James Angell’s Understanding of Functional Psychology, FunctionalismJune 27, 2021
Angell published his textbook Psychology in 1904, which embodied functionalism’s approach to psychology. A reference to the functional thinking of the period, this book was so successful that eight editions were published before 1908. He said that the functions of consciousness are to enhance the organism’s adaptive abilities, and that psychology should explore how the mind helps the organism adapt to its environment.
A more significant contribution of Angell to functional psychology was his 1906 presidential address to the American Psychological Association. The “Special Topic of Functional Psychology”, published in Critiques of Psychology in 1907, laid bare functional thinking.
Angell drew attention to:
Functional psychology is now little more than a perspective, a program, and a passion. Functionalism was first enlivened, perhaps by a challenge to the indisputable superiority of another starting point in the study of the human mind, and enjoyed, at least temporarily, the extraordinary power often attached to the early stages of all Protestantism before it became respectable and customary (Angell, 1907, p. 61).
We have seen that a new movement gains its vitality and speed of development only by appealing to or in opposition to the thought that was previously imposed. Angell had set the frontier of the struggle from the beginning, but humbly ended his introductory thoughts: “I formally stop putting new plans into action; I will deal with whatever is meant by their neutral account of real conditions.”
Angell argued that functional psychology was by no means a new part of psychology, but rather its most important part from the earliest times. It was structuralism that set it apart from early psychology. Angell has brought together three main views that he considers to be the core themes of the functional movement:
1. Functional psychology is the psychology of mental operations as opposed to the psychology of mental elements (structuralism). Titchenerian elementalism was still very strong, and Angell introduced functionalism as a movement in the opposite direction of elementalism. The task of functionalism was to discover how a mental formation works, what it achieves, and under what conditions it occurs. Angell noted that a mental function is not something perishable and instantaneous. A mental function continues for a long time in the same way as biological functions and maintains its current state. A physiological function may operate through different structures, and a mental function through ideas that differ in content.
2. Functionalism is the psychology of the main benefits of science. Consciousness, taken in terms of this utilitarian spirit, mediates between the needs of the organism and the demands of the environment. Functionalism explores mental processes not as separate and independent events, but as an active, developing part of biological activities and as part of the broader organic evolutionary movement. The structure and functions of the organism exist because they enable the organism to adapt to environmental conditions in order to survive. According to Angell, since consciousness exists, it has to fulfill its vital tasks for the organism. Functionalism has to discover exactly what this task is, not just in terms of consciousness, but also for further mental operations such as reasoning and will.
3. Functional psychology is the psychology of psychophysical relations (soul/body) that deals with the whole of the organism’s relations with its environment. Functionalism encompasses all soul-body functions and makes it open to investigation of unconscious or habitual behaviors. Functionalism holds that there is a relationship between the mental and the physical, an interplay between the same types that arise between forces in the physical world. Functionalism believes that there is no real separation between soul and body. It treats these two as different entities belonging to the same order and accepts that one can easily switch from one to the other.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook