Gödel, Putnam, and Functionalism
In the late 1950s, with mind-brain identity theories no longer dominant in philosophy of mind scientific materialists turned to functionalism, the view that the identity of any mental state depends on its function in the cognitive system of which it is a part. The philosopher Hilary Putnam was one of the primary architects of functionalism and was the first to propose computational functionalism, which views the human mind as a computer or an information processor. But in the early 1970s Putnam began to have doubts about functionalism, and in his masterwork Representation and Reality (MIT Press, 1988) he advanced four powerful arguments against his own doctrine of computational functionalism. In Gödel, Putnam, and Functionalism, Jeff Buechner systematically examines Putnam's arguments against functionalism and contends that they are unsuccessful.
Putnam's first argument uses Gödel's incompleteness theorems to refute the view that there is a computational description of human reasoning and rationality; his second, the "triviality argument," demonstrates that any computational description can be attributed to any physical system; his third, the multi-realization argument, shows that there are infinitely many computational realizations of an arbitrary intentional state; his fourth argument shows that there cannot be local computational reductions because there is no computable partitioning of the infinity of computational realizations of an arbitrary intentional state into a single package or a small set of packages (equivalence classes). Buechner analyzes these arguments and the important inferential connections among them—for example, the use of both the Gödel and triviality arguments in the argument against local computational reductions—and argues that none of Putnam's four arguments succeeds in refuting functionalism. Gödel, Putnam, and Functionalism will inspire renewed discussion of Representation and Reality and will reconfirm it as a major work.
About the Author
Jeff Buechner is Director of the Bioethics Institute and Lecturer in Philosophy at Rutgers University-Newark.
“Jeff Buechner presents for the first time—in the form of a detailed critical appraisal—a long overdue tribute to Putnam's seminal work, Representation and Reality, where Putnam attempts to refute his former view that he founded, functionalism, the dominant view in philosophy of mind today. Buechner considers a number of new avenues of investigation into how the Gödel incompleteness theorems, the triviality arguments and the triad of Quinean indeterminacy, ontological relativity and radical meaning holism are used to refute computational functionalism. Gödel, Putnam, and Functionalism: A new Reading of Representation and Reality is an important and welcome contribution to the literature on functionalism. It is a must read for anyone interested in the debate Hilary Putnam started on the role, if any, of theorems in mathematical logic and computer science in computational functionalism.”
—Alan Berger, Brandeis University, and Director of the Kripke Center at CUNY Graduate Center