Empirical functionalism and conceivability arguments

Philosophical Psychology 2 (3):271-82 (1990)
Abstract
Functionalism, the philosophical theory that defines mental states in terms of their causal relations to stimuli, overt behaviour, and other inner mental states, has often been accused of being unable to account for the qualitative character of our experimential states. Many times such objections to functionalism take the form of conceivability arguments. One is asked to imagine situations where organisms who are in a functional state that is claimed to be a particular experience either have the qualitative character of that experience altered or absent altogether. Many of these arguments are surprisingly advanced by materialist philosophers. I argue that if the conceivability arguments were successful against functionalism, then they would be successful against their alternative materialist views as well. So the conceivability arguments alone do not provide a good reason for materialists to abandon functionalism. I further argue that functionalism is best understood to be an empirical theory, and if it is so understood then the conceivability arguments have no force against it at all. A further consequence that emerges is that on an empirical functionalist view, qualia, if real, are properties in the domain of psychology
Keywords Functionalism  Materialism  Mental States  Metaphysics
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