Functionalism in Philosophy of Mind



9 Questions

What is functionalism in philosophy of mind?

What is the idea of multiple realizability in functionalism?

What is machine-state functionalism?

What is the Chinese room argument?

What is the inverted spectrum scenario?

What is homuncular functionalism?

What is mechanistic functionalism?

What is the Twin Earth thought experiment?

What is the problem with functionalism's radical form of semantic holism?


Functionalism in Philosophy of Mind

  • Functionalism is a thesis in philosophy of mind that states that each mental state is constituted solely by its functional role, which means its causal relation to other mental states, sensory inputs, and behavioral outputs.

  • It is a theoretical level between the physical implementation and behavioral output, and it is only concerned with the effective functions of the brain.

  • A mental state is identified by a functional role, and it is said to be realized on multiple levels.

  • An important part of functionalism is the idea of multiple realizability, which means that a mental state can be realized in multiple ways, including, theoretically, with non-biological systems, such as computers.

  • There are functionalist theories that combine with the identity theory of mind, which deny multiple realizability.

  • Machine-state functionalism is the first formulation of functionalism, which is based on the analogies between the mind and theoretical machines or computers capable of computing any given algorithm.

  • Psycho-functionalism is based on the rejection of behaviorist theories in psychology and their replacement with empirical cognitive models of the mind.

  • Analytic functionalism is concerned with the meanings of theoretical terms in general and how they get their meanings from our common-sense "folk psychological" theories about them.

  • Homuncular functionalism was developed largely by Daniel Dennett and has been advocated by William Lycan, and it postulates the existence of an entire hierarchical series of mind levels.

  • Mechanistic functionalism augments previous functionalist accounts of mental states by maintaining that any psychological explanation must be rendered in mechanistic terms.

  • A mechanistic explanation involves decomposing a given system, in this case, a mental system, into its component physical parts, their activities or functions, and their combined organizational relations.

  • Mechanistic functionalism leads functionalism away from the traditional functionalist autonomy of psychology from neuroscience.Critiques of Functionalism in Philosophy of Mind

  • Mechanistic functionalism provides a framework for merging traditional psychological models with neurological data.

  • Functionalism is a broadly metaphysical thesis concerned with characterizing mental states based on their functional/causal role.

  • Type physicalism, which claims that mental states are physical in nature, is incompatible with functionalism.

  • The Chinese brain thought experiment challenges the functionalist proposal of multiple realizability, which claims that hardware implementation is irrelevant because only the functional level is important.

  • The Chinese room argument by John Searle attacks the claim that thought can be represented as a set of functions, arguing that functionalism is an insufficient theory of the mind.

  • The inverted spectrum scenario proposed by Ned Block argues that two people can be functionally identical yet have different mental states, which challenges functionalism.

  • The Twin Earth thought experiment introduced by Hilary Putnam argues that functionalism cannot sufficiently account for all mental states, as two people can be functionally identical yet have different mental states.

  • Functionalism implies a radical form of semantic holism, which can be problematic in cases like the damn/darn problem.

  • Triviality arguments suggest that functionalism becomes overly liberal in ascribing mental properties to things that do not have them.Functionalism in Philosophy: Arguments Against and Limitations

  • Hilary Putnam and John Searle argue that functionalism is trivial, meaning that the internal structures functionalism tries to discuss are present everywhere, making functionalism either a form of behaviorism or panpsychism.

  • The argument assumes that physics leads to a progression of unique states, and functionalist realization is present whenever there is a mapping from the proposed set of mental states to physical states of the system.

  • Therefore, any system is a mind because the states of a physical system are always at least slightly unique.

  • Formulations of functionalism that stipulate absolute requirements on interaction with external objects are reduced to behaviorism instead of absolute triviality.

  • Peter Godfrey-Smith argues that these formulations can still be reduced to triviality if they accept the assumption that adding a transducer layer to an object should not change whether that object has mental states.

  • The transducer layer is restricted to producing behavior according to a simple mapping, such as a lookup table, from inputs to actions on the system, and from the state of the system to outputs.

  • Godfrey-Smith believes that these problems can be addressed using causality, but that it may be necessary to posit a continuum between objects being minds and not being minds rather than an absolute distinction.

  • Constraining the mappings seems to require either consideration of the external behavior as in behaviorism, or discussion of the internal structure of the realization as in identity theory.

  • The functionalist claim of the autonomy of high-level functional description becomes questionable.

  • Multiple realizability does not seem to be lost.

  • Functionalism can be seen as a bizarre mapping from mental to economic variables.

  • Functionalism is a popular theory in philosophy of mind and cognitive science.


Test your knowledge on Functionalism, a thesis in philosophy of mind that states that mental states are constituted solely by their functional role. This quiz will cover the different formulations of functionalism, including machine-state functionalism, psycho-functionalism, and homuncular functionalism, as well as critiques and limitations of the theory, such as the Chinese brain thought experiment and the triviality argument. Challenge yourself to see how well you understand this popular theory in philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

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