MacCorquodale (1970) - JOURNAL OF THE EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOR 1970 13 83-99 NUMBER I(JANUARY ON CHOMSKY'S REVIEW OF SKINNER'S VERBAL BEHAVIOR

MacCorquodale (1970) - JOURNAL OF THE EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS...

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JOURNAL OF THE EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOR ON CHOMSKY'S REVIEW OF SKINNER'S VERBAL BEHAVIOR KENNETH MACCORQUODALE1' 2 UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA Skinner's book, Verbal Behavior, was pub- lished in 1957. Chomsky's review of it ap- peared in 1959. By the criterion of seminal influence in generating controversy and stimu- lating publication, both must be counted ma- jor successes, although the reputation and influence of the review are more widely ac- knowledged. It has been reprinted at least three times (The Bobbs-Merrill Reprint Series in the Social Sciences, No. A-34; Fodor and Katz, 1964; Jakobovits and Miron, 1967), and Chomsky has recently written (in Jakobovits and Miron, 1967, p. 142) that he would take back little of it if he were rewriting it now. Skinner's Verbal Behavior is an analysis of speech in terms of its "controlling relations" which include the speaker's current motiva- tional state, his current stimulus circum- stances, his past reinforcements, and his ge- netic constitution. Skinner has accepted the constraints of natural science in his basic ana- lytical apparatus in that all of its terms are empirically definable. He intends to account only for the objective dimensions of verbal be- havior and to invoke only objective, nonmen- talistic and nonhypothetical entities to account for it. The notion of control, anathema to the politically oversensitive, means only "causa- tion" in its purely functional sense, and need not alarm. It is not arguable nor criticizable that behavior is an orderly, controlled datum, sensitive to the circumstances of the behaver; 1I am greatly indebted to Professor Stephen Winokur who read an earlier version of this paper and made many valuable suggestions. 2Preparation of this paper was supported in part by grants to the University of Minnesota Center for Re- search in Human Learning from the National Science Foundation (GS-1761) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD-01136) and the Graduate School of the University of Minne- sota. Reprints may be obtained from the author, De- partment of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Elli- ott Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455. this is simply a fact which has been amply con- firmed. Chomsky's review was, to put it mildly, dis- pleased. It was also a virtuoso performance whose echoes are still reverberating in psychol- ogy and whose dust has still not settled after 10 years. It has two parts. The first is an ex- tended criticism of the basic analytical appa- ratus which Skinner brought to verbal behav- ior. So much occupies over one-half of the lengthy paper; the second part is a brief, actu- ally rather casual, criticism of the application itself, as if the demolition of the basic explana- tory apparatus had made serious discussion of its relevance to verbal behavior superfluous.
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