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Beyond Freedom and Dignity

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Essay title: Beyond Freedom and Dignity

Beyond Freedom and Dignity

Skinner’s form of behaviorism, radical behaviorism, is obviously the root of many of his ideas throughout this book as he uses the environment in explaining overt behaviors and dismisses covert behaviors as any kind of influence over people’s actions. Skinner wants to make psychology a science by making it have measurable material; therefore, the workings of the mind, people’s motivations, and people’s emotions are not measurable and should not be considered. What needs to be studied then is the relationship between people and their environment in order to create a better world. Skinner feels that the way this society is going, the downfall will be coming soon as we are headed for disaster because of views on freedom and dignity. Beyond Freedom and Dignity is B. F. Skinner’s beliefs about how to change people and create a utopian society through a more effective control of people and their environment.

The first chapter entitled “A Technology of Behavior” mainly restates what radical behaviorism is by saying psychology should look beyond mental processes and motivations, and study behavior itself without being concerned about what drives people. Studying behaviors, rather than drives, can also yield reproducible results (through conditioning), which is a necessary for a psychology to be considered a science. Skinner sees the technology of behavior as being a tool to shape society around us. “Almost all of our major problems involve human behavior, and they cannot be solved by physical and biological technology alone,” Skinner (1971) writes before again expressing his need for technology of behavior (p. 24). He feels that this reshaping of society could bring people closer to one another and to their environment but questions who will control this technology. Being the one in control would be controlling behaviors, values, and opinions, and to what end would a person use this power (Skinner, 1971).

After describing the control of behavior, Skinner addresses freedom. Arguably, Skinner’s best point in the whole work is suggested here when he questions the concept of freedom. If freedom is being able to do what we want to do whenever we want to do it, then no one is truly free (Skinner 1971). Despite this, Skinner continually expresses that freedom needs to be limited and controlled as freedom is really just a lack of responsibility. With freedom being synonymous to lack of responsibility, Skinner is able to make the argument that freedom is dangerous to society. It leads to people working for their own good and not accepting the concept of a society, which, in turn could lead to a destruction of the society. I assume that Skinner does not believe people are innately bad because he feels that people’s struggle for freedom is mainly to “escape aversive features” in the environment rather than a will to be able to do anything desired (Skinner 1971). This means that freedom is a response to the environment, which is now measurable and can be manipulated and changed as pleased.

Next, the concept of dignity is brought up. Skinner (1971) states “dignity concerns positive reinforcement” and describes dignity as the sense of worth a person has when commended or praised by others which makes him more likely to repeat the behavior (p. 44). Dignity is greater when a person is not forced to do something. For example, a slave does not have dignity when he performs the work commanded to him. Basically, dignity spawns from intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation. This is one of Skinner’s contradictions to his own ideas as intrinsic motivations should not explain behaviors. Skinner (1971) notes “dignity is concerned with preserving due credit (p. 58).” He says this because technology threatens dignity by reducing the amount of credit earned. An example he uses is that we have no need for brave firemen when buildings are fireproof (p. 56). With dignity opposing technology, the technology of behavior, which Skinner is in strong favor for, cannot be overlooked. I interpreted the conclusion of this chapter to mean that another step in creating Skinner’s utopian society is to strip people of their dignity in order to promote the technology of behavior. This leads right into punishment. Punishment threatens freedom and dignity. Punishment adds negative stimuli or removes positive stimuli in attempt to make the person being punished not behave in that particular way again. Rather than producing a desired behavior, punishment is more likely to cause a person to avoid a particular behavior. Skinner (1971) mentions the

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