On the adaptive function of behavior or thought. Consciousness mediates between needs of the organism and demands of the environment. Functionalism asks "What do people do? How do they do it? Why do they do it?" A psychology of mental operations in contrast to the structuralist psychology of mental elements. Starting with James, all were interested in the nature and function of "habits."


WILLIAM JAMES (1942-1910) -- A "PRE-FUNCTIONALIST". Defined psychology as "the description and explanation of states of consciousness," at one point, and as "the science of mental life" at another.

a. Emphasized the dynamic, streaming quality of consciousness

b. Viewed it as a central factor in life and biological survival.

c. No one can ever directly know another's mind, and there is great diversity to how people think about a problem even when they arrive at the same solution.

d. Wanted to understand consciousness as a whole, on its own terms, rather than splitting it into elements which could be added together.

e. PRAGMATISM -- the view that the validity of any idea or knowledge must be tested by its consciousness.

f. Wrote the great Principles of Psychology, Pragmatism, and other works.

JOHN DEWEY (1859-1952)

a. Founder of "Chicago school" of functionalism. Later moved to Columbia. Held that behavior should be treated not as an artificial scientific constant, but in terms of its significance to the organism in adapting to the environment.

b. The central pioneer in progressive education, which he said should be based on an understanding of the developing child's needs. Started an experimental school, a radical innovation in education. Believed that teaching should be oriented toward the student rather than the subject matter, presaging the educational ideas of Carl Rogers, Paolo Freire, and Ivan Illich.

c. Also an important social philosopher of social change whose ideas are as relevant today as they were then. His most important psychological work: Human Nature and Conduct. Social philosophy is concerned with human welfare and physical, social, and moral adjustment.

d.. Objecting to the concept of the "reflex arc," he viewed behavior as a total coordination which adapted the organism to a situation., toward accomplishing the goal of survival. We think so that we may live. The effort to survive results in knowledge. "Stimulus" and "response" should be viewed in regard to reaching or maintaining an end.


JAMES ANGELL (1869-1949) was the person most identified with the functionalist position per se. Emphasized the interconnections between mind and body and saw no real distinction between the two. Left open the study of nonconscious behavior. Emphasized application of methods and findings of psychology to real-world problems.

A practical man, he got the Chicago psychology department separated from philosophy, then became its chairman. Later left to become head of the Carnegie Corporation, then ended his career with a long and distinguished tenure as president of Yale University.


HARVEY CARR (1873-1954) bsystematized functionalism, yet at the same time blurred the lines between it and behaviorism as he accepted behavioral methods of study as well as the clasical introspective reports about consciousness. Took over Angell's position of head of the psychology Dept. at Chicago.

Differed from James in regarding consciousness as an artifical abstraction --thought that all that exists is a set of processes. Nonetheless he continued to include introspection as one method of study. Attention, motives, and learning were the main foci of his interest.