Functionalism In Hilary Putnam's The Nature Of Mental States

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In his paper, The Nature of Mental States, Hilary Putnam advocates for functionalism, the idea that the mind is defined by what it does, rather than what it is composed of. The mind serves a purpose similar to that of a machine, taking various inputs, performing a function, and producing certain outputs. He contests the arguments of the brain-state theory which claims that mental processes and brain processes are the same. I will claim that Putnam’s argument for functionalism is successful because he does not place limits on the inputs for functions, limit the function of the mind to only humans, and limit the number of functions that can be performed.
Putnam uses the commonality of pain, to contest the brain-state theory to that of functionalism
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Putnam is able to argue that this idea, although initially convincing, does not take into account other organisms that could feel pain without that state, such as other mammals or reptiles. Limiting organisms to certain physical-chemical states to feel pain becomes absurd because not every organism that feels pain has evolved to have the same status as humans, although possible, the likely hood of this happening to all species is very small (Putnam 6). Because of this absurd claim that the mind and body are the same Putnam expresses how functionalism is a more ideal belief in regards to the mental state of all organisms. Pain does not exist in the same way across species, but it can still be produced and understood to be pain in all organisms. Within functionalism mental states are seen to act more like machines, taking in input, performing …show more content…
In this particular reading, Putnam’s view focuses a lot on the physical aspect of pain, or rather the sensory input that is later produced as pain. One may argue that different inputs producing the same output could be problematic for functionalism because it does not offer a way to know if the correct output is produced. However, functionalism is more so about the function of the brain rather than what comes out of it. For instance, when using a calculator, the function of adding one will always take input and add one to it regardless of what is inputted (1+1=2, and similarly 784.669+1=785.669, the function itself stays the same). Furthermore, his argument is defensible because the mental and physical states of what is receiving input does not need to be identical to that of a human. A dog can exhibit a state of being in pain, and even a child knows a dog is, at least physically, different from that of a human. The mind is still a functional state because it performs the same function that we have attributed the mind to do, because it does not matter the make-up of the mind, the function still remains the same. Lastly, one may argue instances of things, being able to perform two functions, for instance a stapler and

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