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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378

Almost all major problems involve human behavior, and they cannot be solved by physical and biological technology alone. What is needed is a technology of human behavior.

In the above quote, Skinner argues for the importance of his theory of behaviorism, the idea that conditioning and reinforcement are able to...

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Almost all major problems involve human behavior, and they cannot be solved by physical and biological technology alone. What is needed is a technology of human behavior.

In the above quote, Skinner argues for the importance of his theory of behaviorism, the idea that conditioning and reinforcement are able to modify human behavior in beneficial ways. Skinner believed scientific methods could be applied to humans to build a better and more rational society.

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.

Skinner did not believe individuals were autonomous beings with free wills who could make their own decisions and be held responsible (punished) for misbehavior. He emphasized instead the positive reinforcement of socially desirable behaviors as well as training in beneficial behaviors, such as impulse control and self discipline.

A scientific view of man offers exciting possibilities. We have not yet seen what man can make of man.

Skinner believed applying science to human behavior would open up exciting new vistas in engineering a better, even a utopian, society. He thought we were at the dawn of a new age in structuring society. Social engineering would no longer be haphazard, with social environment merely seen as a backdrop, but the impact of environment on the individual would be foregrounded and controlled.

By questioning the control exercised by autonomous man and demonstrating the control exercised by the environment, a science of behavior also seems to question dignity or worth. A person is responsible for his behavior, not only in the sense that he may be justly blamed or punished when he behaves badly, but also in the sense that he is to be given credit and admired for his achievements. A scientific analysis shifts the credit as well as the blame to the environment, and traditional practices can then no longer be justified. These are sweeping changes, and those who are committed to traditional theories and practices naturally resist them.

Once again, Skinner argues against the idea of autonomous individualism and in favor of a vision of humankind as primarily shaped by its social environment. Change the environment and you change the individual. Change enough individuals and you change the world.

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