Sunday, June 04, 2006

Functionalism and mental states

Maverick Philosopher looks at brain states
Asking the question "So what distinguishes the brain states that are mental states from the brain states that are not? This question cannot be evaded. The distinguishing feature cannot be anything intrinsic to brain states qua brain states."

"The physical composition of the light bulb or valve-lifter is irrelevant to its being a light bulb or a valve-lifter." "[the important thing] is the causal role it instantiates"

He then argues

"Here is one problem. It seems clear that my intention to clear brush could not have been a desire for a cold beer. Nor could it be an intention to paint the bathroom. The act of intending is individuated by its intentional content"

What MP has done here is to define his objects in two different ways.
The light bulb he has defined as an object - one that could be used for multiple purposes - this was easy for him to do because he can see it, and see how it is being used. The mental state however he has defined by its purpose one that could be served by multiple objects.

As noted in his comments particular "mental states" will be different in their physical nature between people and even between moments in time in the same person. the reason he cant imagine a certain mental state being used for another purpose is because he has effectively defined that state as having one and only one purpose!

What MP has uncovered here is that Functionalism is going to be awkward to apply in certain contexts when information like “what physically that you are talking about” is unclear.

An example wopuld be that you could say “a teaching procedure” could be used as your description of a Video. This teaching procedure couldn’t be used as a door stop… book and you could propose that it couldn’t be used otherwise – or you could say “why not? Just take it out of the player and put it in the door!

Similarly an intent to mow the lawn doesn’t seem like an intent to paint the bathroom – but a little bit of shaking and suddenly you are painting a bathroom.


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