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Dennett, Functionalism, and Introspection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

William Lyons*
Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland
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Recent functionalist accounts of the mental, at least on the part of philosophers, have often been a result of dissatisfaction with the reductionist accounts championed by such physicalists as Place, Smart and Feigl. In particular this new account gained momentum from the growing belief that our map of the mental, at least in regard to the higher cognitive functions, does not seem to be a map of the brain and its processes. The more we find out about the working brain, the less we are able to cling to the belief that our talk about beliefs, evaluations, intentions, desires and motives gives us information about the structure or functioning of our brains.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1985

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1 See, for example, Penfield, W. and Rasmussen, T.The Cerebral Cortex of Man: A Clinical Study of Localization of Function (London: Macmillan 1957)Google Scholar and Penfield, W.The Excitable Cortex in Conscious Man, The Sherrington Lectures No.5 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 1958).Google Scholar

2 What might be seen as prototypes of recent functionalism in philosophy can be discerned in some of the Pragmatists. For example, in Mind, Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist (edit. C.V. Morris, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1934) G.H. Mead writes, ‘I know of no way in which intelligence or mind could arise or could have arisen, other than through the internalization by the individual of social processes of experience and behaviour, that is, through this internalization of the conversation of significant gestures … And if mind or thought has arisen in this way, then there neither can be nor could have been any mind or thought without language; and the early stages of the development of language must have been prior to the development of mind or thought’ (191-2). On the other hand, contemporary functionalists do not make reference to nor give acknowledgement to Mead or any of the other Pragmatists of that period. Quite likely, modern functionalism has been generated more or less entirely in response to contemporary concerns.

3 The classical papers by Putnam on functionalism are ‘Minds and machines’ (1961), ‘Robots: machines or artificially created life?’ (1964), ‘Brains and behaviour’ (1965). The mental life of some machines’ (1967). The nature of mental states’ (1967). and ‘Philosophy and our mental life’ (1973), all of which appear in Putnam Mind, Language and Reality, Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1976).

4 The tabulation of the machine's outputs in terms of columns representing internal states and rows representing input instructions. The intersection of the input instruction and current state gives the output displayed in the square at the point of intersection.

5 Putnam explains this analogy in most detail in ‘Minds and machines,’ originally published in Dimensions of Mind: A Symposium, Hook, S., ed. (New York: Collier Books 1961).Google Scholar

6 Putnam's account as to why these properties are ‘real and autonomous features of our world’ is perhaps best displayed in ‘Philosophy and our mental life’ in Mind, Language and Reality above.

7 In ‘Philosophy and our mental life’, page 294, Putnam explains the notion of functional isomorphism by saying ‘that two systems are functionally isomorphic if there is an isomorphism that makes both of them models for the same psychological theory … they are isomorphic realizations of the same abstract structure.’

8 Putnam deals with the drawbacks to the computer-human analogy in ‘Philosophy and our mental life’, 298 ff.

9 ‘Philosophy and our mental life’, 303

10 In ‘Minds and machines’ in Dimensions of Mind, 146 ff.

11 Content and Consciousness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1969), 40. Another more recent functionalist account of introspection is to be found in Thomas, Stephen N., The Formal Mechanics of Mind, Harvester Studies in Cognitive Science (Brighton: Harvester Press 1978)Google Scholar Part I, section 5.

12 Content and Consciousness, 78

13 Content and Consciousness, 80

14 Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (Brighton: Harvester Press 1979); there are also arguments against Turing machine functionalism in N.J. Block and J.R. Fodor ‘What psychological states are not,’ Philosophical Review, 81 (1972) esp. Part III.

15 In The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3 (1980); Hofstadter and Dennett take it seriously enough to reprint it and attempt a rebuttal in Hofstadter, D. and Dennett, D.The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (Brighton: Harvester Press 1981).Google Scholar

16 In Brainstorms, xx, Dennett suggests that such items would not appear in ‘a mature psychology.’

17 Ibid. The elaboration of the notion of an intentional system is in Brainstorms, Part I, ch. 1.

18 The following account is culled from Content and Consciousness, chs. V-VIII.

19 Dennett also discusses consciousness1 and consciousness2 in his ‘Reply to Arbib and Gunderson’ in Brainstorms, and remarks there, in a footnote, that he still maintains the distinction.

20 The retraction occurs in Brainstorms, 171.

21 The account is taken from Brainstorms, Part II, ch. 9, ‘Towards a cognitive theory of consciousness.’ and should be read in conjunction with Dennett's article ‘On the absence of phenomenology,’ in Body, Mind, and Method, D.F. Gustafson and B.L. Tapscott eds. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel 1979).

22 Brainstorms, 156

23 Brainstorms, 152

24 Brainstorms, 153

25 Dennett refers to the experimental work of J.R. Lackner and M. Garrett ‘Resolving ambiguity: Effects of biasing context in the unattended ear’, Cognition, 1 (1973) and D. Broadbent Perception and Communication (London: Pergamon Press 1958).

26 In Dennett's ‘Reply to Arbib and Gunderson’, Brainstorms, 30.

27 A Materialist Theory of the Mind, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1968). ch. 6, sections X and XI, ch. 15. It should be noted that Armstrong's causal materialist account is here being considered as if it were merely a free-floating functionalist account.

28 The Principles of Psychology (New York: Dover 1950), vol. I. 266 ff.

29 On this point, see Samuel Porter ‘Is thought possible without language? Case of a deaf-mute,’ The Princeton Review, 57 (1881). This was James's source for the Ballard case. See also James Thought before language: A deaf-mute's recollections’ Philosophical Review, I (1892).

30 In his paper ‘Dennett on awareness,’ Philosophical Studies, 23 (1972), Richard Rorty expresses related doubts concerning Dennett's use of the items ‘analyser’ and ‘speech centre’ in his models of consciousness and introspection. As Rorty points out, for example, the inputs and outputs of the ‘analyser’ are suspiciously like what was referred to by the oldfashioned mentalist term ‘thoughts,’ except that there is added, gratuitously, that they are now items locatable in the brain, at least in principle.

In his paper, ‘ “Functionalism” in Philosophy of Psychology,’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 80 (1979-80) 221-2, Norman Malcolm suggests that this is a symptom of a deeper problem – unavoidable circularity in explanation – inherent in this type of functionalism.

31 ‘Artificial intelligence as philosophy and as psychology,’ Brainstorms, 122

32 Ibid.

33 Brainstorms, 123-4

34 Dennett draws attention, for example, to Winograd's SHRDLU programme in Understanding Natural Language (New York: Academic Press 1972).

35 Searle is interesting on this aspect of functionalism, see his ‘Minds, brains, and programs,’ in The Mind's I, esp. 371-2.

36 I would like to take the opportunity of acknowledging the award from the Nuffield Foundation of a Fellowship to pursue research into introspection and the benefit of comments on earlier drafts from my former colleague Jim Edwards.

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