Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lecture 12

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Wk 6 - Thurs (28/8), 3-4 pm lecture: HSB2

John Barth: The End of the Road (1958) -


Theories of Character (Critical & Psychological)

Extracts from Aristotle’s Poetics:

… one should not show worthy men passing from good fortune to bad. That does not arouse fear or pity but shocks our feelings.

Nor again wicked people passing from bad fortune to good. That is the most untragic of all, having none of the requisite qualities, since it does not satisfy our feelings or arouse pity or fear.

Nor again the passing of a thoroughly bad man from good fortune to bad fortune. Such a structure might satisfy our feelings but it arouses neither pity nor fear, the one being for the man who does not deserve his misfortune, and the other for the man who is like ourselves – pity for the undeserved misfortune, fear for the man like ourselves …

There remains then the mean between these. This is the sort of man who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the fortune, but rather through some flaw in him … the change must be not to good fortune from bad but, on the contrary, from good to bad fortune, and it must not be due to villainy but to some great flaw in such a man as we have described ...

The Theory of the Humours:

BLOOD - Air (hot / moist) - SANGUINE:
amorous, happy, generous
YELLOW BILE - Fire (hot / dry) - CHOLERIC:
violent, vengeful
PHLEGM - Water (cold / moist) - PHLEGMATIC:
dull, pale, cowardly
BLACK BILE - Earth (cold / dry) - MELANCHOLIC:
gluttonous, lazy, sentimental

The Jungian Theory of Character:

Extravert or


Think out loud

Keep thoughts to yourself

Show energy and enthusiasm for activities

Watch first, then try task or activity

Easily distracted

Can ignore distractions

Attracted to action and activity

Like to spend time alone to get re-energized

Act before you think

Like to observe before trying things

Say things before thinking them through

Pause before answering new questions

Like variety and lots of action

Enjoy individual or small group activities

Think out loud while talking to others

Think ahead, then respond to others

Dramatis Personae

Jake Horner:
Ex-graduate student at Johns Hopkins, ex-resident of the Farm, extreme sufferer from immobility.

Joe Morgan:
History teacher at Wicomico State Teachers' College, Boy Scout troupe leader, husband of Rennie, father of two boys, extreme ideologist of personal responsibility.

Rennie Morgan:
Husband of Joe, lover of Jake, mother of two boys (3 and 4 years old), extreme convert to Joe's philosophy of personal responsibility, backslider to Jake's doctrine of complete unaccountability.

Peggy Rankin:
Jake's "middle-aged pick-up," cast by him later in the narrative as "girl most likely to know where to find an abortionist".

The Doctor:
Unnamed Black physician / pyschiatrist of dubious credentials, director of the Farm, Jake's guide and therapist.

Dr Schott:
White President of Wicomico State Teachers' College, with a vague and disordered mind.

The missing ingredient is, perhaps, Barth's implicit critique of Behaviourism.

You're all familiar with Pavlov's experiments on salivating dogs. More to the point, perhaps, is the (so-called) Radical Behaviorism of the American B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). After a false start doing a degree in English literature and trying to become a writer, he went on to do a PhD in Psychology at Harvard.

His version of Behaviorism "radically rejected mediating constructs and the hypothetico-deductive method, instead offering a strongly inductive, data driven approach that has proven to be successful in dozens of areas from behavioral pharmacology to language therapy in the developmentally delayed." In this he might be seen as an heir to American Pragmatism, the philosophical movement headed by William James and Charles S. Peirce.

His views on teaching can be summarised as follows:
  1. People have a fear of failure
  2. There is a lack of directions
  3. There is also a lack of clarity in the direction
  4. Positive reinforcement is not used enough
  5. The task is not broken down into small enough steps

Skinner suggests that with all of the obstacles out of the way any age appropriate skill can be taught using his 5 principles:
  1. Have small steps
  2. Work from most simple to most complex tasks
  3. Repeat the directions as many times as possible
  4. Give immediate feedback
  5. Give positive reinforcement

For our purposes, though, the Skinner book which is of most importance is Walden Two (1948), a fictionalised account of a successful Utopian community in 1940s America.

This story has been much criticised (but also much read). There have even been a number of attempts to set up an actual community along the lines suggested by Skinner - none (as yet) successful, unfortunately.

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