigmatised as "behaviourist", as Ryle himself
noted, but beyond that point they were not. The point "beyond" is not entirely
clear, as Popper explains - but while Ryle denied the "ghost in the machine"
Ryle did not deny the reality of internal experiences like sensations [so there
is both the experience of toothache as well as toothache behaviour].

On Wednesday, 5 August 2015, 17:39, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

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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