The extension of the principle of the reflex to include behavior involving more and more of the organism was made only in the face of vigorous opposition.

My understanding is this: the vigorous opposition is the reason why the principle of the reflex extend to include behavior involving more and more of the organism. But I'm not so sure about it, the word only in here seems to say vigorous opposition is the only reason, that doesn't make much sense.

The source is Skinner's "Science and human behavior" and following is the whole paragraph:

The extension of the principle of the reflex to include behavior involving more and more of the organism was made only in the face of vigorous opposition. The reflex nature of the spinal animal was challenged by proponents of a "spinal will." The evidence they offered in support of a residual inner cause consisted of behavior which apparently could not be explained wholly in terms of stimuli. When higher parts of the nervous system were added, and when the principle was eventually extended to the intact organism, the same pattern of resistance was followed. But arguments for spontaneity, and for the explanatory entities which spontaneity seems to demand, are of such form that they must retreat before the accumulating facts. Spontaneity is negative evidence; it points to the weakness of a current scientific explanation, but does not in itself prove an alternative version. By its very nature, spontaneity must yield ground as a scientific analysis is able to advance. As more and more of the behavior of the organism has come to be explained in terms of stimuli, the territory held by inner explanations has been reduced. The "will" has retreated up the spinal cord, through the lower and then the higher parts of the brain, and finally, with the conditioned reflex, has escaped through the front of the head. At each stage, some part of the control of the organism has passed from a hypothetical inner entity to the external environment

Is my understanding correct?

  • Read it as the extension faced vigorous opposition (but was ultimately made). – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 May 7 '12 at 22:55
  • So you mean extension is the winner of the battle? – Bing573 May 7 '12 at 23:03
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    If i have two statements: 1. "She opened the diary only to find out that ____ happened." 2. "She opened the diary to find out that only ____ happened." Does that mean the first one doesn't make sense? I think they both have different meanings. – Fr0zenFyr May 8 '12 at 6:37
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    @Fr0zenFyr: "She opened the diary only in defiance of her stepmother". 'Only' is in a different idiom there than in ".. only to find a moth". So I agree with you, 'only' can be used in different ways. I think we all agree that in context, the face of opposition, if it had prevailed, would have prevented, not caused, the extension. "She opened the diary only with Jimminy's help" is the form I would expect, and Skinner's sentence does not fit that form. – Bobbi Bennett May 8 '12 at 14:25
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    I don't think it is saying that opposition was the cause of the extension. It is saying that there was no extension of the principle without opposition. In other words, the opposition was there all the time, so 'with opposition' was the only form it took. – Roaring Fish May 8 '12 at 16:19


The adverb only in this sentence is used as in definition 4A in the FreeDictionary:

Only: In the last analysis or final outcome:

It modifies the verb made, and OP's sentence can be interpreted as:

In the final outcome, after some vigorous opposition had been overcome, the extension was made.

  • 1
    I didn't down-vote your answer, i don't think you are correct in your interpretation though. I have up-voted to acknowledge that you realize the significance of the attachment of 'only'. IMHO, 'only' is neither attched to "made" nor to "opposition". It is attached to "in the face of", check my comment on the question to understand the difference with examples. – Fr0zenFyr May 8 '12 at 6:43
  • Read "The extension of the principle of the reflex to include behavior involving more of the organism was only accepted after overcoming vigorous opposition." Skinner's sentence is common idiom, but poor style, as the OP senses. Your answer is correct but not well-written. I suggest "modifies" instead of "attaches" in your answer. Maybe use the above re-write in your answer. – Eli Rosencruft May 8 '12 at 11:39
  • So the vigorous opposition is not cause but resistance, the word "only" is used to emphasize the fact that the opposition needs to be overcome before the extension was made? – Bing573 May 8 '12 at 12:32
  • "... only made after a big argument" is a poor sentence. It means "...only made (and nothing else) after a big argument." Written as "... was made only after a big argument (and after nothing else)" it makes more snse. – Roaring Fish May 8 '12 at 16:16
  • @RoaringFish, actually only made after and made only after is just a difference of word inversion and mean the same thing in my book. No implication of 'and nothing else' is made here. – Jim May 8 '12 at 16:37

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