Skinner's belief that 'operant conditioning' is the true explanation of human behaviour has put him in direct conflict with philosophical arguments which uphold free will. Skinner claims that in no... real sense do we choose to do something but that in fact we act according to the rewards or punishments that such an action might bring about. To use his words, our behaviour is controlled by contingency reinforcements. His argument extends into the political field because he believes that, as we manipulate the rewards (or 'reinforcements') for any action people can be controlled to behave in a way which is for the general good of our society. Geoffrey Warnock attempts to pinpoint what he sees as the contradictions within Skinner's arguments. He asks how, in Skinners view, a political power can manipulate reinforcements without freely choosing which actions are to be rewarded and which punished.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: A303, Problems of philosophy
Item code: A303; 09
First transmission date: 08-08-1973
Published: 1973
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:24:30
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Producer: Richard Callanan
Contributors: B.F Skinner; Godfrey Norman Agmondisham Vesey; Geoffrey Warnock
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Behaviourism
Footage description: Godfrey Vesey opens the programme, explains its intention, introduces the other participants and starts off by posing the question whether, although a person's behaviour can be explained in terms of contingencies of environmental reinforcement, would that person's explanation of his behaviour in terms of intentions, ideas and thoughts render the former explanation bogus? B.F.Skinner replies using as an example a visit to the theatre. Warnock replies. He suggests that Skinner's well known viewpoint is perhaps not so extreme as one might be led to believe. Skinner explains how his visit to the theatre can be explained in terms of the contingencies of environmental reinforcement. Warnock replies that there is nothing in what Skinner says to make one want to deny that intentions occur at least in man. Skinner defines what he feels to be the difference between his standpoint and that of Warnock. The latter wishes to ascribe to purposes, intentions etc. dimensions which Skinner wishes to avoid. Warnock redefines Skinner's proposition. Godfrey Vesey now introduces the question of the morality of behaviour control by conditioning. He poses the question: To what ends? Skinner is the first to reply; Warnock draws a parallel between Skinner and Hobbes, and introduces the social and political problems in conditioning. Skinner makes it clear that he possesses a technology but not a set of criteria by which it might be used in a social context in which political considerations are involved. Warnock returns to Hobbes, citing the latter's over riding value that above all must remain the personal survival of the individual. Vesey introduces the notion of changes in culture and the question of what changes are desirable in a culture. Warnock presses Skinner to be more precise as to the values which should survive in his opinion in a given culture. Warnock defines the difference between his viewpoint and that of Skinner. They return to the previous point that Skinner posesses a technology but not a complete confidence that his expertise should be applied without debate. Skinner refutes the suggestion that he has in mind the idea of the 'master manipulator' set above the society which is being moulded. Vesey brings the programme to a close.
Master spool number: 6LT/70871
Production number: 00525_3022
Videofinder number: 606
Available to public: yes