Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner summarized his ideas about the nature of science, the techniques for controlling human behavior, and the possibility of building a happier and more stable society. Convinced that all human behavior is determined by environment and biology, he denied the existence of free will (or freedom) and moral autonomy (or dignity). Indeed, he held that illusions about their existence are harmful, because they militate against the establishment of an effective technology to eliminate harmful forms of behavior. Skinner had already discussed his theories in previous publications, but Beyond Freedom and Dignity had the advantages of being more readable and relatively concise, comprising 215 pages of text. When published in 1971, the book created a great deal of interest and controversy, and it remained on the New York Times best-seller list for eighteen weeks—an unusual occurrence for a theoretical work of this kind.
More than two decades earlier, Skinner had published his utopian novel, Walden Two (1948), in which protagonist T. E. Frazier told about a happy community that utilized Skinnerian principles of control to produce a way of life inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s writings. As was true of many persons in the early 1970’s, Skinner had become alarmed about population growth and environmental degradation, and he wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity...
(The entire section is 1452 words.)
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