Article ID: CBB319450623

“The Damned Behaviorist” Versus French Phenomenologists: Pierre Naville and the French Indigenization of Watson’s Behaviorism (2020)


What do we know about the history of John Broadus Watson’s behaviorism outside of its American context of production? In this article, using the French example, we propose a study of some of the actors and debates that structured this history. Strangely enough, it was not a “classic” experimental psychologist, but Pierre Naville (1904–1993), a former surrealist, Marxist philosopher, and sociologist, who can be identified as the initial promoter of Watson’s ideas in France. However, despite Naville’s unwavering commitment to behaviorism, his weak position in the French intellectual community, combined with his idiosyncratic view of Watson’s work, led him to embody, as he once described himself, the figure of “the damned behaviorist.” Indeed, when Naville was unsuccessfully trying to introduce behaviorism into France, alternative theories defended by philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty explicitly condemned Watson’s theory and met with rapid and major success. Both existentialism and phenomenology were more in line than behaviorism with what could be called the “French national narrative” of the immediate postwar. After the humiliation of the occupation by the Nazis, the French audience was especially critical of any deterministic view of behavior that could be seen as a justification for collaboration. By contrast, Sartre’s ideas about absolute freedom and Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to preserve subjectivity were far more acceptable at the time. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved) (Source: journal abstract)

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Authors & Contributors
Rutherford, Alexandra
Maria Antonia Rancadore
Parhi, Katariina
Carr, Danielle Judith Zola
Fraiture, Pierre-Philippe
Bernard E. Harcourt
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of the Human Sciences
Social History of Medicine
Research in Philosophy and Technology
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Perspectives on Science
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
University of Toronto Press
Liverpool University Press
Duquesne University Press
Columbia University Press
New York University
Behavioral sciences
Skinner, Burrhus Frederic
Miller, George Armitage
Sartre, Jean-Paul
Laing, Ronald David
Husserl, Edmund
Foucault, Michel
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
19th century
United States
Rome (Italy)
United States. Army

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