Skip to main content

Beyond Freedom and Dignity - A Review


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 engineer.


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 actions.


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.


APA Reference:

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Knopf.

Sutton, G. W. (2024, January 9). Beyond freedom and dignity-review. Retrieved from

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


See Geoffrey Sutton’s books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Follow on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Popular posts from this blog

Denial of Death and the Meaningful Life- Book Review

  The Denial of Death   by Ernest Becker A Review by Geoffrey W. Sutton The prospect of death, Dr. Johnson said, wonderfully concentrates the mind. The main thesis of this book is that it does much more than that: the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.  — Ernest Becker, xvii I completed a recent reading of this old classic yesterday (13 December, 2015) because I was interested in Becker’s contribution to Terror Management Theory, which I find so helpful in understanding the ways U.S. leaders are publicly responding to terrorist activities. Becker’s ideas are more than forty years old and many have not withstood the test of time. However, his basic premise that we deny the reality of death in many ways remains valid

A Christmas Carol offers lessons in Psychology and Faith A Book Review

A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens A Review by Geoffrey W. Sutton My copy of A Christmas Carol was a gift on Christmas day, 1963. Two Christmases before I had walked the cold, fog-laden, smog drenched streets of Old London with my dad whilst my mother visited with her family. It was a grey day and a grey week. We took turns warming parts of our body by fireplaces here and there. After five years in the U.S. we had returned home to London on the occasion of my maternal grandmother’s death.  Dickens’ story paints a familiar tale textured by my early memories and enriched today by having watched my favourite rendition of A Christmas Carol ( 1984 ) with my wife on Christmas eve. My interest in reviewing the book is not just for a pleasant walk about the old streets of London but I'm motivated by a sense of appreciation for the poetic and colourful artistry with which Dickens plumbs the hopes and fears of humanity. So, follow

WILLPOWER Setting & Reaching Goals- Book Review by Sutton

WILLPOWER Rediscovering the Greatest    Human Strength By Roy Baumeister & John Tierney Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton I go to a gym, which is crowded in January. Regulars know the early Happy-New-Year commitments to fitness will weaken sometime in February. Roy Baumeister has spent a good part of his career studying self-control. His book, Willpower   written with Tierney,  entertains and informs us with an organized set of findings explaining factors that influence self-control. Two critical factors weaken our judgments: food and sleep. We need glucose and sleep to be at our best when it comes to making wise decisions and marking progress toward our goals. A pretty woman can loosen a man’s grip on his career--we hear these news stories from time to time as one political group takes aim at each other's leaders--men who failed at sexual self-control and sadly blame women for their lack of self-control. Fat shaming happens. T