Functionalist Physicalism in Philosophy of Mind

There is no doubt in modern science that there is a definite relationship between the psyche and the brain: the brain is, as it were, a vessel containing our soul. However, a problem was known since the late nineteenth century as a psychophysiological problem that continues to be discussed today. The most logical solution to the psychophysiological problem is completely materialistic. That is, it should be recognized that all psychic phenomena are material in nature, that is, they are physiological processes. The process of interaction of soul and body is an interaction of the matter with each other.

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Functionalist physicalism or functionalism is one of the leading theories in modern philosophy of consciousness, which has emerged as an alternative to the theory of identity and behaviorism. The basic idea of ​​functionalism is that mental states are not physiological states and not phenomenal properties, but functions that are defined in the causal chain of information processing (Ramirez Motoa, 2019). The causal chain consists of an entrance, a set of causally related mental states, and an exit. Functionalism is an attempt to build scientific psychology without considering the soul-body problem. He takes an outwardly neutral position concerning materialism and dualism.

The first argument is the fact that the most basic mental conditions of pain and pleasure are also experienced by non-human organisms, which is called multiple realizability. The given concept focuses on the notion that other animals also possess a highly similar response to pain, although their brain can be easily distinguished from people’s ones (Bagozzi & Lee, 2019). Therefore, the main principle is that certain patterns of neuronal structures and similarity if their functionality leads to conscious awareness to a certain extent.

The second argument is primarily focused on the subconscious experience as the result of the activity of the complex structures. The neutral nature of functions means that mental states should not be considered as a property of matter or an ethereal spirit but as an independent phenomenon. These are functions of the system determined by the structures of connections in it in the process of its work and having causal effectiveness (Pavón-Cuéllar, 2018). The neutrality of functions implies the methodological requirement of functionalism for the study of consciousness. These actions should not rely on the study of the substrate per se but proceed from the consideration of relational relations between the elements of the substrate in the process of functioning.

Nonetheless, the given arguments do not explain how functional physicalism links subconscious experience to a conscious fact of physicality. In other words, the given arguments do not elaborate on the fact that electrochemical signals in the brain’s cells give rise to a distinct feeling of pain (Bagozzi & Lee, 2019). Thus, this gap of transition from physical changes to mental experience leads to a wide range of theories, which are all plausible. The main reason is that current scientific methodologies cannot address this issue because it is highly challenging to give an objective explanation to subjective manifestations.

In conclusion, the materialistic approach was the most effective solution to the problem of psychophysiology because various mental illnesses can be explained this way. Functionalist physicalism is one of the most appealing and reasonable explanations to the connectivity of the objective and subjective states. Multiple realizability addresses it by giving examples of how non-human species can also experience basic responses of pain and pleasure. In addition, complex interactive structures, such as the brain, most likely to possess a certain degree of consciousness as a key property. Nonetheless, functionalist physicality does not address the transition gap between physical changes of neuronal cells and the mental experience of feeling, such as pain and pleasure.


Bagozzi, R. P., & Lee, N. (2019). Philosophical foundations of neuroscience in organizational research: Functional and nonfunctional approaches. Organizational Research Methods, 22(1), 299-331.

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Pavón-Cuéllar, D. (2018). Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the critique of psychological dualism: From dualist repression to the return of the repressed in hysteria and class consciousness. Theory & Psychology, 28(3), 319-339.

Ramirez Motoa, C. (2019). Process externalism and mental causation: Setting metaphysical bounds on cognitive science. Adaptive Behavior, 27(1), 61-73.

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