In an earlier post, I said something about what I am not. Now it is time to say something about what I am.
Psychologists tend to divide themselves into cognitivists and behaviorists. The behaviorists study behavior of people or of experimental animals. Cognitivists tend to study beliefs, thoughts, and the like. It sometimes seems as if those two groups are at war. Cognitivists are often pointing out what they see as flaws in behaviorism, while behaviorists are often pointing out what they see as follies in cognitivism. It sometimes seems to me that each side is about right in its criticism of the other side.
The terminology from psychology has been carried over into philosophy, so that some philosophers consider themselves behaviorists and others consider themselves cognitivists or mentalists. For example, Quine is sometimes said to be a behaviorist. The term “behaviorism” seems to be rather broader as used in philosophy than its counterpart in psychology.
Traditionally, philosophers describe knowledge as justified true belief, and idea that apparently goes back to Plato. That’s a cognitivist (or mentalist) view of knowledge, in that knowledge is defined in terms of beliefs (or mental states). I have often indicated my dislike for that way of looking at knowledge.
Perhaps the classic case for behaviorism in philosophy, was that made by Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 monograph “The Concept of Mind.” Ryle was criticizing Cartesian dualism, which he described as the idea of the ghost in the machine. As part of his critique, he suggested that knowledge should be described in terms of knowing how (or knowledge as ability) rather than in terms of knowing that (knowledge as belief). I see that as a far more useful way of looking at knowledge. And that’s part of what makes me a behaviorist.
My interest in such questions comes from my interest in human cognition. I have tried to look at cognition in terms of how it might have evolved, and how understand the evolution of cognition, intelligence, etc, might help us better understand cognition itself. Evolution is usually described in terms of natural selection. And it has seemed to me that nature wouldn’t give two hoots about our beliefs. Rather, it would be our behavior that is selected for by evolutionary processes. So the behaviorist viewpoint seems to be a natural fit.