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Functionalism (philosophy of mind)
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Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

Functionalism is a theory in philosophy developed as an answer to the mind-body problem because of objections to both identity theory and logical behaviourism. Its core idea is that the mental states can be accounted for without taking into account the underlying physical substrate (the neurons), instead attending to higher-level functions such as beliefs, desires, and emotions.

Functionalism's explanation of consciousness, or the mental, is best understood when considering the analogy made by functionalists between the mind and the modern digital computer. More specifically, the analogy is made to a "machine" that the Church-Turing thesis posits as capable in principle of computing any given algorithm (i.e. as having the capabilites of a Turing machine). This machine would involve:

  1. Data input (the senses in humans).
  2. Data output (both behaviour and memory).
  3. Functional states (mental states).
  4. The ability to move from one functional state into another.
  5. 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 variety of functionalism was developed by Hilary Putnam. One of the major proponents of functionalism is Jerry Fodor.

See also