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< Back to question What is the Mind-Body problem? Show more Show less

What is the mind? Since the beginning of civilization, we have grappled with the idea of consciousness. Could the study of our brain and nervous system account for conscious thought? If not, what are the relationships between the non-physical processes and the physical ones?

Mind-Body problem: functionalism Show more Show less

Our mental states can be reduced to a functional response to a stimulus.
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The weakness of materialism

The reduction of mental states to physical occurrences is inconclusive. The relationship between mental activities and physical activity can on the contrary be the result of several stimuli.
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The strongest arguments for functionalism stem from the weaknesses of the competing mind-body solutions. Putnam, for example, believed materialism was too narrow in its scope. The idea that mental states could be reduced solely to physical occurrences lead to the emergence of a one-to-one relation between the two; we feel pain due to c-fibre stimulation, and nothing else. X causes Y. Without X, Y does not occur.

The Argument

This, Putnam argued, couldn’t be true. We know that cats, dogs, reptiles, birds, and molluscs feel pain. But this does not mean that they have brains like ours. This lead Putnam to speculate that the relationship between our mental states and physical activities in the brain do not have a one-to-one relationship but can be multiply realised from many stimuli.[1] The multiple realization aspect of functionalism has drawn many to favour functionalism over materialist positions.

Counter arguments

Qualia Functionalism cannot explain the qualia phenomenon, also known as “what it is like” to have a mental state or an experience. In characterising mental states in causal terms, there is no room to characterise the feeling behind mental states. Someone who sees greens instead of reds might still respond to the stimulus of red in the same way as someone who sees the red. However, their qualia- or the feeling behind the experience- would be wildly different.[2]


Other mind-body explanations have been disproved. Therefore, this must be the correct explanation.

Rejecting the premises

Just because others do not offer a comprehensive explanation doesn't mean functionalism does.



This page was last edited on Wednesday, 10 Jun 2020 at 10:21 UTC

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