Explanatory Reductionism in Behavior Analysis

  • David W. Schaal


Radical behaviorism asserts the validity of a purely functional analytic approach to the science of behavior. Reliable, general functional relations between environmental and behavioral variables constitute behavior-analytic explanations, behavior principles. Temporal gaps exist between the terms in these relations, ranging on the order of seconds (e.g., in the case of delayed matching-to-sample performance) to hours, days, and years (e.g., in the case of the lasting effects of classical and operant conditioning). Those temporal gaps almost seem like badges of honor to radical behaviorists; they are compared to the spatial gaps over which celestial bodies exert their influence. Not only is it unnecessary for radical behaviorists to fill the gaps with brain events (or cognitive events), it is suspected that it might be misleading, or perhaps impossible, to do so. As graduate students several of us memorized word for word this quote from Wittgenstein:

I saw this man years ago: now I see him again, I recognize him, I remember his name. And why does there have to be a cause of this remembering in my nervous system? Why must something or other, whatever it may be, be stored up there in any form? Why must a trace have been left behind? Why should there not be a psychological regularity to which no physiological regularity corresponds? If this overturns our concept of causality then it is time it was overturned. (cited in Malcolm, 1977, p. 166)


Classical Conditioning Behavior Analysis Operant Conditioning Behavioral Neuroscience Behavior Analyst 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • David W. Schaal
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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