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Philosophical Position: Man as Active or Passive

Related Readings: Quinney's Social Reality of Crime

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: November 14, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

A Major Difference in Theoretical Approaches

Curran and Takata
Copyright: November 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.


Black Letter Definition: The philosophical approach that considers man active believes that man has free will and enough control over his own actions to choose his behaviors, however limiting the circumstances. This approach usually holds man responsible for his actions.


This essay draws on pp. 216 in Criminology Theory, by Williams III, and McShane, Anderson Publishing.

Quinney, who favors the dynamic approach to social theory, also favors the philosophical position that man is active in the creation of his own reality and identity. Recall Gergen's position, that the "saturated self" is so impacted that there is little opportunity for a "core" or fundamental self to assert itself. We left open in our discussions the extent to which Sartre's belief that we ultimately choose who we are through our actions makes sense in today's world of the "staturated self."

Skinner's behaviorism assumes man as a primarily reactive or passive creature who respsonds to the stimuli presented. This position grants far less control to man, and far more to his manipulators in the control of the social structure. Once again, in answer to Stan's inevitable question of whether these theorists mean the extremes in each case, yes. Skinner really thought it was possible to condition humans. Bruner emphatically disagreed with Skinner, to the point that they did not speak, though one lived on the fourth floor at Harvard, and the other on the third. Each was pretty sure the other was wrong, Stan. But, in reality, as with most of these continuums, we range over the continuum, and our location is not completely stable.

Don't forget to ask yourself what the underlying philosophical position is with the theories we discuss.