Matter over mind: Skinner, Quine, and the Heyday of Behaviorism


In the mid-twentieth century, psychology and philosophy were dominated by behaviorism. The leading psychologist was B.F. Skinner, the chief philosopher was W.V. Quine; both Harvard professors who would grow up to be among the most prominent scholars of their time. Skinner is widely considered to be the most influential twentieth-century psychologist, whereas philosophers have reckoned Quine to be the most important Anglophone philosopher between 1945 and 2000.

Although Skinner and Quine are both known for applying their behavioristic frameworks to the study of language, surprisingly little is known about the relation between the two, apart from the fact that they were close friends. How did Skinner and Quine develop their psychological and philosophical varieties of behaviorism? And in what ways did they influence each other?

In this project, I will answer these questions by means of a careful examination of Skinner’s and Quine’s personal archives. In collaboration with Harvard University and the B.F. Skinner Foundation, I will explain (1) how they developed their influential views, (2) the ways in which they were influenced by the psychologists and philosophers of their time, and (3) how their views evolved when Noam Chomsky launched his searing attack on behaviorism.

Because historians predominantly focus on developments *within* psychology and philosophy, historical connections *between* these disciplines tend to be overlooked. Most studies in the history of analytic philosophy, for example, primarily focus on evaluating important philosophical arguments, not on analysing the scientific context in which these arguments developed. In studying the interconnections between Skinner and Quine, this project aims to lift the departmental boundaries that have shaped much of the historiography of twentieth-century science and philosophy and to deepen our understanding of the work of a leading psychologist and a major philosopher during a crucial episode in the history of science.


Boek of monografie

  • AA Verhaegh(2018): Working from Within pp. 240

Hoofdstuk in boek

Wetenschappelijk artikel

Publicatie bedoeld voor een breed publiek





Dr. A.A. Verhaegh MA

Verbonden aan

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Faculteit Wijsbegeerte, Theoretische Filosofie


Dr. A.A. Verhaegh MA


01/02/2017 tot 31/08/2019