© 1995 – Psychology Press
B.F. Skinner died in August 1990. He had been praised as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, but was also attacked by a variety of opponents within and outside the field of psychology. This introduction to his work is first of all a guide to a correct reading of his writings, a reading devoid of the distortions and misinterpretations often conveyed by many commentators, including psychologists. It frames Skinner's contributions with reference to major European traditions in psychological sciences, namely Pavlov, Freud, Lorenz and Piaget. Crucial aspects of Skinner's theory and methodological stands are discussed in the context of contemporary debates: special attention is devoted to the relationship of psychology with biology and the neurosciences, to the cognitivist movement, to the status of language and to the explanation of novelty and creativity in human behaviour.; Finally, Skinner's social and political philosophy is presented with an emphasis on the provocative aspects of an analysis of current social practices which fail to solve most of the urgent problems humankind is confronted with today. Both in science proper and in human affairs at large, Skinner's thought is shown to be not behind, as is often claimed, but ahead of the times, be it in his interactive view of linguistic communication, in his very modern use of the evolutionary analogy to explain the dynamics of behaviour, or in his vision of ecological constraints.
Part 1 Controversial issues and unquestionable contributions: a matter of controversy; sketch for a portrait; the Skinner box. Part 2 Skinner and the European tradition - Pavlov, Freud, Lorenz and Piaget: Pavlov's ambiguous heritage; Freud in Skinner's writings; Skinner and the ethological tradition; Piaget and Skinner - constructivism and behaviourism. Part 3 Touchstones of radical behaviourism: Skinner and biology; from mentalism to cognitivism; the language issue; thought processes and creativity. Part 4 The concern for real-life adventure in Utopia: mental health; education; society and Utopia; freedom at last.