This paper addresses B. F. Skinner’s utopian vision for enhancing social justice and human well-being in his 1948 novel, Walden Two. In the first part, we situate the book in its historical, intellectual, and social context of the utopian genre, address critiques of the book’s premises and practices, and discuss the fate of intentional communities patterned on the book. The central point here is that Skinner’s utopian vision was not any of Walden Two’s practices, except one: the use of empirical methods to search for and discover practices that worked. In the second part, we describe practices in Skinner’s book that advance social justice and human well-being under the themes of health, wealth, and wisdom, and then show how the subsequent literature in applied behavior analysis supports Skinner’s prescience. Applied behavior analysis is a measure of the success of Skinner’s utopian vision: to experiment.
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This manuscript is a slightly revised and updated version of an article published in a special issue of Contemporary Justice Review on utopias and intentional communities: Altus, D. E., & Morris, E. K. (2004). B. F. Skinner’s utopian vision: Behind and beyond Walden Two. Contemporary Justice Review, 7, 267–286. (Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis, Ltd.)
We thank Lyman Sargent, Nathaniel Smith, and James Todd for their advice and assistance on the original manuscript.
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Altus, D.E., Morris, E.K. B. F. Skinner’s utopian vision: Behind and beyond Walden Two. BEHAV ANALYST 32, 319–335 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03392195