The Relevance of Metaphysics to Behavior Analysis

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Behavior analysis takes a natural science approach to human and animal behavior. Some basic tenets are widely agreed in the field but it can be argued that some other assumptions are implicit in our approach and, if unexamined, may impair progress. Since the time of David Hume, there has been a strong Western philosophical tradition of naturalism and realism. Although behavior analysis has from the outset embraced pragmatism, features of naturalism are embedded in the metaphysics of science and thus have been imported into behavior analysis. Many versions of naturalism imply dualism, but this can be avoided without abandoning a naturalist–realist position either by adopting the historicist approach of Rorty, which suggests that apparently a priori truths are often merely conventions of a philosophical tradition, or by accepting Wittgenstein’s view that there are hinge statements that are fundamental to our thinking but are not propositional beliefs and do not entail dualism. As an alternative, we can adopt the metaphysical assumptions of monism, possibly starting from William James’s approach of neutral monism. Revising our metaphysical assumptions while retaining the pragmatism that is central to behavior analysis may enable us to engage more effectively with cognitive psychology, to develop stronger links with ecological psychology and other approaches that reject representationalism, and to move beyond the debate about the status of private events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages12
JournalPerspectives on Behavior Science
Issue number1
Early online date20 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Mar 2021

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© 2021, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Dualism
  • Metaphysics
  • Monism
  • Naturalism
  • Private events


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