Skinner and Freud

Skinner and Freud :

B.F. Skinner, in his novel Walden Two, presents many arguments about how he foresees a positive change in the world through manipulation of behavior on the personal level. Sigmund Freud, in his works, specifically Civilization and Its Discontents, presents his view of human nature and what is innately problematic about it. Both Freud and Skinner agree that human behavior is the result of outside factors that severely hinder the concept of free will. Skinner believes that humans, in the correct environment, can live happily, while Freud understands that humans are destined to live in some degree of anguish or discontent.

Skinner uses the ideal setting of Walden Two to illustrate his ideas of how human behavior should be formed. Much of Skinner's argument on how to eliminate what he knows as problematic rests on his prescription of dismissing the notion of individual freedom. Skinner does not only say that the concept of individual freedom is a farce. He takes it a step further and states that the search for it is where society has gone wrong. He wants no part in the quest for individual freedom. If we give up this illusion, says Skinner, we can condition everyone to act in acceptable ways.

Skinner has a specific prescription for creating this utopian society. He declares that all that is necessary is to change the conditions which surround man. GIVE ME THE SPECIFICATIONS AND I'LL GIVE YOU THE MAN is his simple yet remarkable message. He claims that by controlling what a person's environment is, it is possible to craft a man to behave in any way. Skinner wants to use this notion to create a world without pain and suffering.

In Walden Two, he systematically describes what conditions are necessary to create a world of happiness. Skinner proposes that to create his perfect society, one needs only to come up with the characteristics of what man should be. Since he can then create any man, he will fill the world with these perfectly-conditioned people and all will be perfect. Although many of his insights are problematic at the root level, some of what Skinner proposes is material which should not just be totally dismissed.

Freud has a much different concept of human existence. He, too, says that people are formed out of experiences and pre-existent conditions. However, Freud believes that the biggest factor in shaping human behavior is much more personal and internal.

Since everyone experiences things differently, he claims, it is impossible to shape everyone so that some utopian society will form, as in Skinner's case. Freud recognizes on one level that there is an innate conflict between the individual and society. So even at the first level, there is a conflict which will hinder happiness.

Freud states that the norms of society are much too rigorous for the common person because they are in conflict with the inner desires of the psyche. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with each individual's roots, but it states that, upon entering the world, each human is doomed to conflict with societal standards. From day one also, each individual feels pressure from every social direction. His parents influence him by their rearing methods and their requirements of him. As he begins to develop, his mind does as well, and any negative experience manifests some degree of conflict between the three parts of the mind. Basically, Freud has such a harsh view of reality because he believes there are so many ways in which the mind is attacked: social, parental, self-inflicted.

One might have no problem dealing with the pressure from society, yet may, for example, feel guilty about one thing or another. Freud would say that this would create some sort of conflict in the mind, one which is inevitable and through no amount of conditioning is prohibitable. Also, since the three parts of the mind (id, ego, and superego) are constantly tearing at one another. The ego has to balance the desires of the id with the standards of the superego while accepting the outside reality. If any problem occurs and the balance is thrown off, suffering will result.

So neurosis results from the frustration of basic instincts, either because of external obstacles or because of internal mental imbalance.

Both Freud and Skinner find problems with the current social situation. Freud says that, for the most part, we cannot change the inner mechanisms of the mind, while Skinner says that any type of conditioning is possible. Maybe through both of these theories, we can learn to form some sort of resolution.

Concise Bibliography

I. Civilization and Its Discontents - Sigmund Freud

II. The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

III. Walden Two - B.F. Skinner

IV. Seven Theories of Human Nature - Leslie Stevenson

Skinner and Freud - Skinner and Freud

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