Any theory analyzing something in terms of its function; that is, any theory claiming that the best, or only, way of defining something is in terms of what it does or the role it plays in the ongoing course of events.

Functionalism tends to define things in terms of their causes and effects, and, in particular, a functionalist in philosophy of mind defines mental states and properties in terms of their causes and their effects as seen in behavior. Two such states or properties will be the same if they have the same causes and effects.

An objection alleged against such functionalism is that it cannot account for the ‘inner’ nature of conscious experience, for it seems possible in principle that two people might be subject to the same stimuli and exhibit the same behavior while having different inner experiences; or one of them might have none at all (that is, be a zombie).

N Malcolm, ‘”Functionalism” in Philosophy of Psychology’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1979-80)


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Functionalism may refer to:

  • Functionalism (architecture), the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of that building
  • Functionalism in international relations, a theory that arose during the inter-War period
  • Functional linguistics, a theoretical approach to the study of language
  • Functionalism (philosophy of mind), a theory of the mind in contemporary philosophy
  • Functionalism versus intentionalism, a historiographical debate about the origins of the Holocaust
  • Structural functionalism, a theoretical tradition within sociology and anthropology
  • Biological functionalism, an anthropological paradigm

See also[edit]

  • Danish functional linguistics
  • Functional (disambiguation)
  • Functional psychology
  • Neofunctionalism

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