Sociology Functionalism Essays

Sociology Functionalism Essays-45
Though the term ‘functionalism’ is used to designate a variety of positions in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics, and architecture, this entry focuses exclusively on functionalism as a philosophical thesis about the nature of mental states.

Though the term ‘functionalism’ is used to designate a variety of positions in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics, and architecture, this entry focuses exclusively on functionalism as a philosophical thesis about the nature of mental states.

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Still, though functionalism is officially neutral between materialism and dualism, it has been particularly attractive to materialists, since many materialists believe (or argue; see Lewis, 1966) that it is overwhelmingly likely that any states capable of playing the roles in question will be physical states.

If so, then functionalism can stand as a materialistic alternative to the Psycho-Physical Identity Thesis (introduced in Place 1956, Feigl 1958, and Smart 1959, and defended more recently in Hill 1991, and Polger 2011), which holds that each type of mental state is identical with a particular type of state.

The earliest view that can be considered an ancestor of functionalism is Aristotle's theory of the soul (350 BCE).

In contrast to Plato's claim that the soul can exist apart from the body, Aristotle argued ( of a natural, organized human body — the set of powers or capacities that enable it to express its “essential whatness”, which for Aristotle is a matter of fulfilling the function or purpose that defines it as the kind of thing it is.

Indeed, Turing's work was explicitly invoked by many theorists during the beginning stages of 20th century functionalism, and was the avowed inspiration for a class of theories, the “machine state” theories most firmly associated with Hilary Putnam (1960, 1967) that had an important role in the early development of the doctrine.

Other important recent antecedents of functionalism are the behaviorist theories that emerged in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

The promise of behaviorism lay in its conviction that there could be a science of human behavior as objective and explanatory as other “higher-level” sciences such as chemistry and biology.

Behaviorism indeed had some early successes, especially in the domain of animal learning, and its principles are still used, at least for heuristic purposes, in various areas of psychology. Chomsky 1959) have argued, the successes of behaviorism seem to depend upon the experimenters' implicit control of certain variables which, when made explicit, involve ineliminable reference to organisms' other mental states.

(See Shields, 1990, and Nelson, 1990, for further debate about whether Aristotle's view can be considered to be a version of functionalism.) A second, relatively early, ancestor of contemporary functionalism is Hobbes's (1651) account of reasoning as a kind of computation that proceeds by mechanistic principles comparable to the rules of arithmetic. 5) In addition, Hobbes suggests that reasoning — along with imagining, sensing, and deliberating about action, all of which proceed according to mechanistic principles — can be performed by systems of various physical types.

As he puts it in his Introduction to , where he likens a commonwealth to an individual human, “why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels…) have an artificial life?

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