Behaviouralism cannot be easily defined and explained. As there are many behaviouralists, so are the definitions. Both as an intellectual tendency and academic movement, it has so many facets: a revolution, a reform movement, a mood, an approach and an attitude. As such, convergence is lacking on the meaning and definition of behaviouralism.
The central theme or unit of behaviouralism is ‘behaviour’. It has been adopted because of its objectivity, observability, value-neutrality and verifiability. Behaviouralism adopts ‘behaviour’ as its subject-matter of study and derives all conclusions therefrom. It aims, according to Dahl, ‘at stating all the phenomena of government in terms of the observed and observable behaviour of men’.
Its goal is to develop a ‘science of politics modelled after the methodological assumptions of the natural science’. Behaviouralism maintains that there are certain fundamental units of analysis relating to human behaviour out of which generalisations can be formed. These generalisations offer common base on which a ‘science of man’ can be appropriately built.
In the opinion of Charlesworth, behaviouralists assume that we can objectively and inductively discover what, where, how and when, but not why of human behaviour. David Truman long ago explained it as description of all facts of government in terms of observed and observable behaviour of man. Behaviouralism tries to understand, explain, and predict human behaviour on the pattern of natural sciences.
In simple words, it includes:
(i) Direct or indirect observation or sensory perception of the behaviour of persons, groups, and aggregates; and
(ii) Deriving conclusions on the basis of that observation of behaviour.
Behaviouralism is a broader term. It is concerned with a scientific understanding of man in society regardless of the disciplinary umbrella. However, we are concerned more with political behaviour: Politics as a special form of human activity is not independent of social behaviour rather it is related to all aspects of social relations.
Political behaviouralism, apart from behaviour, is also concerned with its perceptual, motivational, and attitudinal components making for man’s political identifications, demands, and expectations, and his systems of political beliefs, values, and goals. It includes all levels of the social system and culture as well as multi-dimensional orientations.
In sum, it involves external aspects of behaviour and the affective, contiguous, and evaluative processes engrossed through it.
Kirkpatrick enumerates four features of political behaviouralism:
(i) in place of political institutions, ‘behaviour’ of men in political situations is the basic unit of study;
(ii) it looks at social sciences as ‘behaviour sciences’, and emphasises integrity of Political Science with other social sciences;
(iii) it prefers quantitative or statistical techniques for precise observation, classification and measurement of facts; and
(iv) it defines the goal of Political Science as the formulation of an empirical systematic theory.
As Sibley has stated, scientific behaviouralism puts emphasis on formulation of scientific theory as well as process of verification.
Behaviouralism has many facets: an ideology, a revolution, a reform movement, an approach, a method, a mood or a tendency. Easton and other political scientists regard it a ‘revolution’ which has brought about overall changes in Political Science. Kirkpatrick does not regard it merely an approach. To do so is to mistake means for ends. Its aim is to make a ‘science of polities’ whereas approaches, methods etc. are only means. For many, according to Wasby, it is personal philosophy or lifestyle.
Some other scholars like Robert A. Dahl view behaviouralism as a method, an approach, a mood or set of techniques. He evaluates it as a protest movement which has been assimilated in full, saying it will become, and in fact already is becoming incorporated into the main body of the discipline.
The behavioural mood will not disappear, then, because it has failed. It will disappear rather because it has succeeded. As a separate, somewhat sectarian, slightly factional outlook, it will be the first victim of its own strength. Its two main characteristics are: dissatisfaction against the findings of traditional Political Science, and, need of methods and approaches to have empirical propositions and theories in Political Science. Dahl follows Truman in endorsing it as an approach. He, thus, appreciates various aspects of behaviouralism.
There are scholars like Leo Strauss, Alfred de Grazia and others who decry behaviouralism in toto.
Whatever be the way to look at behaviourahsm, few disagree on some of its essential features mentioned below:
1. Its subject-matter is ‘behaviour’ of persons, groups, and other collectivities.
2. It is interdisciplinary in nature meaning that human behaviour can be properly understood by use of various disciplinary perspectives.
3. Behavioural studies are pursued on the basis of scientific methodology, standard techniques, and verifiable procedures.
4. Behaviourists keep their own personal values away from their studies.
5. The ultimate aim of behaviouralists is to develop an empirical, explanatory, and predictive theory.