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FEATURE REVIEW OF "BEYOND FREEDOM AND DIGNITY"* ERNEST R. HILGARDi The very title of this book tends to offend some readers (and reviewers ). It is intentionally provocative, as is much of the book itself, so that despite its wide readership it is difficult for the book to get the dispassionate appraisal that it deserves. To get a little perspective before plunging into a consideration of Skinner's message, here are a few assertions of my own about man's relation to the natural environment and to the environment of other men: 1.The circumstances and manner of man's life have changed in the past and may be expected to change in the future. 2.These changes have come about, at least in part, through man's inventiveness, planfulness, knowledge, and technological innovations. 3.The changes that take place are in accordance with scientific laws, to the extent that these are known, but are not predictable in detail from these laws. As Jacques Monod has put it, "it is enough for us that this actual object, unique and real, be compatible with the theory. This object, according to the theory, is under no obligation to exist, but it has a right to" [1, p. 44]. (I cannot refrain from offering the interested reader a few suggestions of other recent books dealing with many of the problems that Skinner faces, because they so well point out the lacunae in his arguments [1-3].) 4.Acceptance of the foregoing assertions at a practical, heuristic level does not commit anyone to a particular position on "deep" philosophical issues such as mind versus body, causality versus teleology , knowledge versus values, or freedom versus determinism. Consider the difference between accepting the principle of determinism and acting heuristically as though there are alternative futures . The Calvinist believers in predestination worked hard toward practical goals, as pointed out by Max Weber in the relationship that * By B. F. Skinner. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971. Pp. 225. $6.95. !Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1972 | 551 he noted between Protestantism and capitalism. Marxist deterministic materialists have set five-year goals like anyone else, because they can contemplate a future condition that they prefer over the present one, and seek to do what they can to bring it about. Freudian determinists spend hours with a patient, seeking to modify his personality structure in desirable directions. All this is not to say that commitments to religions, ideologies, or mythologies make no difference; the point is that regardless of their commitments men plan and try to change the world, and in one way or another they do change it. Although he has not stated things in quite this way, it is pretty clear that Skinner would have no trouble in accepting these assertions . Let him speak for himself: "The man that man has made is the product of the culture that man has devised" (p. 208). "No theory changes what it is a theory about. . . . Man has not changed because we look at him, talk about him, and analyze him scientifically. His achievements in science, government, religion, art, and literature remain as they have always been, to be admired as one admires a storm at sea, or autumn foliage, or a mountain peak, quite apart from their origins and untouched by a scientific analysis. What does change is the chance of doing something about the subject of a theory" (p. 213). He is not being condescending or supercilious toward experiences that men value. Let us then not overreact to the title of the book or to its grating features without listening to what he has to say. Four interlocking themes help us to understand the intensity with which the book's message is stated: First and foremost is Skinner's aversion to the use of punitive measures in the control of behavior. This is the overriding theme, the ethical core of the book, and the basis for the attack on the literature of freedom and dignity. He finds this literature offensive precisely because in stressing individual freedom and autonomy man gets blamed for his "badness," and society is justified in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 551-560
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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