Skinner and Freud: What is the Nature of Human Nature? (SF paper)
With respect to the question of whether humans are fundamentally “good,” “bad,” or neutral, B.F. Skinner and Sigmund Freud had very different perspectives. Freud, especially in his later years, had an extremely pessimistic view of humans as innately aggressive. Skinner’s neutral view, with its emphasis on the role of the social environment in determining human behavior, contrasts with the perspective of Freud. Each wrote books in the aftermath of a devastating world war. Freud presented his dark view of the human condition in Civilization and its Discontents, while Skinner presented his relatively optimistic view in Walden Two. Each work included the psychologist’s view of the relationship of the individual to society; with differing perspectives, for example, on the feasibility of a communist-type society.
The goal of this assignment is to compare and contrast these two views of the human condition, and to explore aspects of both psychologists’ own personality and life experiences which might have led to his views.
Your answer to this question should include the following:
(1) How was Skinner’s position on human nature, as presented in his novel Walden Two, essentially neutral. Include in your answer a description of the “behavioral engineering” that lies at the foundation of Walden Two, and show how behavioral engineering is based on Skinner’s principle of reinforcement, which in turn is based on Thorndike’s Law of Effect. Focus especially on techniques for the control of emotions (see especially pages 86-137, and 197-301). Be sure to describe specific examples, and to make explicit how they reflect the principle of reinforcement.
(2) What are the implications of Skinner’s perspective for the relationship of the individual to society—for example, given this perspective on human nature, do you think Skinner would believe that communist societies are feasible?
(3) What are some influences—both intellectual and personal—on Skinner’s adoption of a behaviorist view?
(1) Show how Freud’s view of human nature was far from neutral, and be sure to include how his views changed over the course of his life. Your answer should focus on Freud’s theory of the id: Describe his pre-war view of the id, as exemplified in Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, and compare it to his post-war view, as we read about it in Chapter VI of Civilization and Its Discontents.
(2) What are the different implications of this perspective (versus Skinner’s) for the relationship of the individual to society?
(3) What intellectual and personal influences affected Freud’s original and changed views of human nature?
Your own view:
Of the two positions on human nature that you have written about above, which one do you agree with most? Here are some issues that you may want to include in your answer:
(1) What are some aspects of your own life that have been governed by the principles of reinforcement? Give examples with respect to: your family life, your education, your exposure to technology…Have they been helpful or unhelpful in your personal development? How so? Would you choose to raise your own children along these lines? Why/why not?
(2) Would you like to live in Walden Two? Why? Why not?
(3) Do you think William (and his brother Henry) James would have produced the same type of work if they’d been brought up in Walden Two? What are the implications of your answer for your evaluation of the two positions on human nature?
(4) Are there specific aspects of Freud’s early versus later views of human nature that you agree/disagree with? Do you think Freud was right to consider Eros and Thanatos to be universal instincts (the same across genders, families, societies)? How does your answer relate to Freud’s attitude toward communism?
In constructing your answer, the more evidence you give the better. For example, a strong answer to question (2) would include a comparison of Skinner’s fictional community to the outcome of actual communities modeled after Walden Two; a strong answer to question (4) might present evidence, for example, on similarities/differences across genders, families, societies…
Last, how do you think your own personality and life experiences have shaped your answer to this question?
The structure of the paper must include the following:
I. An introductory paragraph in which you present your thesis statement. The paragraph should begin with a sentence or two that grabs the interest of the reader, and ends with one or two sentences that are “pointers” for the reader (such as “In what follows I will…”).
II. The body of the paper, in which you address the specific questions posed above.
You must justify your answer with quotes from the readings. Extra credit will be given for using external sources. These must be either books, or papers in peer-reviewed journals.
III. A concluding paragraph, in which you summarize the gist of your essay.
The entire paper must be 8-9 pages, double-spaced, printed in Times New Roman, font size 12. Be sure to include short quotes from the readings to support your points. Most important, be sure to cite all sources, using the APA format (to be discussed in class). When you turn in your final version you must also re-submit the draft with my corrections on it.