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Objecting to David Armstrong’s Behaviorism Essay

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Updated: Apr 10th, 2022

In his article “The Nature of Mind” David Armstrong starts out with showing that Behaviorism is an implausible account of the nature of mind. In his account of Behaviorism the behavior and the mind are one and causally inseparable (Armstrong 297). The mind and behavior are identical so the mind is not merely the cause of behavior but rather it is the behavior. To be more specific, Armstrong posits that Behaviorists regard the mind to be an array of behavior; one cannot speak of a mind in the absence of behavior.

The main objection that Armstrong has to the Behaviorists’ account of mind is that there can exist and there actually exists thought without behavior (Armstrong 298); behavior is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for thought or the mind.

Ryle attempts to address this objection by bringing in the notion of a disposition to behave i.e. a latent state that will cause behavior once the right conditions and circumstances are met. The concept of disposition to behave, however, fails to address the problem with the Behaviorists’ account of the mind as the dispositions are merely analyses of mental states into conditional statements of what one’s behavior would be under the right circumstances.

Behaviorism is a reductionist view of the mental process as it views all mental processes as equivalent to behavior yet there are mental processes that cannot be explained from the perspective of the Behaviorists e.g. the taste of chocolate. Such a rudimentary mental process cannot be conveyed using the Behaviorists’ account of a mental process yet it is a legitimate mental process (Block 262). This inability to explain simple and irreducible mental processes is a major weakness of the Behaviorists’ account of the mind.

The other major weakness of Behaviorism is its failure to account for consciousness. Behaviorism relies on an expressed or outward account of mental processes and as such fails to give an accurate deduction of the mind (Fodor 56).

Introspection and self-awareness are examples of mental processes which are essential to human beings that cannot be accounted for using Behaviorism as there is no possible way to translate the two into behavior or dispositions to behave.

Given these shortcomings, Behaviorism is a weak and objectionable account of the mind.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Martin. A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge, 1968. Print.

Block, Ned. Are Absent Qualia Impossible? The Philosophical Review, 89 (1980): 257 -274.

Fodor, Jerry. The Mind Doesn’t Work that Way. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. Print.

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