Beyond Freedom and Dignity
Author: B.F. Skinner
Geoffrey W. Sutton
B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971) challenges traditional ideas about human autonomy and self-determination.
Skinner asserts that our behaviors are not driven by an inherent sense of
freedom or dignity, but rather by environmental contingencies.
I observed a somewhat humorous example of Skinner’s
influence on psychology in the 1970s when I was in graduate school. A colleague
in school psychology relied heavily upon reinforcement theory as he helped
teachers with classroom management and identified himself as a behavioral
In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner
argues for a more orderly structuring of society, especially through the
implementation of psychological research. As a proponent of radical behaviorism,
he posits that humans are controlled by their environment and their DNA. He
suggests that if society wishes to improve its collective habits, it must
change its environment.
Skinner criticizes the idea of free will
and morality, arguing that human behavior is influenced by the environment and
not some internal force or thought. He believes that it is naive to assume that
something which cannot be seen by the human eye has a big influence on our
Skinner discusses operant conditioning,
explaining how children are learn to act and behave when they are young and
believes that the same process may be applied to adults. If human beings can learn
(i.e., be conditioned) to behave in a certain way, society can be better.
Skinner contends that the results are
rarely positive when individuals and societies make life decisions based on their
passions or ego. He proposes the need for “a technology of behavior.
With modern scientific research, society can be structured in a way to promote
wise human behaviors.
Skinner calls the people shaping society to
be benevolent engineers. He acknowledges that the power to shape society
through behaviorism can be used for positive or nefarious purposes; however, he
was criticized for not elaborating on how this power could be abused.
Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond Freedom
and Dignity. New York: Knopf.
Sutton, G. W. (2024, January 9). Beyond freedom and dignity-review. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2024/01/beyond-freedom-and-dignity-review.html
Note. I read a hardcover edition of the book. I
used Bing Chat to assist me in preparing this summary.
Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is www.suttong.com
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