The Chicago School

The Chicago school of functionalism is represented by the works of American scholars John Dewey (1859-1952), James Rowland Angell (1869-1949), and Harvey A. Carr (1873-1954). Functionalism was launched in 1896 with Dewy's Psychological Review article, "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology." Here Dewey argued against reducing reflexive behaviors to discontinuous elements of sensory stimuli, neural activity, and motor responses. In the same way that James attacked elementalism and reductionism in the analysis of consciousness, Dewey argued that it was inaccurate and artificial to do so with behavior. Influenced by Darwin's evolutionary theory of natural selection, Dewey asserted that reflexes should not be analyzed in terms of their component parts but rather in terms of how they are functional for the organism; that is, how they help an organism adapt to the environment.

Angell crystalized the functional school in his 1907 Psychological Review paper, "The Province of Functional Psychology." In this work, three characteristics of functionalism were identified: Functional psychology is interested in discerning and portraying the typical operations of consciousness under actual life conditions, as opposed to analyzing and describing the elementary units of consciousness. Functional psychology is concerned with discovering the basic utilities of consciousness, that is, how mental processes help organisms adapt their surroundings and survive. Finally, functional psychology recognizes and insists upon the essential significance of the mind-body relationship for any just and comprehensive appreciation of mental life itself.

Carr's 1925 textbook Psychology: A Study of Mental Activity presents the most polished version of functionalism. As the title suggests, Carr identified such processes as memory, perception, feelings, imagination, judgment, and will as the topics for psychology. Such psychological processes were considered functional in that they help organisms gain information about the world, retain and organize that information, and then retrieve the information to make judgments about how to react to current situations. In other words, these processes were viewed as useful to organisms as they adapt their environments.

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