Toward a Contingency Analytic Account of Private Experience

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
All day event
Event Type
Continuing Education
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Toward a Contingency Analytic Account of Private Experience 

Time: 1 Hour, 21 Minutes

Presenter: T. V. Joe Layng, Ph.D.

Ludwig Wittgenstein in The Philosophical Investigations wrote:

Interlocutor: But you will surely admit that there is a difference between pain-behaviour accompanied by pain and pain-behaviour without any pain?’

Wittgenstein: Admit it? What greater difference could there be?

Interlocutor: And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a nothing.’

Wittgenstein: Not at all. It is not a something but it is not a nothing either!

Wittgenstein: The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said. We have only rejected the grammar which tries to force itself on us here…
How can there be a something about which nothing can be said? And what then differentiates it from a nothing? While this has been a problem for those trying to understand Wittgenstein, it may be the key for a behavior analytic approach to private experience. We make the error Wittgenstein was attempting to warn us about when we try to treat private experience as a something we can directly talk about, e.g. covert stimuli or behavior or consequences. There is no private image we see and respond to, there is no private speech produced and listened to. As Skinner (1963), in Behaviorism at Fifty, observes, “It took man a long time to understand that when he dreamed of a wolf, no wolf was actually there. It has taken him much longer to understand that not even a representation of a wolf is there.” Yet we have private experience.  We can account for private experience not by trying to move the outside inside, overt behavior to covert behavior, but by taking our lead from Skinner (1963) that private experience is part of behavior, or perhaps more precisely part of a contingency. And, we may consider that the concept of behavior be extended to considering that seeing is the behavior of seeing, hearing is the behavior of hearing, and so on for all the senses. And, that seeing or hearing in the absence of the thing seen or heard is simply seeing and hearing under the control of stimuli other than that which typically govern what is seen or heard. And much like the location of sweetness is not in the sugar nor in the tongue, but in the relation of the two as function of natural selection, private experience cannot be separated form the contingency from which it is a function, and cannot be spoken of directly, but it may perhaps be understood.


  • Distinguish between Watsonian, methodological, and radical behaviorism.
  • Describe Skinner’s approach to private experience.
  • Describe the Goldiamond experiments that suggest no image or sensation is actually privately seen or felt.
  • Describe how a we learn to talk about our private experience.
  • Distinguish between being a part of behavior (or a contingency) and behavior.
  • Describe how the behavior of driving can occur with do car or road present?
  • Describe the difference between seeing/hearing in the presence of a stimulus and seeing/hearing when the thing seen or heard is absent.
  • Explain why hearing yourself privately speak is not evidence for sub vocal speech.
  • Describe the role of SDi guidance in comprehension.
  • Explain how we may account for “free thinking.”
  • Explain the role of the “program” in investigating thinking.

Keywords:Thinking, Skinner, Radical, Watsonian, Methodological, private, emotions, thinking, behaviorists, covert stimuli, dimensional and instructional control, private events, SD, hearing, speaking, contingency

Rating:This course is recommended for BCBAs and BCaBAs with background knowledge of the concepts and principles of behavior analysis. 

Credits: 1.5 Type II BACB CEs, Two Weeks

Note: The 2 weeks begin at time of purchase, not time of log in; purchasing multiple course subscriptions will not extend your access. A two-week extension can be purchased for an additional $15.00; please click here to purchase an extension. If you experience difficulty while registering please email            
Refund Policy

Refunds are not provided once a course has been accessed.     

These workshops are presented in partnership between the Florida Tech ABA Online program and ABA Technologies, Inc. ABA Technologies, Inc., is a BACB-approved provider of type-2 continuing education hours (Provider Number: OP-02-0023).

Price: $20.00

For more information, please contact Florida Tech, Continuing Education Dept. at 1-321-674-8382 or email at 

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