28 Conscious Computers?


The functionalist might reply by offering a treatment of qualia in terms of what such aspects of experience function to do for us. The vivid, ripe greenness of the Granny Smith functions to inform Freya about a source of food in a way that pulls her visual attention to it. Freya’s color experiences allow her to form accurate beliefs about the objects in her immediate environment. It is certainly true that ordinary visual experience provide us with beautiful moments in our lives. However, they likely function to do much more besides. Likewise, it is more likely that there is a function for the qualitative or feeling aspects of some mental states, and that these aspects can be understood in terms of their functions, than it is that these aspects are free-floating above the causal order of things. So, the functionalist who wishes to try to account for qualia need not remain silent on the issue.


We have not considered all the possible objections to functionalism, nor have we considered more sophisticated versions of functionalism that aim to get around the more pernicious objections we have considered. The idea that minds really are kinds of computing machines is still very much alive and as controversial as ever. Taking that idea seriously means having to wrestle with a host of questions at the intersection of philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and personal identity.

In what sense is Freya truly an agent of her own actions, if we merely cite a cold input to explain some behavior of hers? That is to say, how does Freya avow her own beliefs on a merely functionalist view? If minds are kinds of computers, then what does that make thinking creatures like Freya? Kinds of robots, albeit sophisticated ones? These and other difficult questions will need to be answered satisfactorily before many philosophers will be content with a functionalist theory of mind. For other philosophers, a start down the right path, away from Cartesian dualism and between the two terrors of materialism and behaviorism, has already been made.


Putnam, Hilary. (1960) 1975. “Minds and Machines.” Reprinted in Mind, Language, and Reality, 362-385. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, John. 1980. “Minds, Brains, and Programs.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3(3): 417-457.

Turing, Alan, M. 1936. “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society 42 (1): 230-265.

Turing, Alan, M. 1950. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind 49: 433-460.

Further Reading

Block, Ned. 1980a. Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Volumes 1 and 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Block, Ned. 1980b. “Troubles With Functionalism.” In Block 1980a, 268-305.

Gendler, Tamar. 2008. “Belief and Alief.” Journal of Philosophy 105(10): 634-663.

Jackson, Frank. 1982. “Epiphenomenal Qualia.” Philosophical Quarterly 32: 127-136.

Lewis, David. 1972. “Psychophysical and Theoretical Identifications.” In Block 1980a, 207-215.

Lewis, David. 1980. “Mad Pain and Martian Pain.” In Block 1980, 216-222.

Nagel, Thomas. 1974. “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review 83: 435-450.

Putnam, Hilary. 1963. “Brains and Behavior.” Reprinted in Putnam 1975b, 325-341.

Putnam, Hilary. 1967. “The Nature of Mental States.” Reprinted in Putnam 1975b, 429-440.

Putnam, Hilary. 1973. “Philosophy and our Mental Life.” Reprinted in Putnam 1975b, 291-303.

Putnam, Hilary. 1975a. “The Meaning of ‘Meaning.’” Reprinted in Putnam 1975b, 215-271.

Putnam, Hilary. 1975b. Mind, Language, and Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shoemaker, Sydney. 1984. Identity, Cause, and Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shoemaker, Sydney. 1996. The First-Person Perspective and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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