Beyond Freedom And Dignity

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24 Fructidor, 4707

Dominion version forked from en:Beyond Freedom and Dignity a couple of years ago. Reviving composition as part of the 20 local articles, should be complete by 3 Mist.


I intended 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 in 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.

p. 42


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 thus 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 and 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.

p. 58


Punishment as the apposite kind of control in comparison with operant controls based on contigencies of reenforcement. Highlights fact that those who claim to advocate freedom still nonetheless not only don't oppose punishment but rather are its main advocates. Currently we try to design a world for babies, the retarded, and the psychotic that avoid punishment and the same could be done for people in general at a tremendous saving.

Any move toward an environment in which men are automatically good threatens responsibility. ... As responsibility diminishes, punishment is relaxed.

p. 73

The ontological fallacy implicit in assuming universal responsibility, to assume that for every effect there is a responsible agent. Quotes Joseph de Maistre in re justification of torture to which those who oppose effective alternatives to punishment are driven.

Except when physically constrained, a person is least free or dignified when under the threat of punishment. We should expect that the literatures of freedom and dignity would oppose punitive techniques, but in fact they have acted to preserve them. A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment. ... Under punitive contingencies a person appears to be free to behave well and to deserve credit when he does so. Nonpunitive contingencies generate the same behavior, but a person cannot then be said to be free, and the contingencies deserve the credit when he behaves well. Little or nothing remains for the autonomous man to do and receive credit for doing. ... But our task is not to encourage moral struggle or to build or demonstrate inner virtues. It is to make life less punishing and in doing so to release for more reinforcing activities the time and energy consumed in the avoidance of punishments. [The literatures of freedom and dignity] cannot now accept the fact that all control is exerted by the environment and proceed to the design of better environments rather than of better men.


Alternatives to Punishment

"Those who champion freedom and dignity do not, of course, confine themselves to punitive measures, but they turn to alternatives with diffidence and timidity. Their concern for autonomous man commits them to only ineffective measures ..."

  • Permisiveness
  • The Controller as Midwife
  • Guidance
  • Building Dependence on Things
  • Changing Minds

The freedom and dignity of autonomous man seem to be preserved when only weak forms of nonaversive control are used. Those who use them seem to defend themselves against the charge that they are attempting to control behaviour, and they are exonerated when things go wrong. Permisiveness is the absence of control, and if it appears to lead to desirable results, it is only because of other contingencies. Maieutics , or the art of midwifery, seems to leave behavior to be credited to those who give birth to it, and the guidance of development to those who develop. Human intervention seems to be minimized when a person is made dependent upon things rather than upon other people. Various ways of changing minds are not only condoned but vigorously practiced by the defenders of freedom and dignity. ... By refusing to recognize them the defenders of freedom and dignity encourage the misuse of controlling practices and block progress toward a more effective technology of behavior.

pp 99-100


It's a mistake for the behavioral scientist to agree to the seperation of science and philosophy ad the "good" or the end of behavior control must be within their purview.

The struggle for freedom and dignity has been formulated as a defense of autonomous man rather than a revision of the contingencies of reinforcement under which people live. A technology of behavior which would more sucessfully reduce the aversive consequences of behavior, proximate or deferred, and maximize the achievements of which the human organism is capable, but the defenders of freedom oppose its use. The opposition may raise certain questions concerning "values". Who is to decide what is good for man? By whom and to what end? Theser are really questions about reinforcers. Somethings have become "good" during the evolutionary history of the species, and they may be used to induce people to behave for "the good of others". When used to excess, they may be challenged, and teh individual may turn to things good only to him. The challenge may be answered by intesifying the contingencies which generate behavior for the good of others or by pointing to previously neglected individual gains, such as those conceptualized as security, order health, or wisdom. Possibley indirectly, other people bring the individual under the control of some remote consequences of his behavior, and the good of others then redounds to the good of the individual. Another kind of good which makes for human progress remains to be analyzed.

pp. 125-6

The Evolution of Culture

The social environment is what is called culture. It shapes and maintains the behavior of those who live in it. A given culture evolves as new practices arise, possibly for irrelevant reasons, and are selected by their contributions to the strength of the culture as it "competes" with the physical environment and with other cultures. A major step is the emergence of practices which induce members to work for the survival of their culture. Such practices cannot be traced to personal goods, even when used for the good of others, since the survival of culture beyond the lifetime of the individual cannot serve as a source of conditioned reinforcers. Other people may survive the person they induce to act for their good, and the culture whose survival is at issue is often identified with them or their organizations, but the evolution of a culture introduces a and additional kind of good or value. A culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival is more likely to survive. It is a matter of the good the culture, not the individual. Explicit design promotes that good by accelerating the evolutionary process, and since a science and technology of behavior make for better design, they are important "mutations" in the evolution of culture. If there is any purpose or direction in the evolution of culture, it has to do with bringing people under the control of more and more of the consequences of their behavior.

pp 143-4

The Design of Culture

What is Man?


A scientific concept of the subject requires a rethinking of role of man in the Environment. Refers to "Environmentalism" at a time when that term was new, but what is meant is a focus the environment rather than the subject of behavior, i.e. crude behaviourism.

Precis and Prospectus


See Also

en:Metasystem transition