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William James and Functionalism

American philosopher and psychologist William James was one of the leading proponents of functionalism, the theory of mind maintaining that various mental states are comprised of their functional role and are realized on multiple levels. Philosophers, including William James, used the term in at least two ways. The first refers to the study of how the mental processes operate. The other meaning refers to how mental processes operate within the evolution of a species. Paper Masters can compose a custom written research paper on William James and Functionalism that follows your guidelines.



William James Functionalism

Functionalism and Mental Process

For James, functionalism was the study of the purposes that a person’s mental processes enable the individual to adapt to the environment. He wanted to understand what and how a person’s thoughts translated in to behaviors. James argued the following regarding functionalism:

  • Consciousness could not be broken down into constituent parts.
  • Because consciousness can't be broken down, he coined the phrase “stream of consciousness.”
  • Mental activity, James believed, was in a constant state of change and flow. Functionalism serves as the link between the mental process and the behaviors of humans.

Functionalism and Structuralism

Functionalism was a direct response to the philosophical school of structuralism. Structuralism wanted to analyze the mind in terms of its component parts and how they fit together. Later functionalists, including John Dewey, preferred empirical thought over experimental psychology and would greatly contribute to the rise of behaviorism, best represented by the work and teaching of B.F. Skinner.

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