Contextualism, psychological science, and the question of ontology


James D. Herbert & Flavia Padovani


There has recently been a renewed interest in philosophy among some psychologists, particularly those working within the modern behavior analytic framework known as contextual behavioral science. Functional contextualism (FC) has emerged as an alternative to the dominant mechanistic view – generally associated with epistemological realism—within psychology. The most controversial feature of FC has been its so-called “a-ontological” stance, in which it is argued that any statements about even the mere existence of a reality independent of human sensation are meaningless. We argue that FC in fact requires the assumption of the existence of such a “reality,” which we term an “independent, textured substratum,” if it is to serve as an orienting function for psychological science. Moreover, wholesale rejection of any reference to any ontological dimension is itself incommensurate with the analytic goals of FC in that it unnecessarily alienates scientists who might otherwise find value in the sensitivities of FC.

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