All posts by Houston Hartwell Smith

Functionalism and moral responsibility

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.

what is “certainty”?

G.E. Moore is evaluating the claim of certainty, and specifically, if you are able to know if you are standing up. Throughout the reading he takes both approaches to this claim and examines it from both sides. He ultimately reaches the conclusion that either argument is just as valid and sound as the other if both people arguing bring ample evidence to support their claim. This is the first philosopher we have read where he says that both arguments are equal and one does not contradict the other. However at the end he acknowledges the possibility that he could have been dreaming while writing this and thus he does not know if he is dreaming or not. This seems to undermine his support up to this point.

Another person references this by saying, “Notoriously, by the end of ‘Certainty’ Moore acknowledges defeat: having agreed that if he does not know that he is not dreaming, then he does not know such things as that he is standing up and talking, he accepts (with reservations) that he cannot know for certain that he is not dreaming.” I was taken back at the abruptness of his last statement as well. He seemed to have logically came to the conclusion that the argument can be supported either way, but then he says he does not know if he is dreaming while writing this and thus proving the claim you cannot know if you are dreaming or not.

The way Moore ended it left me wondering why he just brought up this point and left it. What exactly did he want the reader to take from this? Why would he waste his time trying to prove a point and at the end give support to one of the arguments and not the other? He seems to pose this final point at the end to show that there will always be a way to pose the question if you are in a dream or not. I believe this is the case when he says it is “logically” possible. From our discussions in class, this is one of the easiest claims to fulfill. It does not have to withhold much to be logically possible. He uses the word logically here to say that logically it is possible, but I feel he would also say it is logically possible to not know if you are if dreams have the same sensory experience if you do not know you are in a dream. I believe he just uses the last claim to say that either argument can be valid.

He is following Desecrates in the way that he is withholding judgment on the matter if you are able to tell if you are standing up because there is evidence for both sides and both sides have valid points. Thus he does not stand by one argument and try to use the one argument to contradict the other. He tries to show that both arguments are able to contradict each other and thus both of these have the same validity. In my opinion, Moore seems to be on to some new way to approach skeptical arguments. Before the skeptic would say that you are unable to know if you are dreaming and the other person would say that they obviously know they aren’t dreaming, now Moore shows that both sides are able to contradict the other one. He then tries to find a new way to look at skepticism and new way to validate or deny the claim that you are certain that you are standing.



Baldwin, Tom. “George Edward Moore.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 26 Mar. 2004. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.