Functionalism is an American school of thought that originated in the late 19th or early 20th century and is based upon the theory that behavior is to be analyzed according to the way the human brain adapts and responds to the environment the individual is in. Functionalists are concerned with the functions that the brain performs in order to conform an individual to his/her environment (Putnam, pp.410-412). Opposed to this school of thought, is behaviorism, which is a school of thought that believes in using human responses to stimulus or objective behavior of individuals as its point of research and is not concerned about the environment at large or any other intermediary factors (Ryle, pp. 56-58). This paper will seek to identify the differences between functionalism and behaviorism with reference to the works of psychologists and scholars such as Lewis, Ryle, and Putnam. An evaluation of the arguments supporting both theories will be provided. While functionalism attempts to explain the mental states of individuals with reference to the functions that the brain performs and the role that a function plays within the human brain, behaviorism is an antecedent of functionalism and differs from functionalism by claiming that human behavior is a science within itself through the control of certain environmental factors. Behaviorism promised to build a science of human behavior that was as explanatory as any other medical science that was aiming to explain the reaction of two chemical processes.
Behaviorism was highly successful in examining animal psychology and observing “logical behavior patterns” in humans to gauge their reaction to certain events. However, the critics of behaviorism found that the theory was unable to explain the reason for the existence of such behavior. Mere observation and logic were not able to properly explain why stimuli reacted in the manner that it did to the controlled variables of the environment. An improved school of thought that was “logical behaviorism” seeked to describe mental states with logical behavior patterns following them. To illustrate an example, if it is supposed that Person A is angry, then the explanation of behaviorism to this is that Person A is in a state in which they are likely to scream and shout. However, there are not always normal explanations for behavior and nor are there always normal reactions to all mental states. Some people may tend to scream and shout when they are angry, as this is an expected reaction; however some people may differ in their reactions and may not prefer to act in this manner. Hence, behavioral tendencies cannot be generalized or the reason for such actions cannot be explained through mere observation and controlling certain environmental factors (Ryle, pp. 89-91). Functionalists describe mental states in scientific terms and attempt to form connections between the reactions of the human brain and behavior. There were mainly three overlapping states or schools of functionalism, the first of which was Machinist Functionalism derived by Putnam (Putnam, pg. 420). Putnam suggested that any living thing with a brain could be regarded as a digital computer whose behavior can be defined through a set of instructions. The behavior of the individual results from an input, an internal process, which will then result in an output (behavior). Hence, behavior was described in systematic terms. While the importance of