Research Paper on William James and Functionalism

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PSY 101 4/7/13 “William James and Functionalism” I. Introduction William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher and psychologist who had trained as a physician. He was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James wrote influential books on pragmatism, psychology, educational psychology, the psychology of religious experience, and mysticism. He was the brother of novelist Henry James and of diarist Alice James. In the summer of 1878, William James married Alice Gibbens. William James was born at the Astor House in New York City.
He was the son of Henry James Sr. , a noted and independently wealthy theologian well acquainted with the literary and intellectual elites of his day. The intellectual brilliance of the James family milieu and the remarkable epistolary talents of several of its members have made them a subject of continuing interest to historians, biographers, and critics. James also worked on many theories included functionalism which is the second paradigm in Psychology. According to William James, functionalism assumed that the human mind served an adaptive role.
It explored the function of thoughts and behaviors. II. What is functionalism in Psychology? Functionalism is a theory of the mind in contemporary psychology, developed largely as an alternative to both the identity theory of mind and behaviorism. This theory is built on the premise that human mental states (beliefs, desires, pain, etc. ) are constituted solely by their functional role — that is, they are causal relations to other mental states, sensory inputs, and behavioral outputs . Functionalism is a theoretical level between physical implementation and behavioral output.

Therefore, it is different from its predecessors of Cartesian dualism (advocating discrete mental and physical substances) and Skinnerian behaviorism and physicalism (declaring only physical substances): It is only concerned with the effective functions of the brain. Since mental states are identified by a functional role, they are said to be realized on multiple levels. In other words, they are able to be manifested in various systems as long as the system performs the appropriate functions. While computers are physical devices with electronic substrate that perform omputations on inputs to give outputs, our brains also act as physical devices with neural substrate that perform computations on inputs which produce behaviors. “The Principles of Psychology” is a monumental text in the history of psychology, written by William James and published in 1890. James's psychology included four methods: analysis (i. e. , the logical criticism of precursor and contemporary views of the mind), introspection (i. e. , the psychologist's study of his own states of mind), experiment (e. g. , in hypnosis or neurology), and comparison (i. . , the use of statistical means to distinguish norms from anomalies). III. The paradigm of functionalism The subject matter of psychology: Psychology is the study of mental activity (e. g. perception, memory, imagination, feeling, judgment). Mental activity is to be evaluated in terms of how it serves the organism in adapting to its environment. The methods of psychology: Mental acts can be studied through introspection, the use of instruments to record and measure; and objective manifestations of mind, through the study of its reations and products, and through the study of anatomy and physiology. The functionalists tended to use the term 'function' rather loosely. The term is used in at least two different ways. It can refer to the study of how a mental process operates. This is a major departure from the study of the structure of a mental process, the difference between stopping a train to tear it apart to study its parts (structuralism), and looking at how the systems interact while it is running (functionalism). The term 'function' can also refer to how the mental process functions in the volution of the species, what adaptive property it provides that would cause it to be selected through evolution. Functionalism never really died, it became part of the mainstream of psychology. The importance of looking at process rather than structure is a common attribute of modern psychology. As an individual approach it lacked a clear formulation and inherited the problems of the structuralist reliance on introspection. IV. William James’ approach on functionalism Unlike Many Psychologist who were interested on structuralism (structures of the mind), William
James instead was interested in consciousness and how it functions in individuals, especially in relation to behavior. James’s psychology experiments with his students tended to be more curious adventures in consciousness and practical application. James taught at Harvard University from 1878-1890. During this time, he completed his renowned psychological work: “The Principles of Psychology” in which he elucidated his functionalist insight into such subjects as consciousness, habit, and emotion. He was also became over saturated with the subject of functionalism and psychology
V. Functionalism vs. Structuralism As soon as psychology started to gain scientific relevance, so started the debate over how it was most appropriate to describe behavior and the human mind. Structuralism was first introduced by Wilhelm Wundt. It was then formally named and established by one of his students named Edward B. Tichener who broke away from many of the previous ideas put forward by Wundt. Structuralism aims to describe the structure of the mind in terms of the most primitive elements of mental experience. It focused on the breaking down of the brains mental rocesses into its basic components. These basic components were then attempted to be discovered by a method known as introspection. Introspection can be defined as the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes. Structuralism is based on the idea tha t the aim of psychology is to investigate how the elements are relate to each other which is done by the study into sensations, images and feelings. Functionalism was formulated as a reaction to structuralism and aims to explain mental processes in a more accurate manner than structuralism.
It does this by focusing on the purpose of consciousness and behavior. It was brought forward by William James (1842-1910) and was derived from the theory of natural selection created by Darwin which suggests that unless characteristics of a species, including the processes in the brain, served some sort of purpose they would not be selected over time by nature and would not have survived. There are weaknesses to both approaches. Structuralism was criticized for lacking reliability in its results due to the study of the structure of the mind being too subjective. Others argue that it was oo concerned with internal behavior that cannot be easily observed and therefore not easily measured. It could also be argued that everyday psychological problems cannot be solved by looking at the sensations of them alone and the mental operations that are promoted by functionalism have to be considered. VI. Conclusion Functionalism formed as a reaction to the structuralism and was heavily influenced by the work of William James and the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. Functionalists sought to explain the mental processes in a more systematic and accurate manner.
Rather than focusing on the elements of consciousness, functionalists focused on the purpose of consciousness and behavior. Functionalism also emphasized individual differences, which had a profound impact on education. Work Cited: * James, William. The principle of Psychology. Vol. 1 and 2. 1890. Dover publications 1950. * James, William. Psychology (Briefer Course) (1892) University of Notre Dame Press 1985: Dover Publications 2001. * Wade, Carole. Tavris, Carole. Psychology Tenth Edition. Upper Saddle River. Pearson Education 2011, 2008, 2006. * http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/William_James

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