As I read Churchland – Matter and Consciousness, I was gravitated to the theory of functionalism. Functionalism is a branch off of dualism with a very specific difference. Functionalism says, “ … A reductive definition solely in terms of publicly observable inputs and outputs is quite impossible” (Chruchland). The key difference is that functionalism believes that mental states in the mind play a key role in determining what the output is going to be. So a diagram would include an input into the brain, a very complicated series of events with casual relation, and finally an output as a behavior. Why I became so interested in this theory because what does this theory have to say about moral responsibility.
Moral responsibility is the idea or concept that a human is responsible for their actions because they were able to make a conscious decision over different alternatives. For example, I can choose a red shirt or a blue shirt to wear tomorrow. It seems very weird to say I am morally responsible for choosing to wear a red shirt, but take the example and change it: I can either choose to kill someone tomorrow or I can choose not too. In today’s society it is the overwhelming idea that I am morally responsible if I choose to kill someone tomorrow. However, if the functionalist view is taken I was not given a choice in some instances. A certain input was placed in my brain and certain mental states occurred that led me to kill someone. Can it be said that in every case I was able to be in control of all of my mental states and thus I can be held responsible for my actions. In my opinion, the answer to this question is no. For example: I could be diagnosed with schizophrenia. In this instant, I was unable to tell the difference between what is real and what was not real. It is wrong to say that I was morally responsible for this crime. This example was very extreme because there was a mental diagnosis that shows that I was not able to control my mental states.
Most of the cases in court do not have specific evidence that the defense can point to and say there is proof that my defendant was not in control of his mental states at the time the crime was committed. In these cases, are all of these people still morally responsible for their actions and should be sent to prison? I believe the average person or American would answer yes to this question. I however believe this to be wrong. The environment in which a person is placed has been show in many instances to change their mental states. For example: if a child is raised in a family where hunting animals is acceptable and apart of their cultural, they would most likely see nothing wrong with killing an animal to gain food. Now take the opposite example, if a child is raised in a family where hunting animals is frowned upon and deemed and inhuman, the child is mostly likely going to say killing animals is wrong. This is a prime example of how the environment in where a human is placed can change their mental state about a certain idea. Since environment plays a role in human mental states, it calls into question if anyone should be morally responsible for their actions. This is really an issue in the court of law. Why would people being sentenced to death or life in prison if they are not morally responsible for the crime that they committed?
Churchland, Paul M. Matter and Consciousness a Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. Print.
Jones, Lucy. “Philosophy of the Mind Episode Seven: Functionalism.” YouTube. YouTube, 5 June 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.