Talk:Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

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The opening seems to imply functionalism was strictly an alternative; and in a way it is a "third way" between type identity and behaviorism, but historically speaking it was an outgrowth of behaviorism. It was behaviorists answering to critics such as type identity theorists and many others. Today it usually held by those who feel an affinity with behaviorism. It was originally Behaviorist-converts. I wish this fact was respected more in the opening. Cake (talk) 19:14, 24 September 2014 (UTC)

Request: Addition of Functionalist vs. Physicalist debates[edit]

This article could use more content (I know the response: So write it! but I don't think I'm qualified). Recent debates include arguments by Daniel Dennett ("Multiple-Drafts," "fame in the brain," "cerebral celebrity") and Ned Block ("different concepts of consciousness", phenomenality, access, reflexivity). Maybe from those two philosophers (articles are easily findable on Google), the page can shape up.

Notice: Error on Page[edit]

Not quite sure how to post, please excuse any errors of form. That bit about Lewis is just plain wrong. According to Lewis(1980) which is cited, Martians and human beings have pain in virtue of the role pain plays for them. Whatever physical state x realizes that role is what differentiates humans from Martians. Yet this seems to flatly contradict the view attributed to Lewis. (that such and such may share similarities but will not be the same as...etc) This complaint echoes and clarifies the 'FST confusion' post.


However, there have been some functionalist theories that utilize aspects of identity theory, while still respecting multiple realizability. Such Functional theories have been developed by David Lewis(1980) and David Malet Armstrong (1968). According to Lewis, mental states should be specified in terms of the functional role that state plays within the cognitive economy of an agent. The particular realizer of that role, however, is what explains the physical variation in that role's exemplars. Mad Pain and Human Pain, for example, are both manifestations of damage-avoidance 'roles' in Martians and human beings. We can expect that the particular physical constitution that realizes this role within the martian will differ from the constitution that realizes this role within a human being. What often drives this intuition is the belief that if we were to encounter an alien race with a cognitive system composed of significantly different material that of human beings (e.g., silicon-based) but performed the same functions as human mental states (e.g., they tend to yell Yowzas! when poked with sharp objects, etc.) then we would say that their mental state was that of pain, despite the obvious physiological dissimilarities. Indeed, one of Hilary Putnam's (1960, 1967) arguments for his version of functionalism relied on the intuition that other creatures can have the same mental states as humans do, and that the multiple realizability of standard functionalism makes it a better theory of mind.

Homuncular functionalism

The idea here is that you can account for the properties of mind in terms of a functional heirarchy - with the 'smarter' or 'executive' or 'homuncular' bits above directing the activity of the 'stupider' bits below. The higher functions are constituted of the lower functions in the same way that a university can be constituted by its separate schools or colleges. The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to talk about the lower functions without those functions seeming cognitive or homuncular in their own right. This would violate (at least the spirit of) supervenience by supposing mind is composed of other minds.


It is sometimes objected that homuncular functionalism entails an unacceptable sort of mind-mind supervenience: the systemic mind which somehow emerges at the higher-level must necessarily supervene on the individual minds of each individual member of the Chinese nation. If this were true, it would replace the claim of mind to matter supervenience with an assumption of mind over mind supervenience. Such a claim would violate the spirit of physicalism and beg the question against Homuncular Functionalism as a Philosophy of Mind.

Homuncular seeks to resolve this problem by emphasizing the contextual nature of abilities at each cognitive level. Each level may only be considered 'decisive' or 'homuncular' relative to the abilities of the level below it. At the lowest level, these abilities bottom out in blind physical transactions.

On a different point, the phrase; "they are said to be realized on multiple levels; in other words, hey are able to be manifested in various systems". 'Realized on multiple levels' seems to imply different levels of supervenience within the same physical structure. Wouldn't it be better to say; 'they are said to have multiple realizations/ are said to be realized through a variety of distinct physical systems/ are said to have a multiplicity of distinct physical realizations.' The point, after all, is to indicate how the same conceptual or functional individual can be implemented through different physical systems.

Also, I'm not a big fan of 'manifested in various systems' as 'manifested in' could be suggesting some mereological relation. Perhaps change to 'instantiated in' or even 'exemplified by'? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:18, 1 February 2013 (UTC)

—Preceding unsigned comment added by Enqualia1 (talkcontribs) 11:00, 21 January 2010 (UTC) 

Notice: Removal of clause[edit]

Removed the clause "(the algorithm must have certain limitations)", whose editor fails to understand that those limitations are part of the definition of algorithm (the part that distinguishes algorithms from more general programs).

Request: Cleanup[edit]

IMO, BTW, bcz of the handwaving of "The definition of functional states with reference to the part they play in the operation of the entire entity - ie. in reference to the other functional states", this statement of the concept renders the rigor of the Turing machine references mere window dressing. Hopefully someone who knows more abt the subject of the article than that editor or i do can clean it up. --Jerzy 23:54, 2004 Feb 8 (UTC)

Hi all. I just made some changes. It seemed like it could use some cleaning up. Note: (1) I mostly tried to clarify some of the arguments under the criticism section. I also added a section for Block's Chinese Nation argument. It was sort of briefly covered in the Homuncular functionalism section, but it is properly a criticism and should be separately covered. (2) Also, of major importance, I noticed that a lot of the info in this entry was pretty much copied directly or only slightly changed from Block's intro titled "What is Functionalism?", which can be found online. This is a sad plagiarism issue and only hurts Wikipedia. Plus, it had references in the text that weren't even in the Wikipedia article--presumably because the person did not care to check it over. (3) I think the Homuncular functionalism section is still pretty shakey. Hopefully someone can clean it up. --Jaymay 09:51, 27 July 2006 (UTC)


As to treating memory as an output, in terms of the article, this ruins the argument unless it is also an input. (Whatever treating memory so simplistically may do to philosophical credibility; do they really not acknowledge that human memory is more like part of the computation process than an analogue of RAM or even associative memory? --Jerzy 00:57, 2004 Feb 9 (UTC)

Request: Kripke's argument[edit]

Hey, don't leave us hanging! I want to know what Kripke's argument is! Maybe in a separate article ... Ppe42 21:07, Oct 21, 2004 (UTC)

It's beyond the scope of the article. I've included the source so that you may read the argument yourself. Briefly, if mental state M = functional state F, then that identity is necessary. however it is easy to imagine some creature with F but not M, or vice versa. In other words, the identity M = F seems contingent. Functional identity theorists will have to give an argument as to why there is an apparent contingency in M = F if M really is F. Nortexoid 07:17, 8 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Missing Reference?[edit]

There's no reference to Searle's chinese room thought experiment as criticism. Isn't this possibly the foremost criticism of functionalism? Atolmazel 11:20, 23 Jun 2005 GMT

Yes definatly! I added a few lines on it to the critisim section and reorganised it a little bit. Feel free to amend what I wrote and make it more definitive. The main page seems to address everything in a very comprehensive way.

--Korona 20:52, 16 October 2005 (UTC)


From Joseph LeDoux's "The Emotional Brain"; ISBN: 0684836599; 1996; p. 27—

One of the most important conceptual developments in the establishment of cognitive science was a philosophical position known as functionalism, which holds that intelligent functions carried out by different machines reflect the same underlying process.
According to functionalism (philosophy of mind) (Second Para.), the mental states that make up consciousness can essentially be defined as complex interactions between different functional processes. Because these processes are not limited to a particular physical state or physical medium, they can be realized in multiple ways, including, theoretically, within non-biological systems.
For example, a computer and a person can both add 2 + 5 and come up with 7. The fact that both achieve the same answer cannot be explained by the use of similar hardware—brains are made of biological stuff and computers of electronic parts. The similar outcome must be due to a similar process that occurs at a functional level. In spite of the fact that the hardware in the machines is vastly different, the software or program that each executes may be the same. Functionalism thus holds that the mind {software} is to the brain {hardware} as a computer program {applications and data base—software} is to the computer hardware.
Cognitive scientists, carrying the functionalist banner, have been allowed to pursue the functional organization of the mind without reference to the hardware that generates the functional states. According to functionalist doctrine, cognitive science stands on its own as a discipline—it does not require that we know anything about the brain. This logic was a shot in the arm to the field, giving it a strong sense of independence. Regardless of whether they do experiments on humans or use computer simulations of the human mind, many cognitive scientists today are functionalists.
This is a philosophical position which proposes that mental functions (thinking, reasoning, planning, feeling) are functional {being, i.e. verbs} rather than physical states {nouns}. When a person and a computer add 2 to 5 and come up with 7, the similar outcome cannot be based on similar physical makeup, but instead must be due to a functional equivalence of the processes involved. As a result, it is possible to study mental processes using computer simulations. Minds might in principle even exist without bodies. (Based on J.A. Fodor, The Mind-Body Problem. Scientific American [January 1981], Vol. 244, p. 118.)

Yesselman 23:57, 22 December 2005 (UTC)

More info[edit]

Need more info on representional functionalism. 00:57, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

Now that may indeed be useful. So why don't do DO something about it?--Lacatosias 10:32, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

I disagree. The two articles are importantly different as the psychology/cognitive science article is includes parts focussed to psych/cog (for instance in the case of inductive functionalism and experimental interpretation) whereas the philosophy of mind omits parts that are irrelevant to philosophy but important to psychology/cognitive science.-- 16:41, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

The Psychology article is very poorly written. IMHO the Philosophy article is equivalent to the psychology one. Instead of being merged the psychology one should just be deleted. The literature on Functionalism in Cognitive Science virtually is the literature in philosophy. (talk) 12:30, 2 November 2008 (UTC)

perhaps a merge between this article and Functionalism (psychology)? 00:59, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

I think that the two should be merged, but that the content that does not overlap should just be added to the other one. Both entries are of the same general thesis, it's just that the psychology one has more info on cog sci stuff. So why not just add that info in under their own headings? BTW, the philosophy info on the psychology entry is very sketchy. I guess keeping them separate though isn't a big deal. Just a thought. --Jaymay 09:55, 27 July 2006 (UTC)
Merge: There is exremely little in the other pshycology article that is not present already (or cannot be easily and appropiately added) to the philosophy article. Cog sci is an studied intensively by philosophers of mind as well as pshologigists, anthrologopists , etc... But we don't nedd fifty five separate article for them. We can just state, at the top, funcionalism is the thesis in philosophy, cog. sci. and so on.--Francesco Franco aka Lacatosias 10:35, 27 July 2006 (UTC)
Yeah, looking at it again, you basically have a philosphy article over there. There's no distinction.--Francesco Franco aka Lacatosias 10:38, 27 July 2006 (UTC)

Yes, please merge the two articles. Sicjedi 14:13, 14 October 2007 (UTC)

Take Two[edit]

Merge: Wow, I guess this ball got dropped more than a year ago. I moved the merger request onto the front of this article, so that more editors will see it, and changed the title of this section so that the "Merge" template will take editors here. ---- CharlesGillingham 05:28, 4 October 2007 (UTC)
No The topics of coverage are distinct. If you look at the links you will see taht the links to the psych article are almost entirely to the historical school of thought in which John Dewey played a large part. The puzzling over Chinese boxes is rather foreign to the concerns of those articles. I am not sure that the use of the word "functionalism" and both having a philosophical component is enough to make them refer to the same underlying concept. DCDuring 14:19, 4 October 2007 (UTC) DCDuring 14:37, 4 October 2007 (UTC)
Merge Sorry. I'd forgotten that I had already created a Functional psychology stub page, which handles my objection and refers to the existing Functionalism (psychology) page. It would be fine it referred to the Functionalism (philosophy of mind) page. In fact, I will go ahead and add that now. The two functionalism articles seem very duplicative to someone neither a cognitive scientist nor a philosopher, but with a passing interest in both fields. DCDuring 14:37, 4 October 2007 (UTC)
Merge The current Functionalism (psychology) page does not discuss the main meaning in psychology of functionalism. Functionlism in psychology is a theoretical perspective that emerged as a response to the structuralist perspective, and which was driven by the interest in psychology with Darwin's explanations of behavioral adaptations. The current Functionalism (psychology) page deals with philosophical views - so on that basis, it should be merged with the Functionalism (philosophy of mind) page, and the Functional psychology stub page created by DCDuring should replace the current [Functionalism (psychology)]] page. Dana_leighton 16:40, 26 April 2008 (UTC)
Merge The psych page is even set up to be a philosophy page. From the intro: Functionalism is the philosophical basis for much empirical research in psychology and cognitive science, which says that “mental states are constituted by their causal relations to one another and to sensory inputs and behavioral outputs” (Block, 1996)." The entire content of the "problems with functionalism" section (which comprises the bulk of the article) is material taken from the philosophy of mind. EVERYTHING on this page belongs in the phiosophy article, IMHO. --Shaggorama (talk) 22:12, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

I have carried out this merge. Help me to fix any inconsistencies, etc. ---- CharlesGillingham (talk) 07:37, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

Request: clarify problem with supervenience thesis[edit]

The problem for supervenience is not clear. Does the author suggest that there is a change in either M or M1 that does NOT involve a change in P? (If so, point it out.) Or does the author suggest that "the underlying physical substratum" does not exist in the case of M since M's (immediate) underlying substratum is mental? (If so, I'm afraid this is a special version of the supervenience relation, one that rules out any intermediate mental levels between the relata. This feature should be acknowledged.) The principle, as stated, does not rule out "totally different sets of mental facts" supervening on P.

"But this would seem to put into serious doubt, if not directly contradict, the fundamental idea of the supervenience thesis: there can be no change in the mental realm without some change in the underlying physical substratum. This can be easily seen if we label the set of mental facts that occur at the higher-level M and the set of mental facts that occur at the lower-level M1. Given the transitivity of supervenience, if M supervenes on M1 and M1 supervenes on P (physical base), then M and M1 both supervene on P, even though they are (allegedly) totally different sets of mental facts."

I am confused by this too. Say we take the China brain example. We have one set of mental facts -- the "collective mind" formed by the organisation of Chinese people -- which supervenes on a set of physical facts P. We also have the individual minds of the Chinese people, each of which supervenes on a unique subset of P. So there is no problem at all: the situation described in the quotation above simply doesn't arise.
Suppose we consider multiple levels of a single mind, so that M1 and M2 actually do supervene on the same set of physical facts. Functionalism is (something like) the idea that minds result from certain organisations of matter [*]. In principle, it is possible that the organisation of a single physical structure could be described in a number of different ways, and if each of these different descriptions characterises a set of mental facts, it's entirely possible for two different sets of mental facts to supervene on a single set of physical facts (and at the same time, for M2 to supervene on M1). Nonethless, if there is any change in the organisation of the relevant physical structure, both sets of mental facts will necessarily change, since they both supervene on the same physical organisation.
Having said this, it might in principle be possible that a change in P could cause a change in M1 but not in M2 (or vice versa) if the change were irrelevant to one of the descriptions of P which characterises M1/2. Again, this is not a problem because functionalism, strictly speaking, is the thesis that the mental supervenes on the organisation of the physical, not the physical tout court.
[*] Or I guess the organisation of anything -- in principle it doesn't have to be matter. Cadr 12:46, 10 June 2006 (UTC)

Homuncular functionalism[edit]

"Given the transitivity of supervenience, if M supervenes on M1 and M1 supervenes on P (physical base), then M and M1 both supervene on P, even though they are (allegedly) totally different sets of mental facts" ... this argument is so bad, I can't believe anyone proposed it. can we have a reference? it seems to suggest that M and M1 both supervening on P means that each state of M rigidly maps to a state in M1, which is not the case ... supervenience allows infinite states in P that map to a state in M or M1, and therefore a change in M1 doesn't necessitate a change in M. M and M1 are indeed "totally different sets of mental facts" except for a very weak correspondence in which M1 is in one of a very large number of states that result in the state of M. Of the billions of things a mind in M1 is doing, a tiny tiny proportion (ie "I am pulling lever A because the light went on") are supporting the supervenience of M, and this doesn't mean the minds are in some kind of lock step


This section makes no sense to me. How does the existence of homophones constitute disproof of anything? It should be intuitive that very different mental states can produce the same output, especially when one only considers a very constrained section of the output: staring blankly at a wall can hide just about any series of thoughts; and the existence of such ambiguities in speech only demonstrates that communication is not total and perfect. No big surprise there. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:38, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

I think you are misreading darn as dam. The example expletives (d-a-r-n and d-a-m-n) are not supposed to be homophones; in fact if they were then the argument that the outputs are dissimilar so mental processes are dissimilar doesn't work, or at least not as well. Consideration of homophones might maise even more complex issues. -- (talk) 13:38, 12 December 2007 (UTC)

problem: FSIT / FST confusion[edit]

The following makes no sense to me and I suspect someone was trying to make abbreviations consistent:

Thus, unlike standard versions of functionalism (often called Functional State Identity Theories) (FSITs), FSITs do not allow for the multiple realizability of mental states, because the fact that mental states are realized by brain states is essential. What often drives this view is the belief that if we were to encounter an alien race with a cognitive system composed of significantly different material from humans' (e.g., silicon-based) but performed the same functions as human mental states (e.g., they tend to yell "Ouch!" when poked with sharp objects, etc.) then we would say that their type of mental state is perhaps similar to ours, but too different to say it's the same. For some, this may be a disadvantage to FSITs.

The first sentence reads "unlike standard versions... (FSITs)... FSITs do not allow" which is oxymoronic. What this appears to be referring to is functional specifications (could be abbreviated to "FST" in distinction to "FSIT"). As I understand the functional specification is the more physicalist identification of a mental state with a physical state that performs a function, rather than the abstract function. So perhaps it should be:

Thus, unlike standard versions of functionalism (often called Functional State Identity Theories or FSITs), functional specification theories (FSTs) do not allow for the multiple realizability of mental states, because the fact that mental states are realized by brain states is essential.[...] a disadvantage to FSTs.

Someone should check the history and see if this was a mistake, and if it can't be resolved, add a 'needs attention form an expert' template. -- (talk) 15:27, 9 December 2007 (UTC)

I wrote the above and on further checking, the grammatical confusion was introduced by [1] these two edits], but the substance of the edit would appear to be correct - Armstrong's was a FST, a first-order property theory according to Stanford Encyclopedia, and not necessarily implying multiple realizability. Therefore, I've reworded as above, and asked for verification from WikiProject Philosophy/Mind. --Cedderstk 14:04, 12 December 2007 (UTC)

Post complains that functionalism measn that a thing is "identical" to another even if it has a different history. Even tho this may seem somewhat question begging wrt the definition of identical, I wonder if the criticism could be added??

He also argues that we can think about something that hasn't causally affected us, with just as much aboutness as something that has. Again perhaps question begging... but it would mean that the physics of an object outside our time cone [iirc the example] cannot refer [and truth without reference is difficult: awkward for an otherwise realist physics maybe???] —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:40, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

Merge completed[edit]

I finished the merge. The articles really did cover the same topics, so I just selected (what I thought) was the best language on each topic and then combined the sources. The only "casualty" of the merge was this section, which I didn't really know what to do with, and needs to be rewritten and sources need to be found. ---- CharlesGillingham (talk) 07:44, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

Inductive Functionalism[edit]

This concerns the issue that accurately knowing what functions the brain is executing at any one time is difficult to know. For example, in a psychological investigation some variable, such as word length, might be manipulated to measure the effect on another variable, say, reaction time from which some inference about reading might be made. This describes the inductive scientific method, where reasoning is made from observed facts. However, if the example is continued and the investigation finds that longer words take longer to respond to there are several interpretations that can be made. One is that the word recognition is serial, letter by letter. Another is that it is parallel (letters are processed all at once) but longer words require more lexical ‘post-recognition’ processing. The details here are not important; however, what is important is that inductive functionalism is bad at accurately determining what functions are performed by the brain. This is a serious problem for functionalist cognitive science because where multiple explanations exist it may be impossible to ascribe one correctly or, worse, possible to ascribe one incorrectly.[citation needed]

Talk page merge[edit]

The old talk page of Functionalism (psychology) is in Talk:Functionalism (philosophy of mind)/Archive 1 ---- CharlesGillingham (talk) 08:06, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

Bad Inverted Spectrum Example[edit]

In the example, normal people see an orange as orange-colored while Jane sees it as blue. This inverted spectrum can be immediately detected by simply asking whether the color of an orange is a compound color, intermediate between two colors. Normal people will say yes, and Jane will say no. So the sentence "one can see that all of your behavioral as well as functional relations to colors will be the same." is false. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:12, 7 December 2009 (UTC)

  • Jane wouldn't have to identify her qualia incorrectly if her verbal behavior matches up to what we expect it to be. If instead of having directly inverted qualia she has mismatched qualia, she still will see orange as whatever she sees it as, and will know that her purple quale, for example, is called orange. If she is seeing purple, she will still identify a compound, and will call orange, "Orange." You may be able to ask her to mix all sorts of colors, but if she's adding red to yellow, which for her is making some muddy brown color, she'll still know that that distinct muddy brown is called orange. (talk) 13:28, 15 October 2010 (UTC)

Starts off so wrong[edit]

Functionalism isn't a reaction to behaviorism. Functionalism was developed by Williams James in his book The Prinicples of Psychology in 1890. James Watson started the behaviorism movement with "Psychology as the Behaviorist views it" in 1913. In Pavlov's experiments, which greatly influenced Behaviorism, was conducted until 1901-1904 timeframe. Identity Theory of the Mind was developed until 1950s. Besides, its a well known fact that Functionalism is a reaction to structuralism which broke down mental processes to there smallest elements. Functionalism opposed these idea and said one should look at the whole processes and how it is used and its effect on the environment. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:53, 25 September 2013 (UTC)