Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hasker's Critique of Functionalism

From The Emergent Self, pp. 29-30.

Oceans of ink have been spilled in the debate over functionalism, and there is little prospect that anything said here can add much to the accumulated wisdom on the subject. We have already noted John Searle’s dictum “If you are tempted to functionalism, I believe you do not need refutation, you need help.”1 For a more moderate response, we may consider Jaegwon Kim’s remark that “qualia are intrinsic properties if anything is, and to functionalize them is to eliminate them as intrinsic properties.”2 Eminent authorities could of course be quoted on either side. As a very minor contribution to the discussion, I pose the following problem: consider the mental state (one that each of us has been in at one time or another) of being embarrassed about one’s appearance. Let’s suppose for the sake of the argument, that the functionalist can successfully pick out this state by a causal-functional description. My question is this: Is the state picked out by the functionalist such that, in standard cases, there is a qualitative “feel” to it—that there is “something it is like to be in” such a state? If not, then the reply seems obvious: a kind of state that does not, in ordinary cases, possess that qualitative “feel” cannot possibly be the state of being embarrassed about one’s appearance. It seems possible, to be sure, to be embarrassed about one’s appearance but be unaware of that fact, having either s suppressed the awareness or been distracted by other stimuli as not to attend to it. But that I might be embarrassed about my appearance without there being any feeling of embarrassment involved, or any tendency or potential whatever for the embarrassment to be felt in that characteristic way, is something that I at least find quite unintelligible.3 So we would have in this case another instance of a ploy that is, unfortunately, all to common in the philosophy of mind: familiar terminology is retained, but is redefined in such a way that we are no longer talking about the original subject matter.4
Suppose, on the other hand, the answer to my question is Yes. Suppose, that is, that the state that fulfils the causal-functional role of embarrassment about one’s appearance also characteristically involves (at least the potential of) feeling embarrassed. If so, then the causal-functional state identified by functionalism might well be the state of embarrassment we all experience from time to time. (It certainly is not part of the concept of embarrassment that such a state does not fulfill any causal-functional role). In this case, however, the functionalists doctrine will have hardly fulfilled its intended purpose of naturalizing, or “materializing--the mental. For it will then be the case that the functionally defined mental states characteristically involve phenomenal properties, but the functionalist theory tells us nothing at all useful about how to understand these properties or how they can be incorporated into a materialistic worldview. 5

1 John Searle, Rediscovery of the Mind, (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1992).
2 Jaegwon Kim, “Making Sense of Emergence,” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming)
3 Since the feeling of embarrassment might at a given time fade from awareness to the point of being unnoticed it seems plausible that, strictly speaking, the potential for such a feeling, rather than the actual feeling, that is essential to being embarrassed, rather than the actual feeling.
4 This seems to be the right place to classify Daniel Dennett’s views about these matters. He identifies his theory of content as functionalist: “all attributes of content are founded on an appreciation of the functional roles of the items in question in the biological economy of the organism (or the engineering of the robot))” (Dennett, Daniel C.,” in Samuel Guttenplan, ed. A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind (London: Blackwell, 1995), p.239). And he rejects consciousness as a requirement for intentionality, as is shown by the reference to robots in the quotation. Presumably, then, he would hold that a robot, if sufficiently complex, could be embarrassed about its appearance without being in any way conscious or even potentially conscious.
5 That is, of course, a version of the much-discussed phenomenal property or “qualia” objection to functionalism; readers are invited to supplement it with their own favorite versions of the objection.


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