Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hasker defines functionalism and its relation to physicalism

This is from Hasker's The Emergent Self, p. 29. I think a big "divide" in the philosophy of mind has to do with the adequacy of functionalistic definitions of, say, propositional states. If some kind of analysis of, let's say, my believing that the Colts will probably beat the Patriots, is available to the materialist, it is probably a functionalist analysis.

On the other hand, if no such functional analysis is available, the materialist will probably not give up, but may go for some kind of eliminativism, or be a nonreductive realist about proposotional attitudes. The first option is implausible to many materialists, the second runs ininto trouble when it comes to finding a causal role for mental states. The second option also makes the mental a mystery from the point of view of they physical, retaining physicalism while giving up on ever really explaining how the mental comes from the physical.

The key idea (of functionalism) is that mental states are defined in terms of the causes that produce them and the effects they produce these causes and effects include sensory stimuli as causes and overt behavior as effects, but also internal states of the organism as both causes and effects of the states in question….These causal-functional definitions do not by themselves entail materialism, but functionalism supports materialism through a two-stage process: First, as a matter of definition, mental states are equated with causal-functional states. Second, it is proposed the scientific investigation will reveal that the state-types that fill these functional roles are physical.


At 1/16/2007 10:54:00 AM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

On the other hand, if no such functional analysis is available, the materialist will probably not give up, but may go for some kind of eliminativism, or be a nonreductive realist about proposotional attitudes.

I have a minor quibble with this: most functionalists are not reductionists, but nonreductive realists/materalists. Indeed, functionalism was a reaction against limitations in type-identity theory and its typical reductionist dress (namely, the functionalists like Putam and Fodor thought, incorrectly, that multiple realizability implied that type-identity theory (and reduction hopes) were wrong). However, despite such anti-reductionistic claims they think that each functional kind is an instance of a physical object (e.g., all mousetraps are physical), but are not reducible to physics/chemistry/biology. Fodor's first chapter of 'The Language of Thought' discusses this extensively.

I say their inference is incorrect because things like temperature and solidity are physical properties, but multiply realizable.

Hasker's characterization seems an accurate portrayal of causal role functionalists.

Go Patriots! Don't underestimate the power of their wits and exceptional coaching to overcome their slight talent deficit (witness their victory over the Bolts this weekend). I predict another close game, with the Patriots winning by three. Vinateri will miss a field goal, rattled by his alma mater's special teams' performance.

At 1/16/2007 11:19:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

The "nonreductive realism" I had in mind was a sort of "mysterian" position that I think functionalism is an attempt to get away from. It is tue that it was historically regarded as a version of nonreductive materialism, but I think it is consistent with species-specific reductions. Kim, of course, covers this all quite nicely.

At 1/16/2007 12:11:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...

Yes, functionalism as type-identity theory is as good as dead due to the real possibility of "Multiple Realisation". But what of functionalism as token-identity theory?

My former professors at Sheffield University (Peter Carruthers and Peter Smith), were all for Token State Indentity Theory, and neither was particularly impressed by the the argument from knowledge (Frank Jackson and Thomas Nagel on Qualia) or by the Chinese Room Thought experiment or others of a similar nature.

I'd quite like to see these and other arguments and against functionalism rehearsed. I've never really been pursuaded that functionalism isn't viable ... I just find it implausible.

At 1/16/2007 03:51:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Steve: all the main functionalists are token identity theorists (though note my examples above that show multiply realizability isn't enough to show that type identity is false).

At 1/17/2007 12:36:00 PM , Anonymous Steve Lovell said...


I guess whether multiple realisation refutes type-identity theories depends on how the letter term is read.

The theories that it was originally put forward as refuting were saying things like "pain is identical to the firing of C-fibres". But since we seem to be able to imagine creatures experiencing pain who haven't even got C-fibres, this "identity" could not be a necessary one.

Put another way, multiple realization seems to show that at best C-fibres firing is what constitutes pain in humans, but is not what pain, in itself, actually is. That would have to come at a different level of description.

What's left of type-identity functionalism here? Surely, at most, only the claim that there is some "intertheoretic reduction" between mental states and functional/causal interactions/dispositions.

So only those who deny the possibility of such a reduction need call themselves token-identity theorists?

Does that mean we have to be Davidsonians to endorse token state identity theory? Perhaps so. But then inter-theoretic reduction has always seemed like a long shot to me, for roughly Churchland-ian reasons.

These aren't arguments against you, I'm just trying to get my head round the issues. I haven't done any serious philosophy of mind for 10 years and I never did much even then.



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