What is functionalism? Critically assess its main advantages and disadvantages.

3994 Words Feb 26th, 2004 16 Pages
Functionalism is one of the major proposals that have been offered as solutions to the mind/body problem. Solutions to the mind/body problem usually try to answer questions such as: What is the ultimate nature of the mental? At the most general level, what makes a mental state mental? Or more specifically, What do thoughts have in common in virtue of which they are thoughts? That is, what makes a thought a thought? What makes a pain a pain? Cartesian Dualism said the ultimate nature of the mental was to be found in a special mental substance. Behaviorism identified mental states with behavioral dispositions. Functionalism holds most simply, that mental states are brain states: that mental states are constituted by their causal relations to …show more content…
For this reason, when we tak of computations (as Heil puts it, the manipulations of symbols in accordance with formal rules), we abstract from the material device perfrming them. And so in doing, we characterise the behaviour of computing devices as a 'higher level'. In Heil's view, minds can be considered in roughly the same way. A mind is a device capable of performing particular sorts of operation. States of mind resemble computational states, to the extent that they are shareable, in principle, by any number of material (and perhaps immaterial) systems. To talk of minds and mental operations is to abstract from whatever realises them: it is to talk at a higher level.

The point of the computer analogy is to suggest that minds bear a relation to their material embodiments analogous to the relation computer programs bear to devices on which they run. In the same way we might suppose every mind has some material embodiment, although minds may have very different kinds of material embodiment. In the case of humans, our brains constitute the hardware on which our mental software runs. Heil gives the example of Alpha Centurions, who might in contrast, share our psychology, our mental software, yet have very different, prehaps non-carbon based, hardware. He concludes that if this is right, 'minds are not didtinct immaterial substances casually related to bodies. Talk of minds is merely talk of material systems at a 'higher level''
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