Skinner: Autoclitics and expository description

Some philosophical influences on Skinner’s analysis autoclitics in ‘Verbal Behaviour’: Carnap ‘The Logical Syntax of Language’, Russell ‘Inquiry into Meaning and Truth’, Tarski ‘The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages’, Quine ‘Elementary Logic’, Mathematical Logic’, John Horne Tooke ‘The Diversions of Purley’.
Some critics of Skinners analysis of autoclitics in ‘Verbal Behaviour’: Chomsky ‘Review of Verbal Behaviour’, Steven Hayes ‘Advances in Relational Frame Theory’.
Autoclitics
“Such “propositional attitudes” as assertion, negation and quantification, the design achieved through reviewing and rejecting or emitting responses, the generation of quantities of verbal behaviour merely as such, and the highly complex manipulations of verbal thinking can all, as we can see, be analysed interms of behaviour which is evoked by or acts upon other behaviour of the speaker” (Skinner ‘Verbal Behaviour’ p.313)

(1) Descriptive Autoclitics:
“The speaker may acquire verbal behaviour descriptive of his own behaviour. Although the community can establish such a repertoire only by basing its reinforcing contingencies on observable behaviour, the speaker eventually exhibits it under the control of private events…We shall refer to such responses, when associated with other verbal behaviour effective upon the same listener at the same time, as “descriptive Autoclitics” The term autoclitic is intended to suggest a behaviour which is based upon or depends upon other verbal behaviour.” (ibid p. 313-315)

Skinner notes, sensibly enough, that the contingencies necessary for self-descriptive behaviour are arranged by the social community. The community asks us a variety of different questions “Did you say that?”, “Why did you say that?” etc. Because getting us to answer such questions are useful in many ways in understanding and predicting behaviour. As a result of being implicitly trained by the community to answer these questions, we eventually begin to ask such questions about our own Verbal Behaviour. Autoclitic behaviour is behaviour that is based on or depends on other verbal behaviour. While descriptive autoclitics inform us of the type of verbal behaviour we are omitting (whether Mands, Tacts, etc). There are many different types of autoclitics. (A) A descriptive autoclitic that informs the listener of the type of verbal operant that it accompanies. Some examples: A reader is reading a news paper and says I see it is going to rain, the I see informs the listener that it is going to rain is omitted as a textual response (ibid p. 315). Skinner notes that behaviour that is acquired as textual or echoic behaviour but emitted as Intraverbal behaviour is often prefaced by ‘I see’, ‘I recall’, ‘I am reminded’, ‘I hear’. He notes other examples of descriptive autoclitics such as ‘I demand’, ‘I ask you’ which when prefacing mand make it more effective. He gives examples such as ‘I tell you’, ‘I observe’ which when they preface tacts make them more effective. In these examples the autoclitics which preface the tacts, mands are not necessary but they do make the verbal behaviour more effective. (B) This type of descriptive autoclitic describes the strength of a response. Examples include ‘I guess’, ‘I estimate’, ‘I believe’, ‘I think’, ‘I hesitate to say’ etc. The preceding descriptive autoclitics indicate that what follows is based on insufficient information. Skinner calls the preceding examples autoclitics of weakness. Examples of autoclitics of strength include ‘I insist’, ‘I swear’, ‘I promise’ etc. (C) This type of descriptive autoclitic describes the relation between a response and other verbal behaviour of the speaker or listener, or other circumstances where behaviour is emitted (ibid p. 316). Some key examples are ‘I agree’, ‘I confess’, ‘I infer’, ‘I predict’ ‘I dare say’ ‘I wish’, etc. These responses are helpful for the listener. They help the listener to situate the response which follows to other aspects of the current situation. (D) Another type of descriptive autoclictic indicates the emotional state of the speaker, these type of autoclitics indicate the personal relation between the speaker and the listener. Examples are ‘I regret to inform you’, ‘I hate to say’, ‘I must tell you’ etc. (E) Negative autoclitics qualify or cancel the response which they accompany. Some examples are ‘I don’t think that he has gone’ ‘I would not go as far as to say’ ‘I doubt’ ‘I deny’ etc. (F) Another autoclitic indicates that what is to follow stands in a subordinate position. Examples include ‘for example’, ‘for instance’ etc.
(2) Qualifying Autoclitics:
An important class of responses serve the autoclitic function of qualifying the tact in such a way that the intensity of direction of the listener’s behaviour is modified. There are two main types of qualifying autoclitics. (A) Negation: As Skinner notes philosophers have long tried to analyse the notion of ‘negation’, (this practice goes back at least as far as Parmenides). One of the difficulties is in trying to understand what sentences which include ‘not’, ‘no’ etc refer to. Skinner discussed the sentence ‘It is not raining’. A difficulty occurs when we try to pick out what the sentence is referring to. A possible solution is that the sentence is evoked by a lack of rain in the environment. However this leads to the obvious difficulty of explaining how the infinite amount of things we don’t encounter in our environment don’t likewise compel us to mouth ‘It is not xing’, ‘there is no x’ etc. Skinner, following Russell (whom he cites) notes that an obvious solution to this problem is to argue that sentences like ‘It is not raining’ are evoked by not by environmental conditions but by other verbal behaviour such as ‘Is it raining today?.’ While Skinner thinks that this solution is to some degree correct he also notes that some non verbal stimulus can evoke the response ‘no’. A clear instance of this would be ‘no’ used as a mand to stop a person from engaging in some kind of non-verbal behaviour. This response is also extended to verbal responses such as when a child says ‘2 + 2= 5’. On the response ‘no’ Skinner notes:
“The response is acquired from the reinforcing practices of the verbal community. The child first hears ‘no!’ as the occasion upon which some current activity must be stopped if positive reinforcement is to be received or aversive stimulation avoided” (ibid p. 223)
The child may find himself doing something that typically elicits a ‘no’ from others, the child says ‘no’ himself and this results in him not engaging it the behaviour. This activity will result in the child receiving less punishment and will therefore be reinforcing. Skinner speculates that this practice of saying ‘No’ will eventually be used along with other verbal behaviour such as saying things like ‘Red’ etc. This will lead to the child saying ‘Not Red’ in appropriate circumstances, because of the standardisation in linguistic practices, and punishment and negative reinforcement for those who don’t follow such practices. (B) Assertion: The assertive autoclitic enjoins the listener to accept a given state of affairs (ibid p. 327). Skinner argues that since the assertive autoclitic enjoins someone to do something then it must be considered a special kind of mand. However he qualifies this by noting:
“An autoclictic will sharpen the effect by indicating some of the source of strength, as well as the degree of strength. The assertive autoclitic has the specific function of indicating that the response is emitted as a tact or, under certain circumstances, as in Intraverbal. Other verbal operants are characteristically not asserted. The mand does not need to be, because of the reinforcing contingencies which are responsible for it, and in echoic and textual behaviour the important conditions for the listener are those which prevailed when the echoic or textual stimulus was produced by someone else.” (ibid p. 327)
(3) Quantifying Autoclitics:
Skinner gives as examples of Quantifying autoclitics ‘All’, ‘Some’, ‘A’, ‘The’ etc. In the case of ‘All’ he considers the example ‘All Swans are White’. He notes that when doing logic we would be justified in arguing that ‘All’ modifies ‘Swans’, however things are different when we are concerned with Verbal Behaviour. His reason for arguing thusly is that because in a scientific account of verbal behaviour we cannot assume that a person ever responds to ‘ALL’ Swans. It is more reasonable to say that a man responds to all of the swans in his own personal history. Skinner argues that in this case we are better off interpreting the ‘All’ as always it is possible to say. Thus the ‘All’ will modify the whole sentence ‘Swans are White’ not just the ‘Swan’. Likewise you can translate ‘Some’ as ‘sometimes it is possible to say’. Again the ‘Some’ modifies the whole sentence not just the ‘Swan’. And ‘No’ can be translated as ‘it is never possible to say’, where the ‘No’ modifies the whole sentence not the ‘Swan’ part. The other common quantifying autoclitics are ‘The’ or ‘a’ which serve to narrow the reaction of the listener by indicating a response and the controlling stimulus (ibid p. 329). Quantifying autoclitics typically serve the purpose of modifying the reaction of the listener to the responses they follow.
(4) Relational Autoclitics:
Skinner argues that the “agreement” in number, gender and case between the noun and adjective a language like Latin is a paradigm of a relational autoclitic (ibid p.333) (A) Predication: Skinner notes that a predication occurs when a relational autoclitic is added to an autoclitic of assertion (ibid p. 334) Thus, for example, he notes that the statement ‘The chocolate is good’ shows a relational autocliitic of grouping and ordering and it also contains an autoclitic of assertion. He argues that when you take these together you get a predication (ibid p. 335). (B) Relational Autoclitic Behaviour: This leads Skinner to ask an important question. What are the processes that lead to the emission of a relational autoclitic behaviour?
“Something less than full-fledged relational autoclitic behaviour is involved when partially conditioned autoclitic “frames” combine with responses appropriate to a specific situation. Having responded to many pairs of objects with behaviour such as ‘the hat and the shoe’ and ‘the gun and the hat’ the speaker may make the response ‘the boy and the bicycle’ on a novel occasion. If he has acquired a series of responses such as ‘the boys gun’, ‘the boy’s shoe’, and ‘the boy’s hat’, we may suppose that the partial frame ‘the boy’s_’ is available for recombination with other responses. The first time the boy acquires a bicycle, the speaker can compose a new unit ‘the boy’s bicycle’. This is not simply the emission of two responses separately acquired. The process resembles the multiple causation of Chapter 9. The relational aspects of the situation strengthen a frame, and specific features of the situation strengthen the responses fitted into it.” (Verbal Behaviour p. 336)
(5) Manipulative Autoclitics:
“It is only upon genuinely novel occasions that the listener is specifically manded to modify his behaviour. But these occasions do occur, and the explicit autoclitic activity of the speaker in manipulating his behaviour must be taken into account as an important verbal function” (ibid p. 343)

Some examples are ‘for’, ‘but’, ‘if-then’, etc. Quine deals with these examples early in his ‘Elementary Logic’.

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