Purpose and Behavior

[From Rick Marken (921228.0800)]

Here is a little gem I found this morning in the PSYCHOLOQUY
Newsletter. The Newsletter comes out at what appears to be random
times (Poisson distribution of intervals between posts?) with news of
interest to psychologists (like myself, before I stopped understanding
it). This is one news item from the current edition of the
Newsletter ( posted Fri, 25 Dec 1992). I think it speaks for itself:



From: CATANIA@UMBC2.UMBC.EDU (A. Charles Catania)
Subject: (7) Query Response: Quotable Quotes

I am submitting the material below in response to R. Allen Gardner's
request for a quotation. Ordinarily, I expect that such things would
go directly to the requester, but this case seemed to me to have
sufficient intrinsic interest that I thought it might be more
appropriate to distribute it more widely through PSYCOLOQUY. I have
not yet sent a copy to Gardner, but plan to do so as soon as I hear
from you as to whether or not this seems appropriate for PSYCOLOQUY. I
have tried to set this reply up in a format similar to Gardner's.

            Quotation on Describing Behavior in Terms
                of Purposes, Intentions, or Goals

R. Allen Gardner has requested a quotable quote to the effect that it
is necessary or correct to describe behavior in terms of purposes,
intentions, or goals. The material offered below fits the suggested
time frame (since 1960, and preferably later), it is by a prominant
psychologist (though I will make no claim about respect by cognitive
psychologists), and it seems clearly relevant. It is among my
favorites, mainly because it so clearly makes the point that events
that have not occurred yet cannot affect current behavior. Consistent
with its author's concern with the origins of our self-descriptive
language, its purpose (sic) was not to eliminate the language of
purposes, intentions, and goals, but rather to suggest constraints on
the functions of that language within a scientific account. Whatever
Gardner's final choice of quotable quote, I hope it will be one that is
consistent with what follows, in the sense that it would be
inappropriate for cognitive psychologists to rally around a quote that
espoused a teleological and therefore scientifically untenable
characterization of these important human concepts.

"An attempt has been made to solve the problem by creating a
prior surrogate of a given effect. A quality or property of
purpose is assigned to behavior to bring 'what the organism is
behaving for' into the effective present; or the organism is said
to behave in a given way because it intends to achieve, or
expects to have, a given effect; or its behavior is characterized
as possessing utility to the extent that it maximizes or
minimizes certain effects. The teleological problem is, of
course, not solved until we have answered certain questions: what
gives an action its purpose, what leads an organism to expect to
have an effect, how is utility represented in behavior. The
answers to such questions are eventually to be found in past
instances in which similar behavior has been effective."

York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1969. Other material that may be
appropriate for quotation appears on pp. 125-126, 193-194, and

A. Charles Catania
University of Maryland Baltimore County

I think we might be able to help Catania (and R. Allen Gardner) out by
providing some other "quotable quotes to the effect that it
is necessary or correct to describe behavior in terms of purposes,
intentions, or goals". Here's one by another prominent psychologist:

Psychology, which bills itself as the study of behavior, has yet to provide
a universally accepted definition of its subject matter. The term
"behavior" typically refers to some observable result of an organism's
actions, such as a "level press". But actions produce many results, any
one of which could be considered the organism's behavior (Powers, 1973).
The actions that produce a lever press also move a limb, close an electric
circuit, move air molecules near the level and produce a food pellet. Which
result should count as behaviors of the organism? Some have argued that
only intentionally produced results should count as behavior, other results
being accidental side effects of actions (Powers, 1973; Searle, 1981).
This approach to defining behavior is rejected by many psychologists
who consider intentions both unnecessary and unobservable (Schwartz, 1978).
This report shows how intentions can be observed and why the concept
of intention is necessary in order to know WHAT AN ORGANISM IS

R. Marken, Psychological Reports, 1982, 50, 647-650

Happy Holidays