Behaviourists (like Watson and Skinner) would disagree with the idea of the existence of a mind or even mental states- claiming that these are simply the behaviours we emit at a given time. For example, when people would say ‘Bob is happy’ behaviourists would claim that this is not in reference to any mental or internal states of Bob, but instead the behaviours Bob is displaying that we have been conditioned to group into the term ‘happy’. Therefore, from this, ‘Bob is happy’ becomes ‘Bob is smiling, talkative, is discussing positively, is laughing alot etc.’. This is a materialist point of view as it reduces what we would call the mind to physical patterns.
In response to Descartes, behaviousists claim that he made a ‘category mistake’ i.e. he has separated two things which are in fact one. So he believes that the body is one thing, the mind another when in fact, the attributes he would give to the mind are actually those of the body.
The first response against behaviourism is that they are wrong in claiming that the words used for mental states such as ‘happy’ or ‘confused’ can really be reduced to one set of behaviour, applicable to everyone in all situations.
For example, in one situation ‘Fred is sad’ would refer to the fact that Fred is crying and complaining about something.
However, when we say ‘Jonny is sad’, this may instead mean that Jonny isn’t talking much or socialising at all.
So for beaviourists to say that the language of mental states can be, as it were, converted into a list of behaviours, doesn’t completely work when applying it to real life situations.
Equally, what behaviour are we referring to with more generic terms such as ‘Richard is clever’?
The idea that behaviourism is false can be broken into two main arguments:
1. Behaviour is not a necessary condition of having mental states
This argument suggests that behaviour can be hidden but the mental state still takes place- for instance, when not wanting to show your reaction to a situation.
Putnam takes this to the extreme by describing two races which refuse to show their mental states of pain. Firstly, the super spartans are a race which, when feeling pain from anything, have become able to suppress any outward signs of this in order to preserve the dignity that would be lost from showing this (however, in secret, would admit that an earlier instance of pain did in fact hurt).
The super-super spartans are near equal to this yet would never even admit in private to have ever felt any pain in any situation.
This demonstrates to the behaviourist that there must be mental states separate to behaviour as these states can be felt without any outward sign of this.
2. Behaviour is not a sufficient condition of having mental states
In opposition to the first part of the false argument, this puts forward the idea that behaviour of a mental state could be shown without having felt any kind of emotions or idea of pain etc.
For instance, zombies, or something equally similar to humans such as robots, would show the signs of a mental state such as smiling the show the idea of ‘happy’ or crying to show the idea of ‘sadness’ yet don’t have in the inner thoughts or feelings that humans would instinctively associate with these behaviours.
This would mean that the behaviourists would have to see humans and these zombies as essentially the same thing, as they must purely judge on behaviour, which seems ridiculous.
Personally, I would agree with behaviourists to the extent that we do seem to judge others mental states based on their actions and so when we say that another person is happy we are simply referring to what we have seen of them and what we know of how they act when thinking a certain way etc. However, a problem arises when having to accept that we can only judge our own emotions in the same way. I know that I don’t have to observe or even be conscious of my own behaviour in order to understand that I am happy or sad, and I can certainly feel one way yet act another. This would therefore suggest that there must be some separation between the physical behaviour of a person and their emotions or ‘mental state’. Although I can’t be certain that others equally have an inward feeling before showing an outward response, surely this is a logical assumption to make. Though, it is doubtful of whether these mental states exist within a mind or whether they are simply just a result of purely phsycial cerebral processes.