Topic 3
Nicholas Panayotakos
Ryerson University
Dr. David Checkland














After the foundation of psychology, as a science and a tool of understanding human behavior, a natural synthesis between itself and philosophy was bound to occur. Individuals of both sides, but mostly philosophers, searched for connections between the two, looking for answers to their questions, or even deepening their understanding of their practice. One of those individuals is named Jerry Alan Fodor, philosopher, and cognitive scientist. Fodor helped humanity, and continues to this day, in taking substantial steps toward better comprehending and explaining how things function in our world.
His lens of perspective leans toward understanding our environment and our nature through their functionalities, not for what they are made of (Fodor, 152). For example, a fan would be a fan regardless of what it is made of, for as long as it corresponds to the mechanical properties of a fan and the physical manifestation of it, it will remain a fan to us. If it propels air, then its functions correspond to that of what a fan does. This allows us to apply such an ideology to ourselves and lean closer to an understanding of our complexity — Fodor argues the following from this. In order to explain a mental state of an individual, we should focus on the way it functions — what it called functionalism — and how it corresponds to present knowledge to hypothesize plausible neurological relations to the particular mental state (Fodor, 148). Functionalism can assist us in realizing patterns and commonalities, or even help us discover new evidence, of mental states amongst different individuals and even species.
As mental states are associated with functional states, similarly, psychological states are considered to be functional states (Fodor, 146). In psychological theories, Fodor argues that there are two phases. Phase one, responsible for functional analysis (Fodor, 148), where he derives characteristics like drives, motives, beliefs, desires, intentions, fears, and pains. He supposes that these characteristics, for example, beliefs largely affect our perception of our world, how our reality is represented before us; or how our desires motivate us toward a direction; how our fears exist to help us avoid peril and tragedy; pains, to indicate when something is amiss. These characteristics, these functions, he says, must not be disregarded when we attempt to produce answers, or, even better questions, regarding the unsolved mysteries and truth of our reality. Phase two, responsible for mechanical analysis (Fodor, 148), where he searches for functions in the physical realm, for example, how a mental state corresponds in regard to something materialistic (i.e. a brain state).
In parallel to functionalism, there is a closely linked philosophy called materialism, or physicalism. Materialism has an approach that, similar to functionalism, analyzes mental states but with a significant difference. It attempts to explain mental states through examining it neurologically. Instead of concentrating on functionality, materialism attempts to find answers and produce questions in regard to the physical state of something. For example, if I move my arm upward that would correspond to a particular brain state. However, Fodor argues that problems occur from such a hypothesis (Fodor, 147) — and admittedly so, there are evident problems. Couldn't the particular brain state, that occurs due to my arm being lifted upward, occur also if I thought about doing the exact same motion?
Nonetheless, functionalism and materialism remain on common foundations. Initially, one can argue that as functions can be distinguished amongst several different individuals, likewise, brain states can correspond to several psychological states. More importantly, however, both "condition one another" (Fodor, 149). When analyzing the functional component of a product (phase one), one will be able to produce a description of the said function. When reaching the mechanical analysis of a product (phase two), one will be able to distinguish the appropriate structure in a physical form (e.g. brain, computer), from the description we produced, that can execute the said function. Functionalism and physicalism/materialism intertwine and interconnect in a way that one pushes the other toward bettering our understanding, closer to answering our questions or further expanding the depth of them.
These explanations of our reality, when observed closely, will lead us to understand that when we use functionalism as the "lens" of our