A Farewell to Functionalism
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Philosophical Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jul., 1985), pp. 1-13
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. The ascendancy of functionalism marks a period of optimism in the philosophy of mind. In recent years, functionalism has provided the dominant expression of the hope that beliefs, desires and intentions, as attributed by means of 'that'-clauses, can be accommodated by a scientific theory of mental processes. I shall regard as functionalist those views which define psychological states in terms of causal relations among sensory inputs, internal states and behavioral outputs, all ultimately describable in terms applied to automata; and my claim will be that attitudes, such as beliefs identified by 'that'-clauses, can not be construed as functional states, on pain of contradiction.
  2. Classical functionalism fails because it is caught in an unrecognized dilemma, a dilemma concerning the individuation1 of psychological states that explain behavior. Beliefs are individuated by most functionalists in terms of that 'that'-clauses; functional states are individuated 'narrowly' (i.e., specifiable without presupposing the existence of anything other than the individual whose states they are). If beliefs are to be functional states, individuation2 in terms of 'that'-clauses (on some construal) must coincide with genuinely 'narrow' individuation3. Items that can not be identified in terms of 'that'-clauses do not qualify as beliefs; items that can not be identified narrowly do not qualify as functional states. But individuation4 in terms of the narrowest of 'that'-clauses (i.e., in terms of narrow semantic type) leads to the following dilemma: Either the functionalist is committed to an inconsistent triad, or no states identified by 'that'-clauses are sufficiently narrow to allow beliefs to be functional states.

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