One of the functionalist theory's strengths is that it is a macro-degree structural theory that employs an organic analogy, using the organic structure to portray the many aspects of society. Parsons notices three parallels: system, system demands, and system functions. The system model views society as a coherent whole with its parts working together to produce this result. This view implies that social change occurs when one or more of the parts of the system fail to work together.
The system demands model focuses on how individual interests are satisfied within the overall structure of the system. Different groups within the society will have different needs that must be met in order for them to remain loyal to the society as a whole. For example, employers need employees who will work hard and contribute to the success of their company; otherwise, they could just as easily go work for another employer. Employees need to feel like their contributions are valued by their employers; otherwise, they would be just as happy working for another company.
The system functions model views society as containing certain essential tasks that must be performed in order for it to function properly. These functions may include providing security for its members, allowing them to reach their potential, etc. When any of these functions are not carried out, then chaos will ensue—which is exactly what happens when there is a failure in the government system.
Structural functionalism, or simply functionalism, is a theoretical paradigm that views society as a complex system whose elements cooperate to produce solidarity and stability. Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons, Kingsley Davis, and Wilbert E. Fisher are examples of prominent functionalist thinkers.
It can be said that Comte was a functionalist in the sense that he believed that social phenomena can be explained by looking at their function in a larger scheme of things. He thought that society could be understood by studying how its different parts interact to create a stable whole. Comte proposed a three-stage model for human development: metaphysical, scientific, and political. Metaphysical stage: belief in a supreme being is required at this stage because people lack the knowledge to live without religion. Scientific stage: once people have accepted science as the only means of discovering the truth, it becomes unnecessary for anyone to believe in God. Political stage: finally, when people understand that morality comes from society and not from God, they will be able to create just institutions that allow them to live together in peace.
Comte's philosophy has been called "positivist" because it focuses on studying reality rather than thinking about what might possibly be true. This stance differs greatly from that of traditional philosophers, who usually start with certain assumptions about the nature of reality and seek to prove their conclusions by using logic and reason.
Functionalism, as a structural theory, regards social structure or societal organization as more significant than the person. Top-down theory is functionalism. Functionalism considers society to be a system, a collection of interrelated pieces that constitute a whole. Each part works together with other parts to produce results which are not necessarily intended by any one member of the group. The unintentional effects of such a system are called "side effects". For example, when the police use search warrants to find drugs, they may cause damage to property as well as bring in evidence against wrong people. When an economist looks at the economy as a whole, she does so from a top-down perspective; that is, the economist assumes that the government or some other authority is looking out for the best interests of the economy rather than simply trying to solve problems as they arise.
Side effects are also a concern with behaviorism, which is another structural theory. But behavioralists argue that people are responsible for their own actions, and therefore can choose what role they want to play within society. Some choose to be leaders, others follow. Those who choose leadership can design society according to their ideas while those who choose following can merely accept the direction in which it is headed.
Finally, functionalists believe that society has evolved over time to best suit its members' needs.
Functionalism arose as a reaction to the structuralist school of thought's views, and it was greatly inspired by William James' work. It was based on the functioning and adaptations of the mind. Functionalism, unlike several other well-known schools of thought in psychology, is not connected with a particular prominent theory. That is why it can be seen as a generic term for an approach to studying the mind.
Functionalists believe that we should study how minds actually function, rather than trying to explain their properties in terms of structure or materiality. They also reject any attempt to reduce mental processes to physical or chemical events happening in the brain. Instead, they say that there are two ways of understanding what goes on in the mind: by analyzing its structures or by analyzing how it functions.
Psychologists who follow this approach try to understand the mind by looking at how it functions, rather than trying to find its underlying structures. They believe that there are many problems when we look only at the structures of the mind because many things can go wrong during development of the brain. For example, if the baby is exposed to violence or abuse at an early age, its brain will develop in a way that makes it more likely to act violently themselves later in life.
However, psychologists who follow this approach also study the brains of people who have been found through neuroimaging studies to experience emotions like fear, love, joy, and sadness.
Functionalism is a large-scale theory. In today's society, there is widespread disparity based on socioeconomic class, gender, and other characteristics. The functionalist believes that these disparities are due to the way in which societies function naturally without regard for equality.
Functionalist theories arose at the end of the 19th century with the work of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill. They proposed that social behavior can be explained by focusing on the functions that it performs for individuals or groups. The idea here is that if we understand what causes people to act as they do, we can better design institutions that will make them behave more equitably.
Functionalists believe that human nature is inherently unequal, so they propose that societies should be designed to allow for greater inequality among their members. This belief stems from the fact that humans need protection from one another to survive, and therefore cannot be expected to behave morally unless certain forces are present to prevent them from doing so.
Some examples of how this theory has been applied include studies showing that wealth tends to create its own environment that further increases wealth or studies demonstrating that racism helps maintain the system in place.
Functionalism is both macro and micro.