Reinforcement (Positive Reinforcement)
Circular Reasoning without Reifications
Do all circular arguments result in a reification?
No. For example:
Why is Rudolph pressing the lever?
Because, in the past lever pressing has produced drops of water.
How do you know lever pressing has produced drops of water in the past?
Because he’s now pressing the lever.
That is a circular argument that not only does not involve the reification of any concepts, but it doesn’t even
point to a mechanism of action, such as reinforcement; it just says production of the past drops of water is
responsible for his current lever pressing.
I call one type of reification circular reification—inferring a cause, usually an internal entity, which is just a
label for the behavior we’re trying to explain. In addition, I think there is also a second type of reification, which I
call process reification—inferring an internal entity, which is just a label for a controlling process (typically
contingencies). In other words, traditional psychologists infer an internal entity rather than deal directly with the
behavioral contingencies that are really controlling the behavior. Why did Johnny act so selfishly? Because his id is
strong and his superego and ego are underdeveloped. Freud perceptively identified three types of control processes,
roughly those involving contingencies with unlearned reinforcers and aversive conditions, those involving moral and
religious outcomes, and those involving the learned reinforcers and aversive outcomes associated with being
logically correct or incorrect. Then he fell into our culture’s reification trap by inferring things called id, superego,
and ego. That’s an example of process reification, which may be a subcategory of circular reification.