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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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2. Inductivism. The second positive starting point
of behaviorism was the view about scientific method
which Watson shared with the introspectionists whom
he attacked. Wundt and Titchener, the giants of the
introspective school, had been vehement in their am-
bition to base psychology on properly controlled ex-
periments. The general appeal to look into oneself in
order to decide upon psychological questions, which
one can find, for instance, in the controversies between
Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, was not good enough.
Introspective observers had to be carefully trained.
Moreover Titchener argued that they had to be trained
to distinguish pure experience as “existences” from the
“meaning” which it has for men in their ordinary lives.
Unless this could be done psychology would never
arrive at any pure data on which a science of mind
could be created.

This presupposed a certain view of scientific method,
dating back to Bacon, which is often called “induc-
tivism” or “observationalism” (Popper, 1962). The
leading idea of this conception can be summed up in
Titchener's own words: “We are agreed, I suppose, that
scientific method may be summed up in the single word
'observation'; the only way to work in science is to
observe those phenomena which form the subject-
matter of science” (Titchener [1908], p. 175). Watson
himself had basically the same conception of scientific
method. To quote him: “You will find, then, the behav-
iorist working like any other scientist. His sole object
is to gather facts about behavior—verify his data—
subject them both to logic and mathematics (the tool
of every scientist)” (Watson [1924], p. 7). Watson's
basic objection to introspectionism was that it was an
attempt to form a science on very unreliable data about
which experimenters could reach no agreement, and
which purported to reveal facts about a nonexistent
subject matter, namely consciousness. If psychologists
were to start from data provided by rats in mazes they
would at least have a chance of developing a science
on the basis of publicly observable data.

When it came to making generalizations Watson
again showed his inductivist allegiance; for the Baco-
nian view was that generalizations should never go
beyond the data. They should simply record correla-
tions between observables. Thus Watson was as unin-
terested in physiological speculation about intervening
processes as he was hostile to any recourse to unob-
servable mental entities or processes to explain what
could be observed. One should, of course, quantify the


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data if possible and operate mathematically on it. But
this was merely a way of arriving at correlations.