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Beyond Freedom and Dignity

Beyond Freedom and Dignity [Kindle Edition]

B.F. Skinner

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In this profound and profoundly controversial work, a landmark of 20th-century thought originally published in 1971, B. F. Skinner makes his definitive statement about humankind and society.
Insisting that the problems of the world today can be solved only by dealing much more effectively with human behavior, Skinner argues that our traditional concepts of freedom and dignity must be sharply revised. They have played an important historical role in our struggle against many kinds of tyranny, he acknowledges, but they are now responsible for the futile defense of a presumed free and autonomous individual; they are perpetuating our use of punishment and blocking the development of more effective cultural practices. Basing his arguments on the massive results of the experimental analysis of behavior he pioneered, Skinner rejects traditional explanations of behavior in terms of states of mind, feelings, and other mental attributes in favor of explanations to be sought in the interaction between genetic endowment and personal history. He argues that instead of promoting freedom and dignity as personal attributes, we should direct our attention to the physical and social environments in which people live. It is the environment rather than humankind itself that must be changed if the traditional goals of the struggle for freedom and dignity are to be reached.
Beyond Freedom and Dignity urges us to reexamine the ideals we have taken for granted and to consider the possibility of a radically behaviorist approach to human problems—one that has appeared to some incompatible with those ideals, but which envisions the building of a world in which humankind can attain its greatest possible achievements.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904–1990), regarded by many as the most important and influential psychologist since Freud, earned his doctorate in psychology at Harvard University in 1931. Following appointments at the University of Minnesota and Indiana University, he returned to Harvard in 1948. He remained there for the rest of his career, retiring in 1974 as Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology. His many works include Walden Two (1948) and Verbal Behavior (1957).


In this profound and profoundly controversial work, a landmark of 20th-century thought originally published in 1971, B F Skinner makes his definitive statement about humankind and society. The book urges us to re-examine the ideals we have taken for granted and to consider the possibility of a radically behaviourist approach to human problems -- one that has appeared to some incompatible with those ideals, but which envisions the building of a world in which humankind can attain its greatest possible achievements.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 961 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 244 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 0872206270
  • Verlag: Hackett Publishing Co.; Auflage: 1 (28. Februar 2011)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #226.275 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.8 von 5 Sternen  21 Rezensionen
40 von 44 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Provocative philosophy from an American behavorist 15. März 2005
Von Danno - Veröffentlicht auf
B.F. Skinner was the leading experimental psychologist in the United States for a large portion of his career, and his reputation within the field is still formidable. Unlike most scientists, Skinner also chose to write books for a popular audience. And, unlike most so-called "popular scientists" like Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould, Skinner cared more that the layman understood the philosophy behind science, rather than how that particular science worked.

"Beyond Freedom and Dignity" is Skinner's most successful - and controversial work. Skinner's brand of psychology is called Behaviorism for a very good reason - it deals only with objective, measurable behaviors and does not speculate about motivations, drives, dreams, etc. Skinner argues that applied Behaviorism has the potential to solve many seemingly unsolvable problems, such as overpopulation, crime, pollution, and the like. To Skinner, our very concepts of Freedom and Dignity are hindrances because they are abstract ideals that cannot be measured or quantified. It is only when we care about behavior that we have a chance of understanding why human beings do the things that we do and have the potential to truly change society.

I strongly recommend this book, although I do not agree with much of Skinner's philosophy. Skinner wrote clearly, cleanly, and directly. Anyone with a high school diploma or GED could read and understand this book, and engage in a dialogue with Skinner's ideas. I've used chapters of this book in a course in the History of Psychology that I teach, and it never fails to engage people, challenge them, and spur them on to debate. To me, this is what a great book should do. Whether you glorify or villify B.F. Skinner, his ideas are worth grappling with.

I would try a copy at my local library first and then purchase this book if you wish to reread it.
43 von 54 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Toward Knowledge and Usefulness 9. März 2004
Von calmly - Veröffentlicht auf
This is a great book. It argues that:
1) the human race faces great and urgent problems, such as overpopulation and habitat destruction.
2) we don't behave all that well: we're having difficulty addressing the urgent problems.
3) a scientific approach may be able to help.
4) indeed, a "technology of behavior" is being developed and shows promise. This includes Skinner's experimental findings and conclusions, for example, the role of operant conditioning and the limitations of punishment.
5) Using this emerging technology of behavior, individuals can manage themselves better (as Skinner demonstrated with himself). As a race, we should also be able to use this technology to manage ourselves collectively better.
6) We are being managed (i.e. controlled) anyway, often by forces we either aren't aware of or don't grasp the impact of.
7) If we took control of this technology of behavior, applying it as it is and developing it further, we might be able to save ourselves from the urgent problems that confront us.
8) A key obstacle to the application and further development of this technology is our belief that we are somehow ultimately free of external causes. We believe in free will (freedom or autonomy) and consequently we take credit ( feel dignity) for things we really don't have much or any control over.
9) If we look at the explanations we offer on the basis of our freedom and dignity, we may see that they cover up huge areas of ignorance we have as to why we behave as we do. And if we look at our behavior, we see that we don't control it as much as we think we can (consider the problem people have with obesity or addiction) and we take credit for things we aren't responsible for (including what now appear to be genetic endowments).
10) By attributing things to our "free will", we tend to ignore the real events that influence us, and by so doing we fail to learn from them.
11) If we worked together to look at what really is influencing us and at how we do and can influence others, we might be able to shift ourselves toward being more altruistic and more effective, i.e. we might be able to overcome the big problems that we are currently creating.
Better ways of managing ourselves may mean better ways to manipulate others, but it may also mean that people will be better informed so as to counter manipulations and join, where appropriate, in managing themselves better. At least with an open, scientific process, we have a chance of learning and improving the process ourselves, instead of floundering into disasters due to half-baked concepts about ourselves.
It may make no sense to you to chuck your "autonomous person" yet, but there's no need to. The important thing is to take a little time to learn what Skinner and other behaviorists have learned and try to apply it to help yourself ... and others. You may find yourself stepping beyond freedom and dignity toward knowledge and usefulness ... and that may feel like a good thing.
15 von 19 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Wonderful departure from ridiculous psychology 4. Juli 2002
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This book, like everything else produced during the era, has that '70s aura of doom and gloom about it, but that's no reason to get twisted in the details like the previous reviewer. Skinner points out what's been right in front of our noses all along--always a sign of true brilliance.
The world abounds with examples that prove his main point: that humans are not strictly 'free', nor can we ever be. We can chose to accept the obvious and exert some conscious control over the 'contingencies' of our behavior, or we can continue to stick our head in the sand and refuse to believe that we are subject to many of the same rules of design as other animals...well-trodden ground previously occupied by critics of Darwin, most notably.
12 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Critique 29. Mai 2006
Von Aron D. Gerhart - Veröffentlicht auf
I will admit, I was somewhat skeptical when I began reading Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity. I expected Skinner's writing to be adamant and presumptuous in dealing with human nature as a stimulus-response reaction. Skinner's ideas and views, however, are highly credible and not as "radical" as one would think those of a radical behaviorist might be. I have condensed Skinner's book into a brief synopsis and personal reaction of five sections: technology of behavior, freedom and dignity, punishment and alternatives, evolution and design of culture, and the idea of man.

Skinner begins this book with an overview of behavioral technology. He points out that the physical and biological sciences have solved any problems facing human nature though the utilization of technology. A similar type technology should be applied to behavior though a scientific analysis as opposed to abstract concepts such as states of mind and feelings. At this point, Skinner transits the responsibility from autonomous man to the environment.

One would assume that the goal of any first chapter in a book would be to grasp the reader's attention. This is exactly what this does. I am reminded of Hippocratic doctrine of the four humors when Skinner discusses early biological science. He compares the early physical and biological sciences to modern behavioral science. I am also intrigued, because Skinner begins to discuss potential ways to use behavioral technology to create a utopian society.

The next sections deal with freedom and dignity. Skinner states that the literature on freedom has made the mistake of defining freedom in terms of states of mind or feelings. Skinner defines the struggle for freedom as the avoidance of or escape from aversive features of the environment. Skinner also states that people commonly recognize the concept of dignity as a person's worth when deserving credit for actions. However, when people are the products of their environments, dignity should not be a concern, because ultimately, people are not autonomous.

Again, I found there to be much validity in Skinner's writings. What is interesting is that there are schools of thought built entirely around the concept of freedom (e.g., existentialism), stressing its importance. Skinner claims that no creatures possess free will; this is very bold statement. I also found his views of dignity interesting. He claims that more dignity is given to individuals when the causes of their achievements are less conspicuous. In retrospective, I find this to be mostly true.

Skinner then begins to discuss punishment and alternatives to punishment. He points out that the most commonly used technique for constructing, or manipulating, human behavior is negative reinforcement and punishment. According to Skinner, these punitive techniques can be maladaptive. He then explains that nonpunitive contingencies (e.g., positive reinforcement) are commendable alternatives to negative reinforcement and punishment.

I agree with Skinner's claim that nonpunitive contingencies are not commonly used to mold behavior, because this would somehow be viewed by society as manipulative, which subsequently, would reduce freedom. In turn, punishment is not viewed as "controlling;" people still have the option to choose. He gave much evidence to support this, and these comments, in my opinion, are true. However, I did not particularly like the way that Skinner made the assertion that positive reinforcement could be used to better society. I did not like this, because he said nothing to back up this claim. An entire chapter of this book was devoted to potential alternatives to punishment but never was an alternative created other than the broad category of positive reinforcement. In addition, I do not agree with Skinner's belief that those who defend the literature of freedom and dignity are those who attempt to control, or manipulate, people. I am not even sure why this was stated, and again, there is no evidence to support this statement in his book.

Skinner then focuses on the evolution and design of a culture. He compares the evolution of a culture to the evolution of a species. Basically, both culture and species propagate those traits which lead to better or longer survival. In his design of a culture, he basically applies most of the previous concepts. He states that in his design, different cultures would be separated geographically with no form of authoritarian government and people would be very frugal and economic (i.e., they would produce only what was needed and would only consume small, practical potions of the natural resources).

I particularly enjoyed Skinner's application of evolution to culture. I found his design of a culture to be interesting but not particularly impressive. It is too simplistic, much like the utopian designs that Skinner initially criticizes. I do agree with Skinner's belief that a science of behavior could and should be exercised in creating a culture.

Skinner then focuses the last portion of his book on a question: what is man? He explains that the role of environment does not abolish man. It abolishes the autonomous, inner man. He claims that this understanding is would lead to scientific progress. He also states that man is not a passive product of the environment, because the environment is ultimately of man's own making.

This last section is basically a redundancy of previous concepts. It did serve, however, as an effective closing for his arguments. One thing I might point out is that I did not particularly care for his statement that man is controlled by his/her environment and, at the same time, man is responsible for his/her environment. This seems to me like a very circular explanation (i.e., a is the cause of b, and b is the cause of a) that was just inserted to please some of the more anti-behaviorist readers.

Overall, Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity is a very persuasive book with some very innovative concepts. I can reluctantly, but honestly, admit that I cannot entirely refute any off his proclamations. Skinner does not deny the role of nature or of cognitive processes in his assumptions, which is something that I did not come to expect in reading this book. I have, however, pointed out a few slight weaknesses in his arguments. After finishing this book, I am fully aware as to why this book is deemed a classic in the scientific community.
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Very interesting and thought-provoking book, but there's a lot I didn't agree with 20. März 2014
Von zkcom1 - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
I really liked this book. Skinner makes some excellent points about things I've always thought about, and his way of looking at why people believe the way they do reflects what I've thought for a long time. I'd say I can agree with pretty much everything in the first half of the book where he talks about environmental causes for behavior, and how there's very little left for what people think of as "free will".

Towards the end of the book, he turns to his proposal of doing something about it, and controlling populations with what has been learned about behavior. He feels that if something isn't done soon, something very bad is going to happen and it'll practically be the end of civilization.

First of all, we've made it this far without that, and we have made great progress, as he himself writes in the book. So I'm not quite sure why he thinks we're on the brink of disaster when we're really at the highest level of progress than has ever existed. Why would we suddenly urgently need help from a psychologist after all these years? But, I do understand there are concerns of overpopulation, and of course war is still a neverending reality in the world. So I can understand someone wanting to do things to make life better and avoid catastrophe.

Secondly, I don't like the idea of populations being controlled by mental scientists. If governments want to take some tips from psychologists every now and then, sure. But the way Skinner describes controlling people sounds a little frightening if done by the wrong hands. And you know power always DOES end up in the wrong hands eventually. It's a nice idea, but we're not even close to being experts enough on it to execute it successfully, and even if we were, we could not trust our lives to the controllers. Autonomous man may be a myth, but I still think a society of people living as if they were autonomous is still preferable to one that has its strings being pulled by controlling psychologists.

Having said all that, I'd still recommend this book to anyone and it's really thought provoking.
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Behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences. Once this fact is recognized, we can formulate the interaction between organism and environment in a much more comprehensive way. &quote;
Markiert von 18 Kindle-Nutzern
Behavior which operates upon the environment to produce consequences (operant behavior) can be studied by arranging environments in which specific consequences are contingent upon it. &quote;
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In one form or another intentional aversive control is the pattern of most social coordinationin ethics, religion, government, economics, education, psychotherapy, and family life. &quote;
Markiert von 16 Kindle-Nutzern

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