Operationalism Doctrine Of In

the 1920s, the American philosopher of science Percy W. Bridgman (1882-1961) advanced the logical positivist viewpoint (i.e., the rejection of metaphysics, theology, and ethics as meaningless areas of study, and the suggestion that the only valid propositions are those consisting of elementary propositions that are empirically verifiable) and, in this context, the doctrine of operationalism refers to the requirement that all theoretical terms in science (i.e., those that do not refer to some thing directly observable) be given operational definitions. The basis of operational definition was proposed independently by Bridgman (who named it) and by the logical positivists, who called it explicit definition. In 1935, the American experimental psychologist and psychophysicist Stanley Smith (S. S.) Stevens (1906-1973) introduced operational-ism to psychology where it played an important role in the development of behaviorism. Most scientists agree that the enterprise of science needs theory and theoretical terms, and operationalists attempt to guarantee the cognitive significance of theoretical terms by giving them operational definitions. In an operational definition, a theoretical term (e.g., "intelligence") is defined by relating the term to some publicly-verifiable operation, procedure, measurement, or manipulation (e.g., a score on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test); also, the operation is one that may be performed on the environment (e.g., the concept "drive" may be operationally defined as "the withholding of food from an animal for a specified number of hours"). According to this approach, an ill-defined concept - such as the Freudian notion of superego - may be challenged as fundamentally non-scientific because there is no explicit way of defining it in terms of something observable. In spite of its initial attraction, however, operationalism has been controversial within psychology and the philosophy of science, as it has been difficult to operationalize all the terms of a science, even physics, thereby leading the logical posi-tivists eventually to largely abandon the doctrine of operationalism. Within psychology, although the requirement to operationalize theoretical terms remains strong, the doctrine has been criticized for its narrowing of psychology's perspective by insisting that behaviorism is the only viable methodology or strategy for gaining psychological knowledge. See also BEHAVIORIST THEORY; COMTE'S LAW/THEORY; SKINNER'S DESCRIPTIVE BEHAVIOR/OPERANT CONDITIONING THEORY; STEVENS' POWER LAW. REFERENCES

Bridgman, P. W. (1927). The logic of modern physics. New York: Macmillan.

Steven, S. S. (1935). The operational basis of psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 47, 323-330. Suppe, F. (1972). Theories, their formulations, and the operational imperative. Synthese, 25, 129-165. Suppe, F. (Ed.) (1974). The structure of scientific theories. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Leahy, T. H. (1980). The myth of operation-ism. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 1, 127-143.

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