Beyond Freedom And Dignity
I intend the following to be a simple chapter by chapter paraphrastic synopsis of the title work to go in the existing English article as a section (without this preface).
When figures as widely spread on the political spectrum as Ayn Rand and Noam Chomsky condemn a work something must be up. I think this and Walden Two are Skinners most important works. I think it's hard to put this work in context without having read Walden Two.
It's easy to understand why Skinner stirs people up with these works since they are diameterically opposite to lip service that is almost universally given to 'democracy'. Skinners vision of society is not democratic and in this work he explains why. On a superficial note I will comment that I think this is in fact consistent with what people really want out of society, i.e actual well being not the illusion of freedom and dignity as they have shown time and again, albeit often enough with disastrous results.
A Technology of Behavior
Chapter 1 is an exposition of scientific behaviorism as understood by Skinner. Compares, contrasts, and decries the difference between the advancement in the 'hard' sciences since the European classical period with their focus on the external world and that achieved with respect to man as an object of study embodied as a scientific phenomenon by his behavior.
Basic freedom as an intrinsic (instinctual) avoidance behavior with respect to aversive stimuli, at its lowest level embodied in reflexes at a higher level by operant conditioning.
Man's struggle for freedom is not due to a will to be free, but to certain behavioral processes characteristic of the
human orrganism, the chief effect of which is the avoidance of or escape from so-called "aversive" features of the environment. Physical and biological technologies have been mainly concerned with natural aversive stimuli; the struggle for freedom is concerned with the stimuli intentionally arranged by other people. the literature of freedom has identified the other people and has proposed way of escaping from them or weakening or destroying thier power. It has been successful in reducing the aversive stimuli used intensional control, but it has made the mistake of defining freedom in terms of states of mind or feelings, and it has therefore not been able to deal effectively with the techniques of control which do not breed escape or revolt but nevertheless have aversive consequences. It has been forced to brand all control as wrong and to misrepresent many of the advantages to be gained from a social environment. It is unprepared for the next step, which is not to free men from control but to analyze and change the kinds of control to which they are exposed.
Dignity is primarily concerned with the positive reenforcements received for achievements; as the environmental sources of these are made clear the contribution of the individual seems to approach zero. As it is concerned with the consequent withdrawal of positive reenforcements or the perception thereof, Dignity is in a sense the inverse of Freedom.
We recognize a person's dignity or worth when we give him credit for what he has done. The amount we give is inversely proportional to the conspicuousness of the causes of his behavior. If we do not know why a person acts as he does, we attribute his behavior to him. We try to gain additional credit for ourselves by concealing the reasons why we behave in a given ways or by claiming to have acted for less powerful reasons. We avoid infringing on the credit due to others by controlling them inconspicuously. We admire people to the extent that we cannot explain what they do, and the word 'admire" then means "marvel at". What we may call the literature of dignity is concerned with preserving due credit. It may oppose advances in technology, including a technology of behavior, because they destroy chances to be admired adn a basic analysis because it offers an alternative explanation of behavior for which the individual himself has previously been given credit. The literature thus stands in the way of further human achievements.