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Assignment Questions

Can Science Design a Utopia?

UHV Walden Two Can Science Design a Utopia?

The Greek impulse to discover a truth-conducive method of inquiry and to critique beliefs on that basis led them to question the credibility of various big pictures (as well as beliefs and arguments in general). They expected that disciplined speculation and critique would eventually yield a rationally justifiable worldview. Their rational expectation is itself a worldview (call it the speculative worldview); it expects that the world will be understandable by a mind that keeps its thoughts in order. The Judeo-Christian tradition proposed a contrasting worldview. They accepted some of the powers of reason, but believed that the most important truths (a) were supernaturally revealed and (b) are not necessarily justifiable by reason. That view takes faith as the proper foundation of worldviews, faith in a supernatural power whose agenda has been occasionally revealed to some people (called it the revealed worldview). Both worldviews ran into problems. It turns out that neither method seems to be capable of deciding fundamental questions about reality in a non-controversial way.

On the philosophical side, philosophers of basic questions (metaphysicians) have continued to disagree about first principles for two millennia. On the religious side, scholastic philosophers of the late Middle Ages also fell into basic disagreements about the nature of reality, and after the Reformation Christian theologians became equally schismatic over the basic beliefs of Christianity.

The dominant philosophical influence in the modern period is science. Like the speculative worldview, it assumes that the world is understandable on many basic and important questions (of course, there are limits). But its main innovation is “the scientific method,” which involves inventing theories/hypotheses and testing them. This method has revolutionized the natural sciences. But can it be the foundation for all knowledge? Some defenders of science say yes; some critics of science say no. Skinner’s Walden Two adopts the scientific worldview in an attempt to show how science can solve human problems as well as natural scientific problems.

A worldview is not just one belief, but many beliefs. To critique a worldview, therefore, one must consider its most important beliefs in an attempt to assess three things:

(a) those beliefs as individuals beliefs,
(b) the coherence of the beliefs as a group, and
(c) the adequacy of the group of beliefs for explaining the range of experience.

There is little doubt that experimental science is adequate to physics, or that behavioral psychology is adequate to training pigeons and rats. But is it adequate to the human realm?
Perhaps not.

The most common objection to Skinner’s world is his denial of freedom. But that may not be the most crucial objection. Lovers of freedom may actually conclude that Walden Two has a lot of the freedoms that people really want (freedom from starvation, freedom from overwork, freedom for leisure activities, freedom from discrimination, etc.) The issue of freedom is a real question for Walden Two, but the question is not whether Walden Two has freedom or not. The question is whether it has the right kind of freedoms.

Perhaps the more fundamental issue is whether Walden Two has the right priorities. Indeed, since some defenders of science say that science delivers facts, not values, one may wonder where Skinner’s priorities come from if science is unable to discover them. Skinner would probably say that scientific psychology can set up some basic values and go from there. They would probably include these:

? Humans need social harmony; they are social animals and therefore must cooperate and even cohabitate. Therefore, the best society would maximize social harmony.

? Humans need security; in fact, all animals need security or they become over-anxious. The best society would provide a high level of security.

? Humans have diverse expressional needs. Humans are more individually diverse than any other species, and they like to express their personalities. Therefore, the best society would make as much allowance as possible for individual expression (free time, means of expression, choice of activities, etc.)

Something like that would be the basis of Skinner’s claim that psychology can provide enough values to create the ideal society. Skinner would conclude that science can provide both the vision and the means to create the ideal society, which would look like Walden Two.
Critics of Walden Two would have to discredit Skinner’s ideas as separate ideas, as a group, or deny the vision’s comprehension of experience. Some of the questions critics might ask include the following:

Ethics: Does Walden Two realize the right moral values/priorities?

1. Skinner claims that Walden Two achieves a life true to Christian values (but not beliefs) by eliminating the political incentives to domination and exploitation found in traditional and modern Christian societies (i.e., exorbitant rewards for the powerful). Is W2 a more Christian society (in terms of morality and justice) than ours?

2. In Chapter 20 Frazier says that he doesn’t know what meaning right and wrong have in today’s scientific world. But if not morality in the old sense, there are certainly values at Walden Two. In your view, what do right and wrong mean at Walden Two? What decides what is right or wrong?

3. Frazier claims that Walden Two would accomplish traditional religious goals of raising people who are disciplined, loving, and grateful, but without irrational faith. How credible is his charge that traditional faith has been discredited by appeals to fear, irrational emotions, and questionable beliefs?

Politics: Is Walden Two’s distribution of power and benefits just?

4. In Chapter 23 Frazier says that politics is the wrong level on which to work for a healthy society because politics involves at worst coercion and authoritarianism, and at best propaganda and manipulation, whereas enlightened social engineering is voluntary (by general consent, if not micromanaged democratically) and is informed by experts. Later he says that his project is about education rather than politics. But Frazier also rejects democracy because people do not really want to be involved in government. Do you accept Castle’s objection that this so-called voluntary society manipulates beliefs and therefore limits on personal freedom or do you think people do not really care about political participation as long as they have control over their own daily lives?

5. Frazier claims that Planners would not be corrupted because Walden Two allows no great differences of property and in the end they would be rotated out of office, depriving them of their temporary advantages and shaming them for corruption. Would such safeguards be an effective way of preventing serious corruption among leaders? By removing those typical temptations to corruption, could we expect leaders to be impartial and just?

6. Frazier claims that if people were raised with Walden Two’s advantages, they would never prefer typical societies with their unequal opportunities and social deprivation even when informed of the outside world. Is that a reasonable prediction about people raised at Walden Two? Would W2’s education be any more like brain-washing then our educational bias toward democracy?

7. Frazier charges both (a) that modern democracies place too much emphasis on the personality of leaders and also (b) that they have not been very successful at producing good leaders. Is that true? Do a few heroic leaders (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc.) outweigh Americans’ general dissatisfaction with politicians?

8. Frazier labels democracy a “pious fraud” and “the spawn of despotism,” meaning that it arose out of a fear of tyranny (bad kings) but doesn’t really give the people what they want. Do you see evidence that most people are dissatisfied with contemporary democracy?
Freedom: Is Frazier right that this society has the kinds of freedom that people really want?

9. The Planners at Walden Two are supposed to be responsive to the wishes of the people. Is that an adequate substitute for the freedom to elect leaders?

10. Skinner is known for saying that freedom is an illusion and we should not worry about losing it. But in Chapter 20 Frazier says: “The happiness and equanimity of our people is obviously related to the self-control they have acquired.” Later (Ch. 29) he says “this is the freest place on earth.” Doesn’t this mean that freedom is a good thing and that WaldenTwo actually seeks it as far as a harmonious and efficient society will allow? Isn’t Skinner really just saying that personal control over our private lives (and having lots of free time) is more important to people than political participation and freedom for a few to be exorbitantly rich?

11. Skinner has Frazier admit that he is something of a control-freak. But the people at Walden Two actually have a considerable amount of freedom (esp. free time). To what extent do you think that Frazier’s God-complex is a projection of Skinner’s view that freedom does not exist, in which case it might seem to both Skinner and Frazier that Frazier has more control than he actually does?
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Assignment:
Your job is to assess Walden Two as a model of human nature and society. As an empiricist, Skinner is doing two things: he is proposing a model of human nature and predicting that life would be better if society were based on his model rather than the traditional/modern ones. You can contest the model either for theoretical reasons (i.e., it’s inaccurate) or for practical reasons (i.e., it won’t work). But you must answer him with evidence and analysis, not with your preferences and democratic cliches.

Remember, W2 does not have to be perfect; merely better than our system. When you make comparative claims about human nature and American society, back them up with evidence and particulars. Do not pretend that Skinner does not get anything right or that our “democracy” delivers everything it promises. Clearly, Walden Two is superior to our society in some respects. You job is to compare his hypothesis to the reality of our real world and argue for one being better than the other.

Consider the three categories of questions (morality, justice, freedom).

Treat all three categories in whichever order seems most logical to you. Make your assessment as coherent as possible.

You need not quote the questions; you may adapt the wording of the questions to your thesis. For you conclusion, consider whether Skinner’s version of the mechanistic model of nature is an adequate basis for designing a society.

From The Greeks to the Critics of Walden…is the premise or the general concept of Walden Two aka Skinner’s world view concept within Walden Two. I need only comment in a general way about that.

Questions 1. to 11…need be answered, and only as opinion, in a few sentences.

The Assignment need not be actually in the form of Prose. It can be, and probably should be in the form of an outline. For example:

1. W2 – Model of human nature:

A. :Pro: All people want to live in peace with others in a system of mutual respect , and preferably in a location that is reasonably pleasant and has the basic needs. …
B. Con: Many people want to run it, want to own property of their own…..

2. W2 – Model of human society:

A. Pro
B. Con or No

The overview of the first section need not be more than 1/2 page.

The responses to questions 1 – 11 paper should be no less than 2 pages, but might occupy 1 1/2 or 2 1/2.

The Assignment should be no less than 1 page, but could be two or even 2 1/2 if details are presented.

I have contracted for 4 pages, but open to 6/7, if the details are compelling. Note: the chapters that are specified. In general those are the core parts of the book from which the argument is to be taken. Other parts of the book can be used sparingly, but only if absolutely appropriate.

Complete sentences are not necessary for me. I will have 3 days to review, add my other material, write an addendum, research additional citations and so forth. It will come back for re-write.

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