29 Inspiring B.F. Skinner Quotes (Free List)

B.F. Skinner quotes are thought-provoking, memorable and inspiring. From views on society and politics to thoughts on love and life, B.F. Skinner has a lot to say. In this list we present the 29 best B.F. Skinner quotes, in no particular order. Let yourself get inspired!

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B.F. Skinner quotes

We shouldn’t teach great books we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement.

— B.F. Skinner


A scientist may not be sure of the answer, but he’s often sure he can find one. And that’s a condition which is clearly not enjoyed by philosophy.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


A fourth-grade reader may be a sixth-grade mathematician. The grade is an administrative device which does violence to the nature of the developmental process.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.

— B.F. Skinner


Why did colleges make their students take examinations, and why did they give grade? What did a grade really mean? When a student “studied” did he do anything more than read and think– or was there something special which no one in Walden Two would know about? Why did the professors lecture to the students? Were the students never expected to do anything except answer questions? Was it true that students were made to read books they were not interested in?

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man.

— B.F. Skinner, Contingencies Of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis


A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.

— B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity


Once in a while a new government initiates a program to put power to better use, but its success or failure never really proves anything. In science, experiments are designed, checked, altered, repeated– but not in politics… We have no real cumulative knowledge. History tells us nothing. That’s the tragedy of a political reformer.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything it can get at, unless restraining forces have already been at work. And this tendency doesn’t die out, it’s wiped out.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


At this very moment enormous numbers of intelligent men and women of goodwill are trying to build a better world. But problems are born faster than they can be solved.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Each of us has interests which conflict the interests of everybody else… ‘everybody else’ we call ‘society’. It’s a powerful opponent and it always wins. Oh, here and there an individual prevails for a while and gets what he wants. Sometimes he storms the culture of a society and changes it to his own advantage. But society wins in the long run, for it has the advantage of numbers and of age.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


In the world at large we seldom vote for a principle or a given state of affairs. We vote for a man who pretends to believe in that principle or promises to achieve that state. We don’t want a man, we want a condition of peace and plenty– or, it may be, war and want– but we must vote for a man.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


A piece of music is an experience to be taken by itself.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Society already possesses the psychological techniques needed to obtain universal observance of a code — a code which would guarantee the success of a community or state. The difficulty is that these techniques are in the hands of the wrong people–or, rather, there aren’t any right people.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Your liberals and radicals all want to govern. They want to try it their way– to show that people will be happier if the power is wielded in a different way or for different purposes. But how do they know? Have they ever tried it? No, it’s merely their guess.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


The only geniuses produced by the chaos of society are those who do something about it. Chaos breeds geniuses. It offers a man something to be a genius about.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. It enslaves him almost before he has tasted freedom. The ‘ologies’ will tell you how its done Theology calls it building a conscience or developing a spirit of selflessness. Psychology calls it the growth of the superego.Considering how long society has been at it, you’d expect a better job. But the campaigns have been badly planned and the victory has never been secured.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


In a world of complete economic equality, you get and keep the affections you deserve. You can’t buy love with gifts or favors, you can’t hold love by raising an inadequate child, and you can’t be secure in love by serving as a good scrub woman or a good provider.

— B.F. Skinner


I would have been glad to agree to let them all proceed henceforth in complete ignorance of psychology, if they would forget my opinion of chocolate sodas or the story of the amusing episode on a Spanish streetcar.

— B.F. Skinner


The majority of people don’t want to plan. They want to be free of the responsibility of planning. What they ask for is merely some assurance that they will be decently provided for. The rest is a day-to-day enjoyment of life. That’s the explanation for your Father Divines; people naturally flock to anyone they can trust for the necessities of life… They are the backbone of a community–solid, trust-worthy, essential.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Promising paradise or threatening hell-fire is, we assumed, generally admitted to be unproductive. It is based upon a fundamental fraud which, when discovered, turns the individual against society and nourishes the very thing it tries to stamp out. What Jesus offered in return of loving one’s enemies was heaven on earth, better known as peace of mind.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


The severest trial of oppression is the constant outrage which one suffers at the thought of the oppressor. What Jesus discovered was how to avoid the inner devastations. His technique was to practice the opposite emotion… [a man] may not get his freedom or possessions back, but he’s less miserable. It’s a difficult lesson.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


…not everyone is willing to defend a position of ‘not knowing.’ There is no virtue in ignorance for its own sake.

— B.F. Skinner


Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives not even understanding how it is possible, and blaming our failure on being born the wrong way.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


In a pre-scientific society the best the common man can do is pin his faith on a leader and give him his support, trusting in his benevolence against the misuse of the delegated power and in his wisdom to govern justly and make war successfully.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


The tender sentiment of the ‘one and only’ has less to do with constancy of heart than with singleness of opportunity.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Fame is also won at the expense of others. Even the well-deserved honors of the scientist or man of learning are unfair to many persons of equal achievements who get none. When one man gets a place in the sun, the others are put in a denser shade. From the point of view of the whole group there’s no gain whatsoever, and perhaps a loss.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two


Severe punishment unquestionably has an immediate effect in reducing a tendency to act in a given way. This result is no doubt responsible for its widespread use. We ‘instinctively’ attack anyone whose behavior displeases us – perhaps not in physical assault, but with criticism, disapproval, blame, or ridicule. Whether or not there is an inherited tendency to do this, the immediate effect of the practice is reinforcing enough to explain its currency. In the long run, however, punishment does not actually eliminate behavior from a repertoire, and its temporary achievement is obtained at tremendous cost in reducing the over-all efficiency and happiness of the group. (p. 190)

— B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior


The most effective alternative process [to punishment] is probably extinction. This takes time but is much more rapid than allowing the response to be forgotten. The technique seems to be relatively free of objectionable by-products. We recommend it, for example when we suggest that a parent ‘pay no attention’ to objectionable behavior on the part of his child. If the child’s behavior is strong only because it has been reinforced by ‘getting a rise out of’ the parent, it will disappear when this consequence is no longer forthcoming. (p. 192)

— B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior


Something doing every minute’ may be a gesture of despair–or the height of a battle against boredom.

— B.F. Skinner, Walden Two