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Article
Marxism and Behaviorism: Ideological Parallels
Dialogue
  • Stephen Paul Foster, Ph.D., Wright State University - Main Campus
Document Type
Article
Publication Date
10-1-1978
Description
Marxism, as a philosophical system, attempts to provide an accurate analysis of man and his social institutions. Behaviorism, as a system of psychology, claims that its method is fundamental to an understanding of human nature. Both systems justify their claims on the grounds that they are employing methods which are scientific in character. Marxism bases its method on historical analysis, maintaining that history unfolds in an orderly, predictable manner and that a proper analysis of it reveals scientific laws. The general methodology of the natural sciences is the model for behaviorism. Behaviorists point to the successes of the natural sciences and claim that they employ the scientific method thoroughly and more consistently than any previous or current psychology. Moreover, they claim that behavioristic psychology has been mindful of and faithful to the scientific goals of predictability and control of the subject matter and has advanced the study of human psychology to the extent that it can call itself objective and genuinely scientific. The use of the term "Marxism" in this paper will refer to the thought and writings of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. B. F. Skinner will be the principal representative of behaviorism. It is the authors contention that both Marxism and behaviorism as complete views of man (which they both claim to be) are forms of dogmatic ideology. The author will take the term "ideology" generally as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it "ideal or abstract speculation; in a deprecatory sense, unpractical or visionary theorizing or speculation." The author would emphasize the term "visionary" in this definition and apply it to both Marxism and behaviorism to emphasize the fact that both systems extend their visions into political programs, that is, both envisage their systems as potential social systems which vastly improve human conditions. The author will take the term "ideology" specifically to apply to a system of thought in which the political dimension is connected to the whole system in such a way that it serves as a moral postulate for the entire system and, in effect, closes it off such that to question the presuppositions is to betray vital moral-political purpose. While this characterization has long been conceded by many to be true of Marxism (we frequently hear of Marxist ideology) it has not been widely extended to the system of behaviorism. Yet the author believes that behaviorism suffers from a similar flaw, one in which a methodological rigidity is tied to a social theory and as a consequence inhibits the development of creative intellectual activity. The author proposes to examine Marxist and behaviorist thinking and draw what the author thinks are significant parallels. The author shall do this by developing three separate points: (I) Marxism and behaviorism as sciences (II) Marxism and behaviorism as social philosophies (III) Marxism and behaviorism as ideologies.
Citation Information
Stephen Paul Foster. "Marxism and Behaviorism: Ideological Parallels" Dialogue Vol. 21 Iss. 1 (1978) p. 1 - 8 ISSN: 0012-2173
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/stephen_foster/8/