The functionalist theory posits that the society is composed of interconnected parts which function like a social system. In a society, there are parts that work in a similar manner the human body works as a system made of different organs. The ‘organs’ of a society are the social institutions that are set up to work together to ensure that the society runs smoothly. Such institutions include schools and family set ups. Levin (2009, para 3) defines functionalism as “the doctrine that what makes something a thought, desire, pain (or any other type of mental state) depends not on its internal constitution, but solely on its function.
” As such, functionalism theories describe the mental state as a function of behavior, stimulation of senses or other states of the mind. For instance, it is possible to say that pain results from injury in the body thus symbolizing that something is not functioning as expected and therefore the body desires to be out of the painful state. The functionalist theory is not restricted to creatures that have a mental state and can be applicable in silicon-based conditions. That is why the different states of mind can be said to be multiply realized.
Physical states as well as non-physical states are viewed as able to cause a specific mental state. This is why Levin (2009) finds functionalism being similar to dualism. Under functionalism theories, there are theories that the mental states are said to give a description of what our mental state descriptions mean. Other theories under functionalism provide that mental states can be characterized according to facts proved through scientific experimentations. Different social scientists have made different contributions to the functionalist theory.
Aristotle is among the earliest ancestors of functionalism. Aristotle came up with the theory of the soul where he argued that the soul of a human being cannot exist independent of the body and thus the soul forms the natural part of the entire human body. The soul is therefore a combination of powers that help the body to express itself. The human body as a system functions to enable survival (living) as well as to reason thereby acting as necessary. Aristotle therefore finds the soul as a part of the human body which cannot be separated.
In addition, the soul empowers the body to live as well as perceive stimuli with subsequent action. Hobbes (1651) is also recognized as one of the important contributors to functionalism. Hobbes takes a mechanistic approach of the state of mind by arguing that human reasoning is comparable to arithmetic computation with adherence to arithmetic rules. Hobbes proceeds to argue that human reasoning as a function is not restricted to human minds only and instead physical systems also possess the capacity to carry out reasoning.
As such, machines are able to carry out the functions that are similar to that of a reasoning mind. Levin (2009) cites that Hobbes arguments were accepted in the twentieth century where social scientists realized that different physical creatures can perform the thinking function since thinking per se is controlled by functions similar to computation. Jean Piaget is an influential social scientist who had a functionalist view. Piaget (1896-1980) was a developmental psychologist who looked into the thinking in children.
Piaget posited that new born have reflexes that are responsible for behavior control in other species throughout life. The reflexes in infants enable adaptation thus they are replaced by complex schemes as the infant grows. Assimilation processes occur to enable the environment match with the individual’s cognitive structures. On the other hand, an accommodation process involves the cognitive structures being modified to adapt changes in the environment. Piaget therefore came up with four cognitive development stages.
These include sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational phase and formal operational phase (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). It is therefore evident that complexity of behaviors is hierarchical and so are the adaptation mechanisms. Social scientists have contributed significantly to current learning theory by forming the basis for development of schooling programs that are accommodative of human beings at all stages of life. Piaget’s theory for instance is the foundational theory for pre-school programs as well as programs for primary school students.
In addition, the theory also provides a basis for constructivist learning (Huitt & Hummel, 2003). Aristotle’s and Hobbes’s theories are foundational to behaviorism whether logical or machine state. All these have expanded the field of cognitive psychology. Indeed, functionalist theories will remain invaluable in psychology as evidenced by the usefulness of the functionalist theories developed by Aristotle, Hobbes and Piaget. At the same time, the theories will remain debatable as long as social scientists continue with their endeavor to understand human mind and behavior.
Functionalist theories will also be at the center of understanding the psychology of learning. References Huitt, W. , and Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved 19, July 2010 from http://www. edpsycinteractive. org/topics/cogsys/piaget. html Levin, J. (2009). Functionalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 19, July 2010 from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/functionalism/