Mind, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V038-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

3. Alternatives to functionalism

Not everyone endorses functional and computational theories of mind. Some, influenced by Ryle and the later Wittgenstein, think that such concern with literally inner processes of the brain betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of mental talk, which, they argue, rests largely on outward Criteria. Others think that computational processes lack the means of capturing the basic properties of Consciousness and Intentionality that are essential to most mental phenomena. John Searle, in particular, regards his Chinese room argument as a devastating objection to computational approaches. He thinks that mental phenomena should be understood not functionally, but directly in biological or physical terms.

The hardest challenge for functionalism is posed by Qualia – the properties that distinguish pain, the look of red, the taste of pineapple, and so on, on the one hand, from mental states like belief and understanding on the other. (See also Bodily sensations; Sense-data; Perception). Some argue that unnecessary problems are produced in this area by an excessive reification of inner experience, and recommend instead an adverbial theory of mental states (see Mental states, adverbial theory of). However, some problems persist, and can be made vivid by considering the possibility of ‘inverted qualia’. It seems that two people might have colour experiences that are the complements of one another (red for green, yellow for blue, etc.), even though their behaviour and functional organization are identical. This issue is explored in Colour and qualia and leads inevitably to the hard problems of Consciousness: What is it? What things have it? How do we tell? What causal role, if any, does it play the world?

There is also an issue for functionalists over Mental causation. A principal reason why Dualism has few adherents today is the problem of explaining how non-physical or non-natural phenomena can causally affect a physical world. And although some dualists retreat to Epiphenomenalism, the view that mental phenomena are caused by, but do not themselves cause any physical phenomena, this is widely seen as implausible. However, functionalists also have a problem. Even though they can and do insist that functional states are realized physically, arguably the functional states per se do no causing; what does the causing would seem to be the underlying physical properties of the physical realization. So, although functionalists avoid giving causal roles to the ‘non-natural’, it seems they must allow that mental properties per se do no causing.

Although the view that the mind is a natural phenomenon is now widely accepted (principally because of the causal problem for dualism), what this implies is highly contentious. Some hold that it simply means that mental phenomena supervene on physical nature in the sense that there can be no mental difference without a physical difference (see Supervenience of the mental). Donald Davidson thinks this can be true without there being any strict laws connecting the physical and the mental (see Anomalous monism). Others insist that a naturalist about the mind must reduce the mental to the physical in somewhat the way thermodynamics has been reduced to statistical mechanics, so delivering neat lawful biconditionals linking the mental and the physical (see Reductionism in the philosophy of mind).

Much in this discussion turns on the status of Folk psychology, the theory of mind allegedly implicit in ordinary (folk) thought and talk about the mind. On one view, mental states are simply the states that fill the roles of this implicit theory, and the reduction consists in finding which internal physical states fill the roles and are, thereby, to be identified with the relevant mental states. However, defenders of Eliminativism, noting that any theory – especially a folk one – can turn out false, argue that we should take seriously the possibility that the mental states postulated by folk psychology do not exist, much as it turned out that there are no witches or phlogiston.

Citing this article:
Jackson, Frank and Georges Rey. Alternatives to functionalism. Mind, philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V038-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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