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  1. #1

    Default Quote from BF Skinner, free will, determinism and liberalism

    I was reading a psychology book, the psychology book: big ideas simply explained, and in the section about BF Skinner they describe his reopening of the discussion about free will and determinism, that free will is an illusion, selection by consequences controls all of our behaviour and hence our lives.

    And they had a quote from him:-

    "When Milton's Satan falls from heaven, he ends in hell. And what does he say to reassure himself? 'Here, at least, we shall be free'. And that, I think, is the fate of the old-fashioned liberal. He's going to be free, but he's going to find himself in hell".

    First of all, what do you think of Skinner's perspective? Is free will an illusion? Is selection by consequences controlling all behaviour and hence our lives? If this is unacknowledged or denied reality, the free will illusion being preferable, does it necessarily follow that comprehension/acknowledgement will make for a better world or are you just stuck in a "hell" and know it?

    Next of all, does this, Skinner's "Radical Behaviourism" (which I think could be better labelled consistent as opposed to radical perhaps, for the sake of clarity/understanding) correlate with the other research which is concluding that the self, character and choice are illusions (Such as the athiest Daniel Dennett or other buddhist inspired, or at least referencing, psychological researchers http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Self-Ill.../dp/1780330073) or is that something different being considered?

    I have read depth psychologists/psychoanalysts, opposed to behaviourism, which theorise about free will being illusionary, that culture, social imposition of a social character, basic anxiety originating in the family home in early years, attachment and trauma history can all lead to a "false self", contributing to dynamic tensions between the conscious-unconscious all play their part. Does it matter that these schools of thought quarrel so hardily with behaviourism if they converge on the same point?

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    Level 8 Propaganda Bot SpankyMcFly's Avatar
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    At work, but this subject has always intrigued me. Just ask @ygolo and other venters.
    "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age. " - H.P. Lovecraft

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by SpankyMcFly View Post


    At work, but this subject has always intrigued me. Just ask @ygolo and other venters.
    I am actually a "soft determinist", I believe that culture and social character theories are credible, although they are different to Skinner's determinism, at least as I understand it, the only way that I consider Skinner's "selection by consequences" could be considered the singular or definitive factor would be to use a definition so incredibly broad as to be practically and theoretically useless.

    The idea of ideological consolations being prefered by those who are living in hell, such as calling it "freedom", is something which interests me, I see it as a huge, huge factor in libertarianism for instance, particularly fiscal libertarianism for at least a statistically significant proportion of the population likely to support it at the ballot box. However, they are going to say precisely the opposite is the case.

    Who's reasoning and who's rationalising is always going to be contested and contestable, that's politics and why political consensus isnt ever going to reign long term, if at all.

    The other side of the equation too, I consider, is that anyone who believes in complete determinism also has to believe in the complete malleability of mankind, which I think is impossible and history is replete with reasons why or evidence to the contrary on that point, not even all the failed utopias but the fact that mankind cant be made to fit the theory when it comes to industrial capitalism and that it has had to reinvent itself so often historically, getting further and further away from in fact from what it is revered as in theory.

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    Level 8 Propaganda Bot SpankyMcFly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    I am actually a "soft determinist", I believe that culture and social character theories are credible, although they are different to Skinner's determinism, at least as I understand it, the only way that I consider Skinner's "selection by consequences" could be considered the singular or definitive factor would be to use a definition so incredibly broad as to be practically and theoretically useless.

    The idea of ideological consolations being prefered by those who are living in hell, such as calling it "freedom", is something which interests me, I see it as a huge, huge factor in libertarianism for instance, particularly fiscal libertarianism for at least a statistically significant proportion of the population likely to support it at the ballot box. However, they are going to say precisely the opposite is the case.

    Who's reasoning and who's rationalising is always going to be contested and contestable, that's politics and why political consensus isnt ever going to reign long term, if at all.

    The other side of the equation too, I consider, is that anyone who believes in complete determinism also has to believe in the complete malleability of mankind, which I think is impossible and history is replete with reasons why or evidence to the contrary on that point, not even all the failed utopias but the fact that mankind cant be made to fit the theory when it comes to industrial capitalism and that it has had to reinvent itself so often historically, getting further and further away from in fact from what it is revered as in theory.
    I´m not sure what ¨type¨ of determinist I am. The subject interests me in so much I see my lack of free will all the time. I like the color blue, cheese and women. I don´t know why I want what I do but I do and my ability to consciously and willfully change these things, even as an experiment always fails.

    If by free you mean control then I don´t think I have absolute control. If I did I could will myself to be a lot of things, within reason. I can refuse to act upon my will or repress it or any other ¨healthy¨ defense but this does not change it´s intent or nature. If I can only negatively ¨control¨ my will, i.e. not act upon it, but not change it´s trajectory or intent how is that freedom? The freedom to NOT act? I do not have an answer for what it is that I ¨have¨ but the concept of Free Will does not convince me.
    "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age. " - H.P. Lovecraft

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by SpankyMcFly View Post
    I´m not sure what ¨type¨ of determinist I am. The subject interests me in so much I see my lack of free will all the time. I like the color blue, cheese and women. I don´t know why I want what I do but I do and my ability to consciously and willfully change these things, even as an experiment always fails.

    If by free you mean control then I don´t think I have absolute control. If I did I could will myself to be a lot of things, within reason. I can refuse to act upon my will or repress it or any other ¨healthy¨ defense but this does not change it´s intent or nature. If I can only negatively ¨control¨ my will, i.e. not act upon it, but not change it´s trajectory or intent how is that freedom? The freedom to NOT act? I do not have an answer for what it is that I ¨have¨ but the concept of Free Will does not convince me.
    Are you considering it in an absolute sense? I dont believe that absolute freedom exists but I think that freedom almost certainly exists, I couldnt be a complete determinist because I think that we humans have achieved consciousness at the expense of forfeiting instinctual determinism of a total sort, animals do not trouble about life and death as we do, they do not have or construct religions and ideologies, with that consciousness is freedom.

    That's existentialism or at least existentialist influenced. I think love is the answer.

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    I've always hated Skinner's thoughts on determinism. If we are just pre-determined as to how we will turn out and what we will do in life, then what's the point of self-improvement?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    Are you considering it in an absolute sense? I dont believe that absolute freedom exists but I think that freedom almost certainly exists, I couldnt be a complete determinist because I think that we humans have achieved consciousness at the expense of forfeiting instinctual determinism of a total sort, animals do not trouble about life and death as we do, they do not have or construct religions and ideologies, with that consciousness is freedom.

    That's existentialism or at least existentialist influenced. I think love is the answer.
    When I think too hard, I like to recall a favorite quote of mine by William James ¨If the question makes a difference makes the question meaningful, if not, not¨.

    In that vein there are several meaningful things to me I have no control over, other things, that are less meaningful I do. Take love for example. I cannot choose to love someone or even not love by simply flipping a mind switch. I´ve tried to love someone by simply ¨deciding¨ that I do-should, doesn´t work. I´ve tried the reverse as well, this person is bad for me, I should stop loving them.

    I appear to have control sometimes, but not others. How can one ¨sometimes¨ have free will? Why can´t I choose when I have free will? If I can only direct-control something part time and not be able to decide when I have this capacity how is that really control? I do not think the concept as it is often portrayed-understood makes this clarification of ¨sometimes¨ and in this regard I think of it as an absolute, you have it or you do not.

    Although I ¨appear¨ to have it when I influence it negatively by restraining it or not acting upon it. ¨This coworker is really annoying me, I really wanna smack him¨. The will to smack him is still there though I just fail to act upon it.

    I´m rambling now.
    "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age. " - H.P. Lovecraft

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    Level 8 Propaganda Bot SpankyMcFly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Great One View Post
    ...then what's the point of self-improvement?
    The Prime Directive. Propagating.

    Our ego drives us to do so, which allows us to build self worth and social value which we can lever to influence others to ultimately get what we ¨want¨. Which we are not always consciously aware of.
    "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age. " - H.P. Lovecraft

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