Functional contextualism

Last updated

Functional contextualism is a modern philosophy of science rooted in philosophical pragmatism and contextualism. It is most actively developed in behavioral science in general and the field of behavior analysis and contextual behavioral science in particular (see the entry for the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science). Functional contextualism serves as the basis of a theory of language known as relational frame theory [1] and its most prominent application, acceptance and commitment therapy. [2] It is an extension and contextualistic interpretation of B.F. Skinner's radical behaviorism first delineated by Steven C. Hayes which emphasizes the importance of predicting and influencing psychological events (including thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) with precision, scope, and depth, by focusing on manipulable variables in their context.

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

Pragmatism Philosophical movement

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. Its origins are often attributed to the philosophers William James, John Dewey, and Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce later described it in his pragmatic maxim: "Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object."

Contextualism describes a collection of views in philosophy which emphasize the context in which an action, utterance, or expression occurs, and argues that, in some important respect, the action, utterance, or expression can only be understood relative to that context. Contextualist views hold that philosophically controversial concepts, such as "meaning P", "knowing that P", "having a reason to A", and possibly even "being true" or "being right" only have meaning relative to a specified context. Some philosophers hold that context-dependence may lead to relativism; nevertheless, contextualist views are increasingly popular within philosophy.

Contents

Contextualism

The form of contextualism from which functional contextualism emerged is the one described by the philosopher Stephen C. Pepper in his book World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. [3] In this work, Pepper noted that philosophical systems tend to cluster around a few distinct "world hypotheses" or "world views". Each world view is characterized by a distinctive underlying root metaphor and truth criterion. Root metaphors are based on seemingly well-understood, common-sense, everyday objects or ideas, and serve as the basic analogy by which an analyst attempts to understand the world. A world view's root metaphor roughly corresponds to its ontological assumptions, or views about the nature of being or existence (e.g., whether the universe is deterministic or not). Truth criteria are inextricably linked to their root metaphors, and provide the basis for evaluating the validity of analyses. A world view's truth criterion roughly corresponds to its epistemological assumptions, or views about the nature of knowledge and truth (e.g., whether it is discovered or constructed).

World Hypotheses: a study in evidence is a book written by Stephen Pepper, published in 1942.

A world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung[ˈvɛltʔanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ](listen), composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung. The German word is also used in English.

The root metaphor of contextualism is the "act in context", whereby any event is interpreted as an ongoing act inseparable from its current and historical context. The truth criterion of contextualism is often dubbed "successful working", whereby the truth and meaning of an idea lies in its function or utility, not in how well it is said to mirror reality. In contextualism, an analysis is said to be true or valid insofar it as it leads to effective action, or achievement of some goal. Contextualism is Pepper's term for the philosophical pragmatism developed by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and others.

Charles Sanders Peirce American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist

Charles Sanders Peirce was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for thirty years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, and semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.

William James American philosopher, psychologist, and pragmatist

William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labelled the "Father of American psychology".

John Dewey American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer

John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dewey as the 93rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics. He was a major educational reformer for the 20th century.

Varieties of contextualism

Analytic goals are vitally important to the contextualistic world view. This is because the analytic tools of contextualism—its root metaphor and truth criterion—both hinge on the purpose of the analysis, and neither can be mounted effectively without a clearly specified analytic goal. The pragmatic truth criterion of "successful working" is rendered meaningless in an analysis without an explicit goal because "success" can only be measured in relation to the achievement of some objective. [4]

Likewise, the root metaphor of the "act-in-context" is rendered meaningless in an analysis without an explicit goal because there would be no basis on which to restrict the analysis to a subset of the infinite expanse of the act's historical and environmental context. [5] Without a clear analytic goal, the contextualist could analyze the endless context of an act in perpetuity, without ever knowing when the analysis was complete or good enough to be deemed "true" or "useful". It is very difficult for a contextualist without an explicit goal to construct or share knowledge.

Contextualists can, and do, adopt different analytic goals, and the many different varieties of contextualism can be distinguished by their goals. [6] Based on their overarching analytic goals, contextualistic theories can be divided into two general categories: "descriptive contextualism" and "functional contextualism".

Descriptive contextualism

Descriptive contextualists seek to understand the complexity and richness of a whole event through a personal and aesthetic appreciation of its participants and features. This approach reveals a strong adherence to the root metaphor of contextualism and can be likened to the enterprise of history, in which stories of the past are constructed in an attempt to understand whole events. The knowledge constructed by the descriptive contextualist is personal, ephemeral, specific, and spatiotemporally restricted. [7] Like a historical narrative, it is knowledge that reflects an in-depth personal understanding of a particular event that occurred (or is occurring) at a particular time and place. Most forms of contextualism, including social constructionism, dramaturgy, hermeneutics, and narrative approaches, are instances of descriptive contextualism.

Functional contextualism

Functional contextualists, on the other hand, seek to predict and influence events using empirically based concepts and rules. This approach reveals a strong adherence to contextualism's extremely practical truth criterion and can be likened to the enterprise of science or engineering, in which general rules and principles are used to predict and influence events. Rules or theories that do not contribute to the achievement of one's practical goals are ignored or rejected. Knowledge constructed by the functional contextualist is general, abstract, and spatiotemporally unrestricted. [8] Like a scientific principle, it is knowledge that is likely to be applicable to all (or many) similar such events, regardless of time or place.

Related Research Articles

Cognitive science interdisciplinary scientific study of the mind and its processes

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary, scientific study of the mind and its processes. It examines the nature, the tasks, and the functions of cognition. Cognitive scientists study intelligence and behavior, with a focus on how nervous systems represent, process, and transform information. Mental faculties of concern to cognitive scientists include language, perception, memory, attention, reasoning, and emotion; to understand these faculties, cognitive scientists borrow from fields such as linguistics, psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology. The typical analysis of cognitive science spans many levels of organization, from learning and decision to logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization. The fundamental concept of cognitive science is that "thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures."

Learning theory (education) conceptual frameworks in which knowledge is absorbed, processed, and retained during learning

Learning Theory describe how students absorb, process, and retain knowledge during learning. Cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences, as well as prior experience, all play a part in how understanding, or a world view, is acquired or changed and knowledge and skills retained.

Logical positivism and logical empiricism, which together formed neopositivism, was a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was verificationism, a theory of knowledge which asserted that only statements verifiable through empirical observation are meaningful. The movement flourished in the 1920s and 1930s in several European centers.

Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that all behaviors are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual's history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual's current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although behaviorists generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental factors.

A conceptual framework is an analytical tool with several variations and contexts. It can be applied in different categories of work where an overall picture is needed. It is used to make conceptual distinctions and organize ideas. Strong conceptual frameworks capture something real and do this in a way that is easy to remember and apply.

In the social science fields of anthropology, sociology, history, religious studies, human-centered design and organizational development, a thick description results from a scientific observation of any particular human behavior that describes not just the behavior, but its context as well, so that the behavior can be better understood by an outsider. A thick description typically adds a record of subjective explanations and meanings provided by the people engaged in the behaviors, making the collected data of greater value for studies by other social scientists.

Relational frame theory (RFT) is a psychological theory of human language. It was developed originally by Steven C. Hayes of University of Nevada, Reno and has been extended in research notably by Dermot Barnes-Holmes of Ghent University.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of counseling and a branch of clinical behavior analysis. It is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. The approach was originally called comprehensive distancing. Steven C. Hayes developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 1982 in order to create a mixed approach which integrates both cognitive and behavioral therapy. There are a variety of protocols for ACT, depending on the target behavior or setting. For example, in behavioral health areas a brief version of ACT is called focused acceptance and commitment therapy (FACT).

Verificationism, also known as the verification idea or the verifiability criterion of meaning, is the philosophical doctrine that only statements that are empirically verifiable are cognitively meaningful, or else they are truths of logic (tautologies).

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

Functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP) is a psychotherapeutic approach based on clinical behavior analysis (CBA) that focuses on the therapeutic relationship as a means to maximize client change. Specifically, FAP suggests that in-session contingent responding to client target behaviors leads to significant therapeutic improvements.

Visual analytics

Visual analytics is an outgrowth of the fields of information visualization and scientific visualization that focuses on analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces.

Functional grammar (FG) and functional discourse grammar (FDG) are grammar models and theories motivated by functional theories of grammar. These theories explain how linguistic utterances are shaped, based on the goals and knowledge of natural language users. In doing so, it contrasts with Chomskyan transformational grammar. Functional discourse grammar has been developed as a successor to functional grammar, attempting to be more psychologically and pragmatically adequate than functional grammar.

Theodore Roy Sarbin (1911–2005), known as "Ted Sarbin", was an American psychologist and professor of psychology and criminology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was known as "Mr. Role Theory" because of his contributions to the social psychology of role-taking.

A clinical formulation, also known as case formulation and problem formulation, is a theoretically-based explanation or conceptualisation of the information obtained from a clinical assessment. It offers a hypothesis about the cause and nature of the presenting problems and is considered an adjunct or alternative approach to the more categorical approach of psychiatric diagnosis. In clinical practice, formulations are used to communicate a hypothesis and provide framework for developing the most suitable treatment approach. It is most commonly used by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and is deemed to be a core component of these professions. Mental health nurses and social workers may also use formulations.

A working hypothesis is a hypothesis that is provisionally accepted as a basis for further research in the hope that a tenable theory will be produced, even if the hypothesis ultimately fails. Like all hypotheses, a working hypothesis is constructed as a statement of expectations, which can be linked to the exploratory research purpose in empirical investigation and is often used as a conceptual framework in qualitative research.

Clinical behavior analysis is the clinical application of behavior analysis (ABA). CBA represents a movement in behavior therapy away from methodological behaviorism and back toward radical behaviorism and the use of functional analytic models of verbal behavior—particularly, relational frame theory (RFT).

Analytic journalism is a field of journalism that seeks to make sense of complex reality in order to create public understanding. It combines aspects of investigative journalism and explanatory reporting. Analytic journalism can be seen as a response to professionalized communication from powerful agents, information overload, and growing complexity in a globalised world. It aims to create evidence-based interpretations of reality, often confronting dominant ways of understanding a specific phenomenon.

References

  1. Hayes, S.C.; Barnes-Holmes, D. & Roche, B. (Eds.). (2001). Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. New York: Plenum Press.
  2. Hayes, S.C.; Strosahl, K. & Wilson, K.G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guilford Press.
  3. Pepper, S.C. (1942). World hypotheses: A study in evidence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  4. Dewey, J. (1953). Essays in experimental logic. New York: Dover (Original work published 1916)
  5. Gifford, E.V. & Hayes, S.C. (1999). Functional contextualism: A pragmatic philosophy for behavioral science. In W. O'Donohue & R. Kitchener (Eds.), Handbook of behaviorism (pp. 285–327). San Diego: Academic Press.
  6. Hayes, S.C. (1993). Analytic goals and the varieties of scientific contextualism. In S.C. Hayes, L.J. Hayes, H.W. Reese & T.R. Sarbin (Eds.), Varieties of scientific contextualism (pp. 11–27). Reno, NV: Context Press.
  7. Morris, E.K. (1993). Contextualism, historiography, and the history of behavior analysis. In S.C. Hayes, L.J. Hayes, H.W. Reese & T.R. Sarbin (Eds.), Varieties of scientific contextualism (pp. 137-165). Reno, NV: Context Press.
  8. Fox, E. J. (2006). Constructing a pragmatic science of learning and instruction with functional contextualism. Educational Technology Research & Development, 54 (1), 5-36.