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Lecture 5.....
Instructor:  Jeremy Jackson   |    Jan 4, 2017

Location:    Online    |   Blackboard


Key concepts - you will be responsible for knowing a number of definitions of key concepts. You may be asked to give an accurate definition and example of any of the key concepts. Key concepts are in italics, bolded and colored red throughout the notes.

Discussion questions - the lecture notes contain three discussion questions. These are to be answered on Blackboard at the times given in the syllabus.

Critical points - there are some points that require extra emphasis because they are fundamental to the example or concept being discussed. Critical points are bolded, in italics and colored orange.

Course learning objective questions - These are the questions given in the learning objectives document.




Describe very carefully Watson’s position as given in his 1929 paper “Behaviourism – The Modern Note In Psychology”. What problem was he attempting to address with his new formulation of psychology? Was he right?

Do you think the following statement makes sense, why or why not? “Since consciousness has never and could never be directly observed, at best, it is a hypothetical construct and so should not be a part of scientific psychology.”

Your book does a good job of behaviorism so I will not repeat it. What I would like you to do though is read over original work in behaviorism. Your book mentions the debate between Watson and MacDougall and even spends a fair bit of time discussing both of these important men. What I would like you to do is read the actual debate they had.

The first is Watson's paper laying out the basic rational and methods of behaviourism. In this paper Watson talks about each of the the 4 main categories of issues that we discussed when we looked at Wundt, Titchener and James. Recall that these are:


1) The theory of consciousness

2) The method used to study our subject matter

3) The actual work done in the lab.

4) The philosophy of science that influences how the research was done.


As you read these papers, keep these 4 categories of issues in mind. Make sure you can describe both Watson and MacDougall with respect to these 4 issues.


Please note that I have added my own commentary to these papers where I feel it is appropriate. My comments are in orange.



By John B. Watson (1929)

Introduction. When I innocently committed myself to meet Professor MacDougall in debate, I understood that all that was required of me was to give a brief account of the new Behaviouristic movement in psychology now rapidly forging to the front. Had I known that my presentation was expected to take the present form I fear timidity would have overcome me. Professor MacDougall's forensic ability is too well known, and my own shortcomings in that direction are too well known, for me knowingly to offer him combat. So I think the only self-protective plan is to disregard all controversial developments and attempt to give here a brief résumé of Behaviourism ….and to tell why it will work and why the current introspective psychology of Professor MacDougall will not work.

What is the Behaviouristic note in psychology? Psychology is as old as the human race. The tempting of Eve by the serpent is our first biblical record of the use of psychological methods. May I call attention to the fact, though, that the serpent when he tempted Eve did not ask her to introspect, to look into her mind to see what was going on. No, he handed her the apple and she bit into it…

One can go through history and show that early psychology was Behaviouristic -- grew up around the notion that if you place a certain thing in front of an individual or a group of individuals, the individual or group will act, will do something. Behaviourism is a return to early common-sense. The keynote is: Given a certain object or situation, what will the individual do when confronted with it. Or the reverse of this formulation: Seeing an individual doing something, to be able to predict what object or situation is calling forth that act.

Behaviouristic psychology, then, strives to learn something about the nature of human behaviour. To get the individual to follow a certain line, to do certain things, what situation shall I set up? Or, seeing the crowd in action, or the individual in action, to know enough about behaviour to predict what the situation is that leads to that action.

This all sounds real; one might say it seems to be just common-sense. How can any one object to this formulation? And yet, full of common-sense as it is, this Behaviouristic formulation of the problem of psychology has been a veritable battleground since 1912. To understand why this is so, let us examine the more conservative type of psychology which is represented by Professor MacDougall. But to understand at all adequately the type of psychology which he represents we must take one little peep at the way superstitious responses have grown up and become a part of our very nature.

Religious Background of Introspective Psychology. No one knows just how the idea of the supernatural started. It probably had its origin in the general laziness of mankind. Certain individuals who in primitive society declined to work with their hands, to go out hunting, to make flints, to dig for roots, became Behavioristic psychologists observers of human nature.

They found that breaking boughs, thunder, and other sound-producing phenomena would throw the primitive individual from his very birth into a panicky state (meaning by that: stopping the chase, crying, hiding, and the like), and that in this state it was easy to impose upon him. These lazy but good observers began to speculate on how wonderful it would be if they could get some device by which they could at will throw in individuals into this fearsome attitude and in general control their behavior. The colored nurses down south have gained control over the children by telling them that there is some one ready to grab them in the dark; that when it is thundering there is a fearsome power which can be appeased by their being good boys and girls. Medicine men flourished -- a good medicine man had the best of everything and, best of all, he didn't have to work. These individuals were called medicine men, soothsayers, dream interpreters, prophets -- deities in modern times. Skill in bringing about these emotional conditionings of the people increased; organization among medicine men took place, and we began to have religions of one kind or another, and churches, temples, cathedrals, and the like, each presided over by a medicine man.

I think an examination of the psychological history of people will show that their behavior is much more easily controlled by fear stimuli than by love. If the fear element were dropped out of any religion, that religion would not survive a year.

The chief medicine man in a family group is, of course, always the father. In the still larger group God or Jehovah takes the place of the family father. Thus even the modern child from the beginning is confronted by the dicta of the medicine man -- be that his father, the soothsayer of the village, the God or Jehovah. Having been brought up in this attitude of authority, he never questions their written or spoken statements. He accepts them at their face value. He has never deviated from them, neither have his associates, and hence has never had an opportunity to prove or doubt their worth. This accounts for the hold religion and superstition have upon our life. It accounts for the psychology current to-day in practically every university. It partly accounts for the convincingness of Professor MacDougall's argument for purpose.

An Example of Such Concepts . One example of such a concept is that every individual has a soul. This dogma has been present in human psychology from earliest antiquity. No one has ever touched the soul, or has seen one in a test tube, or has in any way come into a relationship with it as he has with the other objects of his daily experience.

So here it is! This is what Watson is really upset about. You can’t directly observe the soul. So since it’s never been observed it must be a hypothetical construct. So, what's Watson's philosophy of science? This is positivism.

Nevertheless, to doubt it is to become a heretic and once might possibly even have led to the loss of one's head. Even today for a university man to question it in many institutions is to sign his own professional death warrant.

Please take this seriously. Science is a human endeavor. Scientists have children, homes, mortgages, bills, debts, desires, needs, biases, greed, arrogance…..etc. Scientists often don’t say what they think, or publish what they believe. Scientists often do what makes scientists more successful. And this may not be what is right. When a scientist knows that their work is to be reviewed by his/her peers, one of the first things they consider is the issue of whether or not their peers will accept their work. What is the point in spending thousands of hours on work that your peers will reject? So scientists find out who the reviewers are, they tailor their work to their likes, they avoid issues reviewers will object to, they emphasize those things that will get published and so on.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the greatest the philosophers in history, said in 1935:

‘My type of thinking is not wanted in this present age. I have to swim so strongly against the tide. Perhaps in a hundred years people will really want what I am writing.’

Consequently, Wittgenstein is only superficially read and certainly not understood. And this is a shame because according to a number of people, he solved the major problems with which philosophy and psychology have struggled for hundreds if not thousands of years. Recall the quotations from chapter 1. Go back and read chapter 1 again if you don’t. Recall what your text authors say about new ideas and the reluctance of a scientific community to accept them. Wittgenstein’s ideas were very new and not particularly complimentary to philosophy or psychology. Consequently, his ideas have been diminished, trivialized and marginalized.

Medieval philosophy not only accepted the concept of the soul, but tried to define it, to deal with it as they dealt with objects of everyday experience. Consequently, in the philosophy of the Middle Ages we find such questions hotly debated as to the number of angels which can stand on the point of a needle.

Recall Aristotle’s work on the nature of the soul. Watson is making reference to Aristotle's (and others) attempts to develop a metaphysical theory about the nature of the soul. And Watson is not being complimentary to that work. As a positivist, Watson strongly objects to any form of metaphysical theorizing (it seems).

With the development of the physical sciences which came with the renaissance, a certain release from this stifling soul-cloud was obtained. A man could think of astronomy, the celestial bodies and their motions, of gravitation and the like, without involving soul, although the early scientists were as a rule devout Christians; nevertheless, they early began to leave soul out of their test tubes. Psychology and philosophy, however, in dealing as they thought with non-material objects, found it difficult to sidestep, and hence the concepts of mind and soul come down to the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was the boast of Wundt's students, in 1879, when the first psychological laboratory was established, that psychology had at last become a science without a soul. For fifty years we have kept this pseudo-science exactly as Wundt laid it down. All that Wundt and his students really accomplished was to substitute for the word "soul" the word "consciousness."

Again, here is the key issue. It is just plain old metaphysics and epistemology… do we have a mind/consciousness and if so, how can we know we do? But did you see the part where Watson says:

" Psychology and philosophy, however, in dealing as they thought with non-material objects, found it difficult to sidestep....the concepts of mind and soul."

This is exactly what the table in Lecture 2 is showing you. That the subject matter of psychology appears to involve metaphysical phenomena when the subject matter of physics/chemistry/astronomy do not.

An Examination of Consciousness . From the time of Wundt on, consciousness becomes the keynote of psychology. It is the keynote to-day. It has never been seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or moved. It is a plain assumption just as unprovable as the old concept of the soul. And to the Behaviorist the two terms are essentially identical, so far as their metaphysical implications are concerned.

To show how unscientific is the concept, look for a moment at William James' definition of psychology: "Psychology is the description and explanation of states of consciousness as such." Starting with a definition which assumes what he starts out to prove, he escapes his difficulty by an argumentum ad hominum. "Consciousness -- oh, yes, everybody must know what this 'consciousness' is." When we have a sensation of red, a perception, a thought, when we will to do something, or when we purpose to do something, or when we desire to do something, we are being conscious. In other words, they do not tell us what consciousness is, but merely begin to put things into it by assumption, and then when they come to analyze consciousness, naturally they find in it just what they put into it. Consequently, in the analysis of consciousness made by certain of the psychologists you find, as elements, sensations and their ghosts, the images. With others you find not only sensations, but so-called affective elements; in still others you will find such elements as will -- the so-called conative element in consciousness. With some psychologists you will find many hundreds of sensations of a certain type; others will maintain that only a few of that type exist. And so it goes. Literally, millions of printed pages have been published on the minute analysis of this intangible something called "consciousness." And how do we begin work upon it? Not by analyzing it as we would a chemical compound, or the way a plant grows. No, those things are material things. This thing we call consciousness can be analyzed only by self-introspection, turning around, and looking at what goes on inside.

An ad hominum argument, (in Latin, literally "argument against the person") involves replying to an argument or assertion by attacking the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself. Watson does not appear to use this concept correctly here.

In other words, instead of gazing at woods and trees and brooks and things, we must gaze at this undefined and indefinable something we call consciousness. As a result of this major assumption that there is such a thing as consciousness, and that we can analyze it by introspection, we find as many analyses as there are individual psychologists. There is no element of control. There is no way of experimentally attacking and solving psychological problems and standardizing methods.

I think that lack of clear definition is a problem but Watson makes a mistake here. He says that our belief that consciousness exists is an assumption – this is wrong. Later on we will see exactly what is wrong with this....Hint....does memory exist? Does SANTA CLAUSE exist?

It's important to understand that this argument by Watson is simple positivism with a little operationism thrown in. The argument against positivism is maintained by the realist. Most modern day psychologists are realists, not positivists.

The Advent of the Behaviorists . In 1912 the Behaviorists reached the conclusion that they could no longer be content to work with the intangibles. They saw their brother scientists making progress in medicine, in chemistry, in physics. Every new discovery in those fields was of prime importance, every new element isolated in one laboratory could be isolated in some other laboratory; each new element was immediately taken up in the warp and woof of science as a whole. May I call your attention to radium, to wireless, to insulin, to thyroxin, and hundreds of others? Elements so isolated and methods so formulated immediately began to function in human achievement.

Not so with psychology, as we have pointed out. One has to agree with Professor Warner Fite that there has never been a discovery in subjective psychology; there has been only medieval speculation. The Behaviorist began his own formulation of the problem of psychology by sweeping aside all medieval conceptions. He dropped from his scientific vocabulary all subjective terms such as sensation, perception, image, desire, purpose, and even thinking and emotion as they were originally defined.

What has he set up in their place? The Behaviorist asks: Why don't we make what we can observe the real field of psychology? Let us limit ourselves to things that can be observed, and formulate laws concerning only the observed things. Now what can we observe? Well, we can observe behavior -- what the organism does or says. And let me make this fundamental point at once: that saying is doing -- that is, behaving. Speaking overtly or silently is just as objective a type of behavior as baseball.

Again, just the basic stipulation of the fundamental principle of positivism. But read carefully here. The implication is that we cannot observe consciousness. I think this is wrong. How does the doctor tell if we are conscious if it cannot be observed? Think about this, it’s very important. When a doctor says of a patient in the emergency room, “he has just regained consciousness” or “he came in unconscious but he is now conscious”, is the doctor not observing consciousness? To Watson it seems just obvious that consciousness can not be observed.

But it isn’t obvious. There is a problem here.

And this problem relates directly to the age-old question…”what is consciousness”? And Watson has not solved this problem here – he just dismisses it. And this is why behaviourism ultimately failed. But it is also why structuralism failed. And it may well also be why cognitive psychology might fail in the future. And this is because, fundamentally, Wundt, Watson and modern cognitive psychologists have all failed to solve the fundamental PHILOSOPHICAL problem…”what is consciousness”.

The Behaviorist puts the human organism in front of him and says: What can it do? When does it start to do these things? If it doesn't do these things by reason of its original nature, what can it be taught to do? What methods shall society use in teaching it to do these things? Again, having taught it to do these things, how long will that organism be able to do them without practice? With this as subject matter, psychology connects up immediately with life.

We have known for a long time that we cannot get an animal to introspect and tell us about its consciousness, but we can keep it without food, we can put it in a place where the temperature is low, or the temperature is high, where food is scarce, where sex stimulation is absent, and the like, and we can observe its behavior in those situations. We find that without asking it anything, we can, with this systematic, controlled observation, tell volumes about what each animal does, both by reason of its unlearned activities and through activities which it has to learn. We soon get to the point where we can say it is doing so and so because of so and so.

The rule, or measuring rod, which the Behaviorist puts in front of him always is: Can I describe this bit of behavior I see in terms of "stimulus and response"? By stimulus we mean any object in the general environment or any change in the physiological condition of the animal, such as the change we get when we keep an animal from sex activity, when we keep it from feeding, when we keep it from building a nest. By response we mean that system of organized activity that we see [p. 20] emphasized anywhere in any kind of an animal, as building a skyscraper, drawing plans, having babies, writing books, and the like.

The Behaviorist finds no scientific evidence for the existence of any vitalistic principle , such, for example, as Prof. MacDougall's "purpose," in his explanation of the increasing complexity of behavior as we pass from infancy to adulthood.

A vitalistic principle is a phenomenon that is not material; something to do with the essence of life that cannot be reduced to material/chemical/physical phenomena.

It is a truism in science that we should not bring into our explanation any vitalistic factor. We need nothing to explain behavior but the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. There are many things we cannot explain in behavior just as there are many things we cannot explain in physics and chemistry, but where objectively verifiable experimentation ends, hypothesis, and later theory, begin. But even theories and hypotheses must be couched in terms of what is already known about physical and chemical processes. He then who would introduce consciousness, either as an epiphenomenon or as an active force interjecting itself into the chemical and physical happenings of the body, does so because of spiritualistic and vitalistic leanings. The Behaviorist cannot find consciousness in the test-tube of his science. He finds no evidence anywhere for a stream of consciousness, not even for one so convincing as that described by William James. He does, however, find convincing proof of an ever-widening stream of behavior.

I'm going to help you a little here. What I have to say is not part of any course material or any part of what you might learn in a modern pyschology course but I think it will help you understand what is going on here.

I think that Watson is getting all tied-up in PHILOSOPHICAL knots here. He thinks that:

consciousness is an assumption because it's not physical...

you can't put it in a test tube, weigh it, measure it, etc. He thinks that:

consciousness is metaphysical because it's not like an OBJECT.

But I think this is a mistake. There are lots of phenomena that we talk about that ARE NOT OBJECTS. Thursday is not an object but does Thursday exist? Of course it does. It's just not an object. What about the acceleration? Is that an object? Of course not. But acceleration is a pretty important concept that science and engineering could not do without. The same is true of consciousness. I am conscious as I write this right now. If you are reading this, you are conscious as well. Is this an assumption? Of course not. Just because consciousness is not an object does not mean that it can not be part of science. That's it...no problem.

So why does Watson get it all messed-up here? THAT'S IMPORTANT. I think he has a problem here because he was initially trained as a philosopher. And what did his philosophical training do to him? It made him think that it makes sense to speak of the mind, consciousness, etc., as theoretical, metaphysical or hypothetical entities. He learned early on that it makes sense to THEORIZE ABOUT THE NATURE OF THINGS. So, even though Watson dismisses metaphysics, ironically I think he catches himself up in his own metaphysical trap. The trap of theorizing about the nature of consciousness. What is his theory? There is no evidence that consciousness exists because it is a vitalistic phenomenon!

Perhaps now you see why we started ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE CLASS with the question:

What is memory?

And why I introduced you to the argument that:

Memories are NOT OBJECTS.

That is that they are not:


Now you can see that the question whether meories are brain phenomena is so fundamentally important to our history and our discpline today.

Does Behaviour Psychology leave out anything? Professor MacDougall will doubtless tell you that the Behaviourist selects his problems. He will admit that the kind of work I have sketched is valuable to society, but he will tell you that there are many other phases in psychology which the Behaviourist studiously and possibly ignorantly dismisses. One such prob1em is "thinking." How can you explain "thought" in Behaviouristic terms? To do so requires considerable time.

The increasing dominance of language habits in the behaviour of the developing child leads naturally over into the behaviourist’s conception of thinking. The behaviourist makes no mystery of thinking. He holds that thinking is behaviour, is motor organization, just like tennis playing or golf or any other form of muscular activity. But what kind of muscular activity? The muscular activity that he uses in talking. Thinking is merely talking, but talking with concealed musculature.

Here Watson is proposing a metaphysical theory of thinking. He is making an argument about the true essence, or the real nature of thinking. And this is where I think he goes wrong.

This line of argument shows how one's total organization is brought into the process of thinking. I think it shows clearly that manual and visceral organizations are operative in thinking even when no verbal processes are present -- it shows that we could still think in some sort of way even if we had no words! We thus think and plan with the whole body. But since, as I have already pointed out, word organization is, when present, probably usually dominant over visceral and manual organization, we can say that thinking is largely sub vocal talking-provided we hasten to explain that it can occur without words.

This is the end of my little story. I have had opportunity only to hurl at the reader a few Behaviouristic words; it is beyond reason to expect him to react favorably to a scientific formulation which throws out of adjustment so much of his previous organization. If it serves to make you only a little more critical of our present easy-going psychological formulations, I shall rest content. To accept Behaviourism fully and freely requires a slow growth -- the putting away of old habits and the formulation of new. Behaviourism is new wine that cannot be poured into old bottles.


By William MacDougall (1929)

Dr. Watson and I have been invited to debate upon the fundamentals of psychology, because we are regarded as holding extremely different views; yet there is much in common between us. I wish to emphasize this common ground no less than our differences. I would begin by confessing that in this discussion[1] I have an initial advantage over Dr. Watson, an advantage which I feel to be so great as to be unfair; namely, all persons of common-sense will of necessity be on my side from the outset, or at least as soon as they understand the issue.

On the other hand, Dr. Watson also can claim certain initial advantages; all these together constitute a considerable asset that partially redresses the balance. First, there is a considerable number of persons so constituted that they are attracted by whatever is bizarre, paradoxical, preposterous, and outrageous, whatever is "agin the government," whatever is unorthodox and opposed to accepted principles. All these will inevitably be on Dr. Watson's side.

Secondly, Dr. Watson's views are attractive to many persons, and especially to many young persons, by reason of the fact that these views simplify so greatly the problems that lie before the student of psychology: they abolish at one stroke many tough problems with which the greatest intellects have struggled with only very partial success for more than two thousand years; and they do this by the bold and simple expedient of inviting the student to shut his eyes to them, to turn resolutely away from them, and to forget that they exist. This naturally inspires in the breast of many young people, especially [p. 42] perhaps those who still have examinations to pass, a feeling of profound gratitude to Dr. Watson. He appears to them as the great liberator, the man who sets free the slave of the lamp, who emancipates vast numbers of his unfortunate fellow creatures from the task of struggling with problems which they do not comprehend and which they cannot hope to solve. In short, Dr. Watson's views are attractive to those who are born tired, no less than to those who are born Bolshevists.[2]

Thirdly, Dr. Watson's views not only have the air of attractive simplicity, but also they claim to bring, and they have the air of bringing psychology into line with the other natural sciences and of rendering it strictly scientific.

Fourthly, Dr. Watson's cause has, on this occasion, the incalculable advantage of being presented by his attractive and forceful personality.

Fifthly, Watsonian Behaviorism is a peculiarly American product. It may even be claimed that it bears very clearly the marks of the national genius for seeking short cuts to great results. And if no European psychologist can be brought to regard it seriously, that may be accepted as merely another evidence of the effeteness of European civilization and the obtuseness of the European intellect, beclouded by the mists of two thousand years of culture and tradition. Here, in this great and beautiful city, the capital of the proudest and most powerful nation in all the earth, this patriotic consideration can hardly fail to carry weight.

Lastly, Dr. Watson has the advantage of being in a position that must excite pity for him in the minds of those who understand the situation. And I will frankly confess that I share this feeling. I am sorry for Dr. Watson; and I am sorry about him. For I regard Dr. Watson as a good man gone wrong. I regard him as a bold pioneer whose enthusiasm, in the [p. 44] cause of reform in psychology, has carried him too far in the path of reform; one whose impetus, increased by the plaudits of a throng of youthful admirers, has caused him to overshoot the mark and to land in a ditch, a false position from which he has not yet summoned up the moral courage to retreat. And so long as his followers continue to jump into the ditch after him, shouting loud songs of triumph as they go, he does need great moral courage in order to climb back and brush off the mud; for such retreat might even seem to be a betrayal of those faithful followers.

These are called arguments ad hominem - arguments against the person. I think these have no place in science and so legislate very poorly against MacDougall. As a scientist, this rebuttal renders my respect for MacDougall to almost nothing. This is a form of argument for politicians and buisness people, not scientists.

In spite of the clarity of Dr. Watson's exposition, I do not believe that he has made quite clear the nature of the issues between us. There are really two main questions in dispute, two fundamentals on which we disagree. These may be shortly defined as, first, Dr. Watson's Behaviorism, secondly, his acceptance of the mechanistic dogma. The second is the more important. I will say a few words about each of these topics in the order named.

Watsonian Behaviorism….. There is no "metaphysical nonsense" about this. In fact, it is its principal distinction, the principal virtue claimed for it, that it extradites from the province of psychology every question that may be suspected of being metaphysical, and so purges the fold of the true believers, leaving them in intellectual peace forevermore. The essence of this form of Behaviorism is that it refuses to have any dealings with introspectively observable facts, resolutely refuses to attempt to state them, describe them, interpret them, make use of them, or take account of them in any way. All such facts as feelings, feelings of pleasure and pain or distress; emotional experiences, those we denote by such terms as anger, fear, disgust, pity, disappointment, sorrow, and so forth; all experiences of desiring, longing, striving, making an effort, choosing; all experiences of recollecting, imagining, dreaming, of fantasy, of anticipation, of planning or foreseeing; all these and all other experiences are to be resolutely ignored by this weird new psychology. The psychologist is to rely upon data of one kind only, the data or facts of observation obtainable by observing the movements and other bodily changes exhibited by human and other organisms.

Then there is sane Behaviorism, or that kind of psychology which, while making use of all introspectively observable facts or data, does not neglect the observation of behavior, does not fail to make full use of all the facts which are the exclusive data of Watsonian Behaviorism. This sane Behaviorism is the kind of psychology that is referred to approvingly, by many contemporary writers in other fields, as "Behavioristic Psychology."[6]

So MacDougall is just saying that both structuralism and Watsonian behaviourism are flawed in the sense that they both ignore importance aspects of human psychology.

And now, trampling ruthlessly on Dr. Watson's feelings, I make the impudent claim to be the chief begetter and exponent of this sane Behaviorism or Behavioristic Psychology, as distinct from the other forms of Behaviorism. I claim in fact that, as regards the Behaviorism which is approvingly referred to by many contemporary writers other than technical psychologists, I, rather than Dr. Watson, am the Arch-Behaviorist. Up to the end of the last century and beyond it, psychologists did in the main concentrate their attention upon the introspectively observable facts, unduly neglecting the facts of human action or behavior, and ignoring the need for some adequate theory of behavior and [p. 50] of character (of which behavior or conduct is the outward expression).[7] This neglect is implied in the definition of psychology commonly accepted at that time, namely, the "science of consciousness," and it may be well illustrated by reference to two leading psychologists, one of the middle, the other of the end, of the nineteenth century. John Stuart Mill, after expending much labor in the endeavor to patch up the hopelessly inadequate psychology of his father, James Mill, and of the other British Associationists, seems to have realized that the psychology he had achieved by this patching process had little or no bearing upon the facts of conduct and of character; for he set to work to construct a completely new science, a science different from and independent of psychology, a science of behavior, of conduct, and of character, for which he proposed the name of "Ethology."

Dr. Watson and I are, then, engaged in the same enterprise, the endeavor to reform psychology by correcting the traditional tendency to concentrate upon the facts of consciousness to the neglect of the facts of behavior. The difference between us in this respect is that I, unlike Dr. Watson, have not made myself at the same time famous and ridiculous by allowing the impetus of my reforming zeal to carry me over from one lop-sided extreme position to its opposite, from exclusive concern with the facts of consciousness to exclusive concern with the facts of behavior. Dr. Watson has been content, like J. S. Mill and Charles Mercier before him, to regard psychology as the science of consciousness and to set to work, like them, to construct a new and independent science of behavior. He differs from them only in denying that the older study (that of consciousness) has any scientific value or interest. I, on the other hand, maintain that the two sets of data, the facts ascertainable by introspective observation, and the objectively observable facts of behavior, are not data for two distinct sciences, but rather are two classes of data both useful and both indispensable for the one science of human nature properly called "psychology." Dr. Watson refuses to attempt to make use of the data of the former class, because from them alone, as he rightly insists, a science of human nature can never be constructed, and because the efforts of two thousand years along this line have proved relatively sterile: I, on the other hand, insist that the problems of human nature are so obscure and difficult that we cannot afford to neglect, or to throw deliberately aside, any available data, and certainly not the data afforded by one's own introspection and by the reports of similar introspective observations made by our fellow men; but that rather we need to make use of every available source of information and mode of observation. And here I would point out that there is a third great class of data which Dr. Watson's principles compel him to neglect, to repudiate; namely, the facts which we may observe as to the various conditions (external or bodily and mental or subjective) under which the variousmodes and phases of our conscious experience arise. Dr. Watson, then, deliberately restricts himself to the use of one of three great classes of data, refusing to attempt to make use of the other two great classes; while I claim that all three are useful and valid, and that to debar oneself from the use of two of these classes is to pass a self-denying ordinance of a peculiarly gratuitous foolishness.

Let me briefly illustrate this difference between us by a few samples of concrete psychological problems, problems of human nature. I place my hand upon the table, and Dr. Watson sticks a pin into the tip of one finger. My hand is promptly withdrawn; that is the behavioristic fact. I say that I felt a sharp pain when the pin was stuck in; Dr. Watson is not interested in my report of that fact. His principles will not allow him to take account of the fact, nor to inquire whether my statement is true or false. He repeats his experiment on a thousand hands, hands of babies, men and monkeys; and, finding that in every case the hand is promptly withdrawn, he makes the empirical [p. 56] generalization that sticking a pin into an extended hand causes it to be promptly withdrawn -- and that is as far as his methods and principles will allow him to go in the study of this interesting phenomenon. He maintains with some plausibility that my introspectively observed fact of painful feeling is quite irrelevant and useless to him as a student of the human organism. But now I ask Dr. Watson to repeat the experiment on myself. He sticks in the pin once more; and this time the hand is not withdrawn, but remains at rest; and I continue to smile calmly upon him. What will Dr. Watson do with this new fact, a fact so upsetting to his empirical generalization which appeared to be on the point of becoming a "law of nature"? He can do nothing with it. But if for a moment he will consent to use ordinary good sense and will listen to my "introspective" report, and if I report truly, he may be much enlightened; though, if I wish to mislead him and report falsely he may be deceived. There in a nutshell you have the difference between sane Behaviorism and Watsonian Behaviorism.[10]

It is true that Dr. Watson declares his willingness to make use of the "verbal reports" of the subjects of his experiments; but, when such a report consists of statements of introspectively observed facts, Dr. Watson is not entitled (consistently with his principles) to take account of the meaning of the words his subject utters; his principles permit him only to observe and record the movements of his subject's speech-organs and the physical vibrations of the air set up by them. He cannot, consistently with his principles, raise the question whether his subject is reporting accurately or truthfully.

But here is the problem for science that MacDougall leaves out...

MacDougall can raise the question of whether an introspective report is truthful, but:

does the introspective method allow him to answer it definitively?

How does MacDougall propose to establish the truthfulness of his subject’s first person introspective reports? " I am in pain” could be a lie, so all we really can know is what was said, not what was felt. This is why Watson argues that science should not study feelings – because they are not directly and PUBLICLY observable.

The only test which we can usefully apply to the mechanical assumption [of Watson] is the pragmatic test. Does it work? Is it a good working hypothesis, that is, one which fruitfully guides our observation and our thinking? Well, in the sphere of the inorganic sciences, it has worked very well until recently; it has proved itself a good working hypothesis. But recently some physicists (I have in mind especially Prof. Bohr and his theory of the structure of the atom) have found that they can make better progress if they reject this mechanical hypothesis and make non-mechanical assumptions; and I understand that this new fashion is rapidly gaining ground among the physicists.

So do you see what is going on here? Watson is saying that mentalistic conceptions are dogmas, and MacDougall is saying that mechanistic conceptions are dogmas too.

In the sphere of human nature and conduct, this mechanistic assumption has never shown itself to have any value or usefulness as a working hypothesis. Rather, it has in very many cases blinded those who have held it dogmatically to a multitude of facts, and has led to various extravagant and absurd views of human nature, which views Watsonian Behaviorism one.

I submit to you the proposition that any psychology which accepts this mechanistic dogma and shapes itself accordingly is useless, save for certain very limited purposes, because it is incapable of recognizing and of taking account of the most fundamental facts of human behavior. I may best illustrate this fact very briefly by pointing out that, for any such psychology, certain words that are indispensable for the normal conduct of life lose their meaning entirely and have to be dropped: for example, all such words as "incentive," "motive," "purpose," "intention," "goal," "desire," "valuing," "striving," "willing," "hoping," and "responsibility."[13] Now I put it to the practical men among you, to the educators, the business-men, the personnel-managers, and especially to the men [p. 70] of law, the eminent jurists here present: have you any use for a psychology from which these words and all words of similar meaning are extruded, because deprived of all meaning? Of course you have no use for it.

Is MacDougall’s argument about words? It seems the argument is, “since we have words for mental concepts, they must be studied scientifically.” He says that psychology is no use to anyone if it is not a science of ordinary, everyday, common garden psychological concepts. But we have a word for the Tooth Fairy? Does this mean that the Tooth Fairy does actually exist?

To adopt such a psychology is to paralyze yourself in all practical affairs, if you consistently apply it. Consider the case of a judge or juryman set to try a case of murder and prohibited by his principles from inquiring into the intentions, the motives, and the responsibility of the accused. It cannot be done: such a judge would be useless, such psychology will not work in practical affairs.[14] Putting the case more broadly, I say we are all bound to believe, and (so long as we are efficient members of society) we show by our acts that we do believe that human efforts, human desires, human ideals, human strivings do make a difference to the course of events. If we do not believe this it is futile and inconsistent to talk of and to strive after self-discipline, or the moral training of our children, or social betterment or the realization by our efforts of any ideal whatsoever.

But could you not argue that this is a very basic weakness of the judicial system that we must rely on unobservable, intangible phenomena such as intentions? How can a judge know the intentions of an accused? Could the judge not be deceived by the accused? Would it not be better to focus on behaviour? The issue of whether, for example, the accused pulled the trigger, seems to be the question of most practical relevance!

And how does a judge determine intent anyway? By INFERRING it from BEHAVIOUR!

Dr. Watson and those who think with him are apt to regard a person like myself as an old fogey, a survival, a fossil, a figure that has stepped right out of the eighteenth or seventeenth or perhaps the fifteenth century, where he properly belongs. They think that we are medieval metaphysicians rather than men of science. But in reality it is Dr. Watson and Professor Loeb and their fellow mechanists who have the closed mind, who, without clearly knowing it, start out with a metaphysical assumption or prejudice which colors and shapes and limits all their thinking. It is they who are belated and befogged in the metaphysics of a bygone century. They commonly assume that they have behind them all the great force and authority of the physical scientists. But in this they are mistaken. It is not the physical scientists who are guilty of the error of trying to bring human nature within the narrow bounds of mechanistic science. It is biologists and psychologists without first-hand knowledge of physical science who do this. The great pioneers and leaders of modern physical science from Faraday to Clerk-Maxwell, Kelvin, Rayleigh and Einstein have avoided this error.

Let me say one last word. If you are moved by a natural impulse of pity for Dr. Watson, as he continues to repeat his ineffective formulae and to butt his poor nose against the hard facts of human nature, if you are moved by the admiration due to the gallant leader of a forlorn hope, [p. 85] the stubborn defender of an indefensible position, then, I say, do not behave like mechanisms, but rather yield to these natural human impulses and vote for Dr. Watson, for Behaviorism, and for man as a penny-in-the-slot machine.

Remember the video in which Chruchland says that all that exists is the brain - she says we are machines. So the debate is not settled is it.

Further, vote for him now; for you may never have another chance. After a few years, if my reading of the signs of the times is not wholly at fault, the peculiar dogmas for which he stands will have passed to the limbo of "old forgotten far-off things and battles long ago"; they will have faded away like the insubstantial fabric of a dream, leaving not a wrack behind.

Whatever you may think about MacDougall’s argument, he did turn out to be right. It took more than a few years (in fact behaviourism begun to die in the mid 50’s - 30 years after this paper was written) but in the end it died for some of the reasons that MacDougall gives here – lack of relevance due to the absence of an ordinary, everyday psychological subject matter.


Watson Vs MacDougal

It’s important to clearly understand these arguments because they are both instrumental in the development of the psychology we have today.

Let’s begin by looking carefully at Watson’s argument. The following are the points he made:

NOTE: I have added my own critiques of each point (if I have them) in orange below each point. You should know that these critiques come from a point of view that we will learn about later in the course. This is called The Ordinary Language View" or the OLV, and it was invented by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

1) The objective of psychology should be to identify the laws of stimulus and response. That is to identify how people behave when they are presented with certain stimuli. These laws can be used for the purpose of predicting and controlling human behaviour.

2) The concept of consciousness is much like the concept of the soul. They are both metaphysical assumptions in the sense that it is not possible to prove that they exist. It follows from this that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of any psychological phenomena.

I don’t think this is right. The soul is a very different kind of concept than consciousness. The soul is usually defined as an entity of some kind. For example, a phenomenon that leaves the body and resides in heaven when the physical body dies. Consciousness on the other hand is not an entity or phenomenon of some kind. It is the state one is in when they can say who they are, where they are and answer simple questions about their environment. It is defined as a state of self-awareness. When one is aware of who they are and where they are, by definition, they are conscious. In my opinion, there is no existence question about consciousness. It is not a thing or entity that we must show is or is not there. There is, however, an existence question about the soul. The soul is a phenomenon or entity that we claim is there.

3) The reason that it is not possible to prove that consciousness (and conscious phenomena like fear and thinking) exist is that they can not be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or moved in the way that the ordinary objects of our physical experience can be.

Consciousness can be seen though! We can see when a person is in a state of self-awareness. This is the basis for the boxing referee’s judgment about the boxer or the surgeon’s judgment about the patient. Of course we cannot touch consciousness because it is not an object. We can’t touch distance either but does that mean that distance should not be part of science? I don’t think so.

 4) Consciousness is undefined and cannot be defined.

But consciousness is defined. This is what the dictionary contains - definitions of words.

5) The problem with invoking concepts like consciousness in science is that we are unable to use scientific methods/procedures to verify that the things these concepts denote actually exist. For example, there is no SCIENIFIC way to VERIFY that there are 3, 50 or 4,000 mental elements and therefore, ‘mental element’ is not a concept that should be part of science. This is precisely why we have such large disagreement amongst psychologists as to how many mental elements there are. This disagreement would be a natural part of science as long as there is in principle a way to settle the debate. But since mental elements are undefined and indefinable, since they cannot be seen, touched, moved, etc., there is no way to settle the debate as to how many elements there are.

According to how science is defined, if there is, in principle, no way to show whether or not the thing exists, then it should not be part of science. This is why I think that the id, ego and superego do not belong in science (although I do think they are very useful ideas and do say something interesting about human nature).

6) The phenomena investigated in physics/chemistry are PUBLICLY observable. I can observe in my lab what you observe in yours &, therefore, what you observe in your lab is publicly verifiable by me.

According to how science is defined, if there is, in principle, no way to publicly verify the existence of the thing, it should not be part of science. So, science may not be the right method for studying what a person feels or thinks. We can study the self-report (what a person says they think or feel) but not what they actually think or feel.

7) What introspective psychologists have presented as discoveries are, in fact, not discoveries. They are nothing but metaphysical speculation about the nature of consciousness.

Wundt’s theory of the nature of consciousness is no different than Aristotle’s theory of the nature of the soul. It is a metaphysical theory about the nature of something.

8) Psychology should only involve phenomena that can be publicly observed.

9) Human nature should be seen as mechanistic and deterministic. We need nothing to explain behaviour other than the physical, observable objects of nature. If you say you do need something else, the only reason you say this is that you have been convinced by thousands of years of religion and metaphysics to think that vitalistic phenomena exist.

It is obvious that the human being is not a machine though. Machines are designed and built by people. Humans are not. Therefore, it follows that the human is not a machine. Now, determinism is a different issue. Do I think that human behaviour is entirely determined by physical causes? Well, no I don't. The reason is that environmental conditions, social/cultural conditions, etc., do have an effect on human behaviour. People behave differently on Monday than they do on Friday and Monday and Friday are not physical objects.

Now let’s look at the points that MacDougal makes:

1) Dr Watson’s views are bizarre, preposterous and outrageous.

2) Dr Watson’s views appeal to simplistic people because they ignore the difficulties faced when attempting to deal with the age-old but fundamental and important problem of the nature of consciousness and its role in behaviour.

3) Dr Watson’s views should appeal to Americans because they are attracted to any method that involves a quick ‘fix’ to a difficult problem.

4) We should pity Dr Watson because he does not have the courage to admit that he is wrong.

Points 1-4 are arguments ad hominum (meaning arguments against the person.). I strongly object to this kind of argument in science. This alone diminishes MacDougall as a scientist in my mind. What matters in science should be clear, logical argument and well conducted research, not the personality of individuals. However, to think that who Watson is has no bearing on whether his views are accepted or rejected within science would be very naive.

5) Dr Watson does not care about feelings.

This is not a correct characterization of Watson’s position. Watson does care about feelings. He just doesn’t think they should be involved in science.

6) There are two kinds of facts that psychologists should study: facts of behaviour and introspectively observable facts. This is called sane behaviourism and I am a sane behaviourist.

7) I agree with Watson that psychology should not be defined exclusively as the study of consciousness.

8) Introspective reports of feelings such as pain should be used to explain why stimulus (pin prick in the hand) and behaviour (removal of a hand) are linked. They should also be used to explain why a stimulus, response link that exists in most cases, might not exist in certain special cases.

As I said above, if we must, then I would go along with this. But I’d rather not make a habit of it. Why? Because it’s very easy to end up with pure speculation if you go down this road. According to how it is defined, science cannot be too speculative (it’s OK to speculate a little but it can’t be a major theme). If we are too speculative, then we loose the very thing that gives science its credibility - public observability and objectivity.

9) We should not adopt mechanism because it is not practical to do so.

What matters in science is how something works, not whether or not it works like a machine, so, to me, mechanism is an irrelevant philosophical red herring.

10) If we adopt behaviourism, psychology will be of no practical value to educators, businessmen, judges, lawyers, etc.

Certainly wrong. Behaviorism turned out to give us much of practical value.

11) If we adopt Watsonian behaviourism it is futile and inconsistent to talk of and to strive after self-discipline, or the moral training of our children, or social betterment or the realization by our efforts of any ideal whatsoever.

This is wrong. Training a child is a stimulus. The stimulus will result in a change in behaviour. The entire point of behaviourism is to control behaviour via the manipulation of stimuli.

12) Behaviourism will fail.

In the end it did.

Now let’s just finish this debate with a few observations:

It is clear from what happened in psychology between 1910 and around 1950 that MacDougall’s view did not prevail (even though those who attended the debate declared MacDougall the winner). Interestingly, however, psychology today is not behaviourist. So, in the end, MacDougall’s prophecy (in his point 12 above) came true.

This means that, for many years, psychology was a largely positivist and operationist discipline. We acted and conducted our research in much the same way as the physicist and chemist. This era is so critical to understand because it was the era that helped to break the ties of psychology to philosophy and metaphysics. If you read my comments above in orange, you will see that my own orientation is towards positivism and operationism. I'm not a staunch positivist because I think hypothetical constructs can be useful at times in limited numbers. However, I do think that clear definition and meaning are absolutely critical.

So lets now look at Watson’s RESEARCH - what he did in the lab.


Behaviourism Research

The Little Albert Study – this study is given in full on the “classics in the history of psych” web site.


a) In this study, Watson presented a very young child (11 months old) with a white rat. He noticed no fear response.

b) He then presented the rat to the child while making a loud noise.

c) He noticed that after two presentations of the rat with the noise the child began to react with a fear response (e.g., crying moving away and so on).

d) After a few more pairings of the noise and the rat, the child reacted with a fear response to the rat in the absence of the noise.

e) Watson was also able to generalize this reaction to other stimuli including a Santa beard and a white rabbit.


The conclusion of this study was that emotion is not some special or unique metaphysical entity. It is merely a learned response to stimuli that, at some point, were paired with a “fear” stimulus.


Superstition in the Pigeon – this study is also given in full on the “classics in the history of psych” web site.

Another very influential behaviorist was a man called BF Skinner. Probably Skinner’s most well-known research study is a study in which he claimed to have created superstition in 6 out of 8 pigeons. Again, the suggestion here is that all mental phenomena can be explained in terms of observed stimulus presentation and response patterns. That is, that there is no scientific need to invoke mental concepts like superstition.

How did Skinner do this?

Actually, his study was absurdly simple. All he did was put a pigeon in a cage and repeatedly present the pigeon with food for 5 seconds and then remove the food for 15 seconds and then observe the pigeon’s behavior. The presentation of the food was purely on a timed schedule and had nothing to do with what the pigeon did or did not do.

What did he discover when he did this? VERY INTERESTINGLY, he discovered that 6 of the 8 pigeons developed very specific patterns of behavior that they began to exhibit after the first presentation of food. These patterns of behavior tended to be the very things the pigeons were randomly doing when the food was presented for the fist time. It was as if the pigeons believed that the behavior they were randomly exhibiting at the time of the presentation of the food was responsible for the food being presented.

The idea was that even a supposedly complex human state of consciousness, superstition, could be quickly and easily established by nothing more than presenting a stimulus to a pigeon.

The behaviorist’s research agenda was to show how all forms of supposedly complex human conscious states could be established by nothing more than simple stimulus, response connections. Interestingly, behaviorists even tried to explain Freudian defense mechanisms in terms of simple stimulus response connections.


Implications of Behaviorism

NOW, there was a consequence to behaviorism breaking the tie with philosophy. And MacDougall identified it clearly in his critique. The simple consequence was that if psychology was to abandon mental phenomena it would become irrelevant (MacDougall’s point 10 above). Psychology would become a sterile discipline incapable of communicating with the common-person. When faced with questions about how to motivate employees for example, the behaviorist was forced to remain mute. All the behaviorist allowed themselves to talk about was the relationship between stimuli (e.g., increased wages), and responses (e.g., improved productivity). Although, as Watson claimed, these relationships did (and still do) provide information that is useful to the businessperson, they were ultimately unsatisfying to the layperson.

Another consequence was the view that a science without hypothetical constructs was incapable of explaining the rich complexity of human phenomena. It was felt that psychology would be severely limited in its attempts to explain why things happen. Faced with questions about why things fall towards the earth, for example, the physicist would be severely limited if they could not invoke concepts like gravity (hypothetical constructs). When faced with questions about why some employees were more productive than others, even though their wages were the same, the inability to give mental explanations became increasingly more frustrating for the psychologist.

So, in the end, these two pressures caused behaviorism to fail. In the 1950’s two events finally ended the behaviorism era for good. These were:

1) Research findings that seemed to demand an explanation in terms of hypothetical constructs.

2) The introduction of the logic of Construct Validation.

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