The Psychological Record

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 457–468 | Cite as

On the Goodness of Skinner’s System of Naturalistic Ethics in Solving Basic Value Conflicts

  • Nancy D. Vogeltanz
  • Joseph J. Plaud


The system of ethics and values proposed by B. F. Skinner is one that has “naturalized” ethics and is therefore able to resolve conflicts by empirical means. Skinner has demonstrated that the naturalistic fallacy proposed by Moore (1903/1966) is a groundless theoretical argument, and that “good” can be adequately and effectively naturalized and placed within the realm of scientific scrutiny. Skinner’s naturalistic ethical system has effectively bridged the gap between what “is” and what “ought to be” in an ethical sense. On the level of individual conflicts, a science of behavior can tell us who is right by scientifically and rationally probing the best methods for achieving our purposes, and these purposes can best be operationalized as survivability. Critics of Skinner’s ethical system have claimed that they see no good reason to work for the good of the culture, undermining Skinner’s argument concerning the significance of the survivability of the species. Implications for Skinner’s naturalistic ethics are presented and analyzed. It is concluded that as our society and our world move closer and closer to extinction from individual desires rising above the good of society, immediate aversive consequences for these behaviors will begin to take place. A Skinnerian ethical analysis entails changing the contingencies of reinforcement to affect a majority of individuals, so that they may emit behaviors consistent with what is good for our culture and species as a whole.


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Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy D. Vogeltanz
    • 1
  • Joseph J. Plaud
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.University of Maine and Community Health and Counseling ServicesUSA

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