Behaviorism’s Founder

Frank Knight (November 7, 1885 – April 15, 1972) was a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. Four of his students received the Nobel Prize for Economics (Paul Saluelson, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and James Buchanan, Jr.) . Professor Knight was rather outspoken. The short paragraphs below are his comments about behaviorism and its best known founders, John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner.

John B. Watson was a founder of the psychological school referred to as behaviorism. Behaviorists, represented more popularly by the controversial utopian B.F. Skinner of Harvard University, argue that all human behavior can be understood in terms of stimulus-response models that have been developed from studying the behavior of rats in mazes.

In 1932, Knight said of Watson, “It is not necessary to prove that he is the world’s greatest psychologist; he admits it. And besides, doesn’t he draw $40,000 a year for his psychologizing? (1932 dollars were worth several times what a dollar is worth today.)

“Speaking for myself, I must express my chagrin that it is so little. A man who can stand before the cream of the intelligentsia and exhort them to believe that they do not believe, but only react, to think that there is no such thing as thinking, but only muscle twitching, that the whole idea of struggle and error is an error against which we must struggle until we see that seeing is an illusion, and illusion likewise an illusion—in short, one who repeats that I am not saying anything’ and You are not hearing anything,’ that the gears are in mesh nothing more, and makes them like it and pay to hear it—I say such a man should be worth at least $1,000,000.”