Wilson, O'Donohue, & Hayes, 2001

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APA Citation: 

Wilson, K. G., O'Donohue, W. T., & Hayes, S. C. (2001). Hume's psychology, contemporary learning theory, and the problem of knowledge amplification. New Ideas in Psychology, 19, 1-25.

Publication Topic: 
Behavior Analysis: Conceptual
RFT: Conceptual
Publication Type: 
Growth of knowledge; Knowledge amplification; Inductive logic; David Hume; Relational Frame Theory; Stimulus equivalence; Behavior analysis; Learning theory; Verbal behavior; philosophy

The problem of explaining the growth of knowledge has a long history among philosophers. David Hume rejected a logic of knowledge amplification and offered a psychological, rather than a logical, solution. Hume's naturalistic account can be made more powerful and precise by adopting the principles of contemporary learning theory. Until recently, however, a behavioral account of knowledge amplification could not account for the differential gains in knowledge seen across species. We argue that recent empirical and theoretical developments in the behavioral analyses of language and cognition add to previously developed behavioral principles in a way that allows for a fuller account of knowledge amplification as it applies to interspecies differences. The role of stimulus equivalence and other derived relational responding and their role in knowledge amplification is described. Relational Frame Theory is offered as an organizing structure for understanding the ways in which relational stimulus control impacts the growth of knowledge.

There is an old problem in philosophy called the "problem of knowledge amplification." The basic issue is how do we go from knowing a little to knowing a lot. Probably the clearest example in ancient Western philosophy would be Socrates' demonstration that a slave boy knew geometry if it were only drawn from him. More recent accounts include David Hume's psychological account (which is pretty cool and makes a pretty nice stab at a behavioral account way earlier than the behaviorists). The article basically unpacks the problem of knowledge amplification using the conceptual equipment of contemporary contextual behavior theory.
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