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Response to a Stimulus

Alexander’s acquaintance with Dewey may have been responsible for some unfortunate terminology in Alexander’s books.

One of Dewey’s graduate students at Chicago was John Watson, a psychologist and later a radical behaviorist one.  He claimed man had no mind at all, consciousness was a delusion, man only a stimulus-response machine.  You are what you do, your behavior, nothing else.  “The mind is dead” school of psychology.  (Doubtless Prof. Watson reinforced this idea by introspection.)

Dewey himself didn’t go to the end of the road like Watson, but his predicating consciousness on social interaction was a stepping stone along the way.  I cannot gauge the extent of Dewey’s personal face-to-face influence on Watson, but Dewey was an intellectual force in the behaviorist movement.

Alexander, in his discussions of mind-body unity, occasionally says things that sound a bit behaviorist  without actually being so.  And elsewhere his frequent use of the word “stimulus” suggests a behaviorist influence as well  though he uses the word in a way a behaviorist never would.  According to Alexander a thought can be a stimulus, but a true behaviorist considers only physical, external stimuli; the behaviorist doesn’t address the mind at all  if he thinks it exists at all (if he thinks at all).

Is this whiff of behaviorism in Alexander’s writing, entirely superficial, due to Dewey’s influence?

Behaviorist ideas were in the air, they were current in the psychological journals of the time, so Dewey may not have been a direct influence.  But Dewey was partly responsible for those ideas being in the air in the first place.