Aristotelian vs. Standard Functionalist Conception

Functionalism is a theory of consciousness, according to which mental states are determined not by their internal structure but by their roles as an integral part of a particular system. For example, from the perspective of functionalism, being in pain means being in a specific functional state. Thus, to feel pain is to be in a condition that arises as a consequence of input and causes a behavioral response to pain. A similar explanation is reliable for any creature that can feel pain: human beings or animals. However, the way how this state is realized can differ significantly depending on the structure of these creatures. For example, pain can occur due to stimulating C-fibers in the human central nervous system, but the way they are stimulated in dogs may be physiologically different.

The origins of functional analysis can be found in antiquity, primarily in the teaching of Aristotle about four causes. Each phenomenon is conditioned by the following types of causes: formal, material, efficient and final. The first is connected with the essence or structure of a thing. The material cause is associated with the substance with embodied nature. The essential one is the target; the final cause is reflected in why the phenomenon occurs. A complete scientific explanation of a phenomenon or event is achieved when it is possible to establish and explain all these aspects.

Considering living beings, Aristotle approaches them from the viewpoint of the relationship between matter and form. The latter plays the role of a driving principle, whereas the soul turns out to be a form, and the body – the matter of a being. His theory of the soul is the basis of functionalism; Aristotle believed that the soul, possessing integrity, is its organizing principle. It is the source and way of regulating the organism and its objectively observable behavior.

The soul is inseparable from the body, but it is immaterial. According to its functions, the soul is divided into three kinds. First, the functions of nutrition and reproduction, seen in any living creature, form the vegetative soul. Second, the feeling and movement inherent in animals present the sentient soul. Lastly, the rational soul activity is perceived through the capability of thinking; it can be seen only in human beings. The higher functions, and accordingly the souls, cannot exist without the lower ones, while the latter, without the first, can.

The soul and body are interconnected; the first includes those abilities that the body needs to live, perceive, think and act. The body is inherent in a vital state that forms its orderliness and harmony. The soul serves as the reflection of the actual reality of the mind. Aristotle analyzed its various parts, such as memory, emotions, and the transition from sensations to general perception. Concerning the differences from a standard functionalist conception, some argue that Aristotle was a functionalist because of his emphasis on explaining mental features in terms of form. However, another opinion is that Aristotle was a dualist; he thought there were non-material aspects of the mind, and therefore he was not strictly functionalist. However, functionalism is compatible with a form of dualism that holds that physical conditions cause mental states.

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