On the significance of functionalism
BDK wrote: I just don't feel the same confidence in your a priori claims about what the sciences of the mind will end up with. I think we need to get an empirical grasp on cognitive systems before making pronouncements. That's largely why I'm a scientist and not a philosopher (and it isn't just the antinaturalists that are guilty of premature proclamations about the metaphysical implications of any future science of the mind).
VR: I think this has a lot to do with how these mental states are defined. If functionalist analysis of those states are plausible, then whether these functionally defined mental states are physically realized or not becomes an empirical question. However, if the arguments against functionalism work, then there seems to be to be a fundamental logical barrier to a materialist understanding of the relevant phenomena. That is why the debate of functionalism is so important.
William Hasker writes:
Once the pieces are assembled, the argument given here seems fairly obvious, and it has been overlooked until now. I am not sure of the reason for this, but a possible explanation is the following: When they write about rational processes, physialists typically deal with them cybernetically, using notions of "information," "representation" and the like that can be treated within the scheme of physical explanation.39 We thus become accustomed to the idea that these notions are at home within a physicalistic scheme--though to be sure, difficulties are encountered in the details of such accounts. If the physicalists in question are thoroughgoing functionalists, the issue of concsious experience is never addressed, so of course the question of the correspondence of experience to reality never emerges. If on the other hand consciousness is brought into the picutre, it is taken for granted that the mental experience supervenes on the physical state in such a way that (for instance) the cybernetically defined state identified witht he belief that there is a cow in the pasture is accompanied by the kind of conscious awarenesswe would associate with assenting to that belief. What the present argument brings out is that the correspondence between subjective experience and objective reality is an enormously important fact that needs explanation. But on the assumptions of physicalism, no explanation can be given--this correspondence, which we all assume to exist, has the appearance of a sheer miracle.
39. The work of Dretske is a good example of this.
From The Emergent Self (Ithaca: Cornell University Press) pp. 79-80.