Our Growing Timeline
The scholars and texts we've examined so far include:
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), The Meditations (1641).
(And, one essential influence on all of them is Charles Darwin
(1809-1882) and his work Origin of the Species (1859).)
William James (1842-1910), "What is an Emotion?" (1884) and "Talks
to Teachers" (1899).
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Civilization and its Discontents
B. F. Skinner (1904-1990), Walden II (1948).
A Potted History of Ideas
Thoughts and questions for Walden II
- A few features about Freud's psychoanalysis that we noted are
that it depends upon
- reports of introspection (which is fallible
but taken to be still reliable in some ways);
- a method which is
arguably not falsifiable, or at least very hard to test; and
rich theoretical posits (which are not observed directly but
proposed as part of explanations).
- Behaviorism is in part a reaction to introspectionism, psychoanalysis,
and other theories dependent upon what appeared to be
unscientific or otherwise dubious methods.
- Behaviorist's adhere instead to a theory which includes a commitment
(Please note: I'm not defining Behaviorism there -- just describing
some of its intellectual perspective.)
- Rejection of introspection, and limiting observations
to measurable, objective (third-person verifiable) criteria;
- Adherence to testable, measurable claims evaluated
in control laboratory conditions;
- Commitment to minimal theoretical posits.
- Behaviorists tend to treat the mind as a black box -- they want
to avoid any but the most absolutely minimal speculation about what
is in the mind. This minimum is conditioning: they assume that much
or all human behavior can be explained with classical and operational
- This minimal theoretical positing means that the behaviorists
tended to think the human mind is very malleable, with minimal
biological inheritance. From this, we see a sharp contrast in Walden
II with Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents. For Freud,
our drives explain most of the form of civilization; for Skinner, our
civilization explains most of the form of our minds.
Consider these as you read....
- We will examine a Skinnerian utopia from the outside in, starting
with minor features and working our way towards the more radical claims.
- Fashion might seem trivial, but it is an interesting first
case, representing an important feature of the whole economy in
small form. Skinner portrays fashion as manufacturing accelerated
false needs and a homogenizing of the market. By slowing it and
encouraging heterogeneity, he implicitly claims, we will work less
and be equally or even more satisfied.
- Could we have a society that worked well with 4 hours of labor
a day? Why or why not? What do we do with our gains in productivity?
- What does Frazier mean when he says "we avoid the goat and
- The raising of the children is critical. If we start with
the assumption that we should posit the minimal internal structures to
explain mind, at least as our starting point -- then if that starting
place were to prove sufficient, we'd end up with many of our patterns
of behavior being best explained by how we learned from our society.
Skinner naturally starts from a top down (as opposed to Freud's bottom
up) view of how mind's come to be the way they are.
- What are they trying to teach with the soup and lollypop
- Chapter 17, and some of the earlier chapters, begin a discussion of
the family. Frazier describes a system in which children are raised
communally, and parents are encouraged to not show special consideration
to their own children over others. Is this possible? What do you think
the sociobiologists will predict would happen in such an experiment?
- Frazier offers a simple, perhaps simplistic account of the good life
in chapter 20. Is it accurate? There's something a bit tricky here: we
need to separate the claim that what humans need to flourish is an empirical
matter from any claim that the good can be defined or understood empirically.
For example, his account of the good life is plausible; but he gives no
defense of their complete commitment to equality other than that it leads
to the good life for everyone or most. This is very reasonable, but it
does rely upon an ethical principle that is not empirical (something like
the most benefit for the greatest number -- something which Frazier oddly
mocks). Castle is a straw-philosopher; he clings to his ideas but can't
defend them. The defense is simple: some do not believe that the most
fundamental ethical axioms are empirical, and so experiments could not help.
For example, Nietzsche would hate Walden 2 because it would not foster
dominating overmen; there is no experiment that could decide between Frazier's
egalitarianism and Nietzsche's aristocracism.
- Could the highly unstructured education system at Walden 2 work? Would it work
for us? (See chapter 15)
- Who is Malthus (mentioned at end of chapter 16)? What is
Frazier's argument regarding population control (and the lack of need
for it)? (It's very surprising, given the commitment to behaviorism.)
- Looking back now over chapters 13 -20ish, what is Skinner/Frazier's view
of emotions? Are they socially constructed? Inherited? Something else?
- What about the narrator and Castle's concerns about the greater society?
What role would it play in Walden 2? Also, Frazier does not want to grow
faster if it means changing their labor requirements (circa p 214). But this
makes me wonder: what about competition with other social structures? Are
they in competition with them, and if so what does that mean?
- Do you believe Frazier, that we can have a society without heros
and leaders (chapter 27)?
- Is Walden 2 an anarchist society?
- Frazier claims the world wars were fought because "The world is trying
to adjust to a new conception of man in relation to men" (P 240). Is this
plausible? Is it true?
- Is a science of behavior dangerous, as Castle believes? (Chapter 29)
- The Big Question. Frazier says, "I deny that freedom exists at
all" (p 241; see also circa page 279). Why would a behaviorist say
this? Is it true? If not, is that a problem for behaviorism? (I will
note that Skinner is smart enough in the following pages to understand
what many do not: that unpredictable is not the same as
- Frazier argues that you cannot have a society which is despotic
which serves people's needs and provides only positive reinforcement
(circa page 255). Is this true? I can't help but wonder about the
possibility for a kind of despositism of advertising.
- Are the social codes of Walden 2 oppressive? Do we avoid social
codes by staying out of Walden 2, as Castle implies? (See circa page
- Would you choose to live in Walden 2 -- if it worked as described? If
it worked as you expect it really would?